Russia: Is political evolution possible?

In a state where the traditional media is constrained and one party dominates.

Protestors pouring onto the streets of towns and cities across all nine Russian time zones are "calling not for revolution, but for political evolution" maintains Neave Barker of Al Jazeera. The hundreds who have been arrested appear to be being replaced by fellow supporters all maintaining that recent elections were flawed. Among those detained is 35-year old blogger and political activist Alexei Navalny, who coined the phrase "party of swindlers and thieves" to describe United Russia.

Even ex-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev has said that elections should be re-run due to fraud, according to The Australian. And he is a man who appreciates the clout of those at present in power in the Kremlin. Recall the August 1991 putsch to oust Gorbachev. Recently, the former leader told the BBC "Putin and his team are for stability but stability kills development and results in stagnation." However, the domestic audience may well ignore these warnings, as Gorbachev remains far more popular outside Russia than within it, supposedly.

An analysis conducted in spring 2011 by Pew Global Attitudes and relayed in The Economist points out that 57% to 32% of Russians polled prefer strong leadership to democracy. This is surely a nation which has never tasted unfettered democracy in action. So, what chances of success have these protestors, many emanating from the intellectual or professional sections of Russian society? 

If Pew's findings are right that around 70% of Russians think that changes since 1991 have failed to help ordinary people and yet the present regime has enhanced Russians' pride in their country, it might take something more than evolution to persuade the average Russian to switch allegience away from the current system.

Pew's research was conducted earlier this year, prior to the demise of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi. And before Vladimir Putin was reportedly booed when at a Moscow martial arts fight last month, before he anounced his intended 2012 presidential bid, or before United Russia lost 77 parliamentary seats in much criticised elections. The party's losses raise concerns about Putin's personal electoral chances, despite an alleged 60% of female voters over the age of 40 supporting Russia's hitherto most popular politician. Nevertheless, United Russia remains the largest party in spite of losing its two-thirds parliamentary majority.

Street protest placards demand a Russia without Putin. 100,000 are claimed by organisers to have assembled on an island close to the Kremlin to demand fresh elections, according to the BBC. However, realistically, how do protesters wrestle power from this vast country's latest formidable tsar when c. 75% of Russians believe freedom from state interference is unimportant. It has to be recognised that this is a country where state interference has always held sway. How could people have experience of any other way? Protestors may well clamour for evolution, yet that's a relatively novel process as Gorbachev's Glasnost openness programme was initiated only thirty years ago. Perhaps that accounts for all those mature females who veer towards strong leadership under Putin.

The Economist called on Putin to "clean up the Kremlin and reform the economy" both for his own and for his country's sake. Although will Putin get the chance to do so? If protests escalate, in spite of more incarcerations, he may not get that opportunity. 

It has to be said in these most uncertain times that political turmoil in Russia, an increasingly important economy, won't calm financial markets or avert global social upheaval. Putin is a great survivor and a charismatic poltician, could he transform his fortunes?  

Social media enabled messages and images to stoke dissent from Tunis to Damascus. The jeering subjected to by Putin at that Moscow fight was viewed by many on YouTube, a medium from which he's benefitted when singing or speaking to acclaim in happier times. And could recent images of Russian street revolt stoke greater dissent? Or will these protests wither as the realities of the daily grind dawn on those young professionals as they place career futures in dire jeapody?

Some 60% of ordinary Russians surveyed by Pew said standards of living had declined since 1991. That's a figure which should worry the Kremlin, surely? For if average folks' living standards are genuinely dropping, there's a chance they could join those youthful protestors in demanding structural change.

Check out all articles here.

No comments:

Post a Comment