On Sunday, Vladimir Putin claimed victory in the Russian Presidential election. Mr Putin finished with around 64% of the votes. Marred in controversy, people gathered outside the Kremlin on Moscow Square to make their voices hears. Not with chants, or jeers, but simply by their number. Police estimates had it at around 15,000 people.
Russia is very familiar with revolutions and coups, but this is a very different affair. The peasants and workers weren’t rising up against an incompetent Tsar; the Bolsheviks weren’t revolting against an unelected, interim government; nor did the KGB take the president hostage in a putsch orchestrated to hang on to soviet power – people went about their business waving their placards, without much noise, without much fuss – simply to tell the world that they were there. If this becomes a revolution, it’s moniker may well be the Quiet Revolution.
The people standing against Putin are the middle classes, the academics, the professionals, the educated and down-trodden who have seen through the presidential switch-and-fix Medvedev and Putin, and don’t want to put up with it any longer – they want true democracy.
Last year’s Duma elections saw wide-spread ballot stuffing, and the presidential election has received accusations of “carousel” voting, where coach loads of people are driven around to various polling stations to vote multiple times. The strange thing is, Putin didn’t need to do this, the legitimate and independent polls had him at around 45% and four other candidates to battle for the rest.
The first signs of ill-feeling started last year when Putin was booed whilst presenting an awards at a mixed martial arts fight – something he loves. You can see the footage below and it reminds me somewhat of Ceaușescu getting unexpectedly booed in 1989.
So why is Putin so (legitimately) strong, whilst everyone knows he is acting inappropriately/illegally? It’s largely due to his control of the media.
Over the years he has taken control of the main newspapers and TV stations by arresting those in control of the news networks or threatening legal action against them – causing the to flee the country. Once he had control, he started using them to set up situations to report on that made him seem the string man; a superhero. Kim Jong Ill would have been proud of this type of propaganda. They ran stories about how great things were in Russia, and how poor they would be without Putin.
A few years ago his United Russia party became so strong that his advisers set about founding a new party, just so that there would be some impression of an opposition. The Just Russia party was therefore created out of three much smaller and irrelevant parties: Rodina, a nationalist party; the Russian Party of Life, an economically liberal party, but nationalistic in every other way; and the Russian Pensioners’ Party.
In the presidential elections Putin faced a Just Russia candidate, one from the Communists, a Liberal Democrat (which isn’t very liberal – they are perhaps the furthest right party and have faced accusations of racism), and a billionaire independent who is highly capitalistic. A wide range of views there then, but Putin holds on to his massive majority.
In the UK, there has been a lot of talk of regulating the news industry in the wake of News of The World/News International, but the Russian example clearly demonstrates why there’s a need for a completely independent press.
For now, though, the Russians will be putting up with Putin for at least another six years whilst the Quiet Revolution continues to build momentum.