Sunday, December 25, 2011

More from Moscow


For many protesters, the animosity goes way beyond Putin the candidate. Vasily's father, Fyodor, now 50, says he watched in shock as the Soviet Union fell 20 years ago, then in horror as Russia passed, rudderless, through a decade of economic collapse and war. And then came Putin. Stability. Prosperity. "All over the country there was a scream of joy when we got rid of this alcoholic, Yeltsin. We finally saw a man who was sane, who was physically fit, and he wasn't reading from his notes," recalled the older Gnuchev.

His son Vasily says he was too young to remember the bad old days of democratic Russia. But he prospered under Putin, and always felt free. And that's the real problem. The Putin regime's reportedly widespread electoral fraud pulled the rug from under a whole generation who believed in their leader, who believed in Putinism. "Now we see that everything is a lie," Vasily explained. "The Kremlin just stole our votes  -- it's just incompatible with the picture of the world we grew up in."

It's that humiliation -- indeed, violation -- mixed with anger that seems to drive many Russian, middle-class protesters into the streets -- even when the elements are conspiring against them -- and will keep the pressure on Putin, with promises of more protests to come. But what if this "people power" movement really blossoms, only to be thwarted yet again, not in a free and fair election come March, but by another brazen, Putin-led ploy to retain power?

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