Social networking is nullifying the information gap between the protesters and the prospective protesters.
Today thousands held pro-reforms rally in Yemen. Arab Spring is indeed here and the fervour looks to get stronger with more and more countries continuing with the protests. Some have argued Russian conditions are not like the Arab countries and so the protests here cannot be equated with the Arab Spring. Who’s saying Russian conditions are like that in the Arab countries? If one is apolitical in Russia, nothing moves much for him except the economic crisis that has the potential to make lives of the Russians miserable who have seen the good days post-USSR split chaos, be it the generation then or the generation now that has come to its senses in a Russia that started its path on the democratic road when it was in its teens. And a recent report of the Economist, that has Russia’s current crisis as its cover story, says Russian economy needs an international crude prices hovering around $110 for the growth story that Russia was during 2000-2008. The global recession that started in 2008 is still here and so are the dimming chances of an economic miracle for Russia that could not work out a comprehensive industrial policy to revamp its industrial economy. Instead Putinism, as some reports have coined, kept on spreading its tentacles and now Russians really fear of a Putin who intends to continue in the power for another 12 years after dominating Russia for last 12 years. All the traits of an aspiring dictator!
In the backdrop of this, second Saturday protests were held in different parts of Russia on December 24 to protest the rigged December 4 parliamentary elections demanding cancellation of results and a re-poll. Most of the independent reports put the Moscow gathering at the Sakharov square to be around 1,00,000 (a blog in the Wall Street Journal puts an exact figure of 102,486 quoting a local newspaper Novaya Gazeta) in addition to the thousands in other parts of Russia weathering the freezing temperature and that is indeed a testimony to the growing disenchantment with Putinism that started expressing itself as Facebook rallies. Another WSJ blog post writes on the diversity of the gathering, “The protesters span a huge range, from anarchist activists, communists to popular authors and actors.”
Large-scale mass protests had become a thing of past. And 2011 would be remembered in the world history for reviving the word ‘mass protest’. The ‘Arab Spring’ that made masses of the dictatorial regimes like Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria inhabiting the streets demanding reforms would be the golden catchphrase for the centuries of the written history. And from a regional movement, the Arab Spring has become global. It is affecting countries like India, China and Russia. It is affecting the countries across the globe in the form of the border-less movement ‘Occupy’ against corporate malpractices. It was the year of the ‘protester’, something endorsed by the Time magazine when it found its person of the year in the ‘protester’.
This global blaze has all the potential to make the Presidential poll road next March a difficult terrain that, not until so long, was being seen as an easy transition for the Prime Minister Putin to the President Putin. And unlike its peer battlegrounds, Russia has deeper internet penetration and largest social media usage in Europe. Also, a major chunk of the Russian population gets its news from the uncensored websites and given the response that the protests are getting, it is bound to explode. An interesting development is an eye-opening pointer about role of the social media in the current Russian protests. To avoid controversies on who would address the December 24 rally at the Sakharov square, online voting was invited by the organizers and a meeting to analyze the preferences was webcast live on December 22. After much debate and discussion and tallying the results with Facebook voting, some controversial names were removed and an optimized list was prepared that began with Aleksei Navalny.
Whoa! Indeed, it is akin to taking the social media usage to its next level in organizing mass protests in a society where the mainstream media is tightly regulated. With instant feedback and real time development information, social networking can supplement the ground movements immensely and the same thing is happening in Russia. Similar things happened and are happening in different countries witnessing the Arab Spring. Social networking is nullifying the information gap between the protesters and the prospective protesters.
Though Putin is looking to be in dismissive mode over it, the central Moscow leadership looks worried if not shrugged. Topmost security officials are making noise about regulating the internet content and they look serious in their intent. Can they do it given the allegations that every internet communication in Russia is already routed through the FSB? Might be! For the moment, it has happened so fast that the Russian authorities couldn’t react on it in the same way as it happened in Tunisia. By the time Zine Ben Ali realized the Facebook chatter was strong enough to sustain the ground movement, it was too late. Putin has one factor supporting him. He brought stability to a chaotic country and still, Russians have no alternative political figure who could replace him in Russia though analysts are pitching Navalny against him that is shady given the ultranationalist and Fascist overtures of Navalny. But at the same time, it is also equally true that Putin’s popularity has eroded rapidly reaching to a career low of 40 per cent while United Russia has now only slim majority in the Duma though, now everyone accepts the December 4 elections were rigged. It indicates United Russia may lose the majority it the fair elections are held or Putin may have negative surprises in the store if the movement keeps on growing and if the millions more join the protests before the March 2012 Presidential polls. Putin may choose reform and openness (Perestroika and Glasnost of Democratic Russia) or can chart the ruthless territory of suppression. For the moment, he seems to have chosen the later one as the Russian protest movement saw more outcry to denounce the government after the opposition activist and leader of the Left Front group Sergei Udaltsov was sentenced for 10 more days today extending his jail sentence of 15 days for participating in the rallies after the parliamentary elections on December 4.
What next for Russians? What next for Putin? What next for Russia?
What next for Russian protests?
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