Anger Over Elections Fuels More Russian Protest Plans

Anna Nemtsova reports on a former KGB colonel who says will be leading protests in Russia this weekend.

Dmitry Lovetsky / AP Photo

A few months ago the last thing that former KGB colonel Gennady Gudkov could imagine was that he would lead thousands of people to an anti-Kremlin rally, shoulder to shoulder with somebody like Boris Nemtsov, a man the authorities call a liberal marginal politician. A member of a moderate opposition party, Just Russia, and member of Parliament, Gudkov has criticized the Kremlin’s politics in the past for “feudal, horrifying, corruption.” Still, like a majority of Russians, he was not fond of the liberal opposition. But the vote count during the parliamentary elections last weekend made Gudkov furious: at least a fifth of his party’s votes were stolen in several regions of Russia, he said. “If there is no option of taking power from swindlers and thieves through fair elections, there is only one way left—street protests,” Gudkov said. He plans to lead the opposition rally against alleged election fraud on Saturday.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin does not use Twitter, Facebook, or any Russian social networking site, his spokesman claims. Otherwise he would have seen how the number of people who say they will come to Revolution Square is growing. By Thursday evening, about 30,000 Russian Facebook users said they would show up at the Moscow protest this weekend. Considering that the number of permitted protesters was limited to 300 people, the opposition leaders expect more violence over the weekend. It is a rather a chaotic movement, and not inspired by Hillary Clinton’s signals, as the prime minister suggested.

Russian special services do monitor the Internet thoroughly, the leader of environment defense movement Khimki Forest, Yevgenia Chirikova believes. “As soon as I wrote in my Twitter blog yesterday that I would coordinate the protest on Revolution Square, I got detained by the customs police at the airport. Nobody else but me,” Chirikova said. On the way back from Brussels, where she said she was telling European Union officials about the violations during the parliamentary elections, Chirikova was stopped in Sheremetyevo airport and kept for two hours, she said, for “a rather humiliating procedure” that involved undressing. She said it was intended to threaten her. “If the only answer Putin has for people is arrests and clubs, we will push him into a corner with that club in his hand. We’ll come out and there will be more of us than they expect.”

Robert Schlegel, a United Russia parliament member responsible for information policy, said that to be more appreciated, United Russia—the ruling party—should improve its Internet propaganda. “Blogging and surfing social nets is for the younger generation. United Russia should have become more active on the Internet,” Schlegel admitted. Commenting on this week’s protests, Schlegel called the opposition leaders Alexei Navalny and Ilya Yashin “provocateurs using well-known technologies of the Orange revolution.” He does not believe that all 27,000 signed up Facebook users will actually show up at the Revolution Square for the Saturday rally. “I read hysterical comments on Facebook and Twitter, then I step outside and see absolutely calm peaceful Moscow,” he said. Schlegel also predicted there would be more arrests and beatings at unapproved protests. Nearly 1,000 protesters were detained during street rallies this week.

Meanwhile, security in Moscow’s center has been tightened—busses full of police and interior troops patrol the streets and squares. More protesters came out to unapproved rallies in St. Petersburg, Riazan, Samara, and other Russian provinces this week, provoking police crackdowns and detentions. As an alternative peaceful struggle, bloggers started a new movement: activists wear and decorate their offices and cars with white ribbons, as a symbol of Russians disagreeing with fraud.

“When millions of us show white ribbons, we will see each other and the authorities will see us,” one of the movement’s activists, Arsen Revazov, suggested in his blog. The theater and film director Ivan Vyrypayev supports the idea of the upcoming protest on the Revolution Square and expresses hopes that the event will play an awaking role in the mentality of both authorities and public. “It is important for Russians to realize that they can decide themselves what politics they choose. And for the authorities it is important to begin to respect the people’s true voices.”