Russian Demography: According to the US Department of State, the Russian population was 142.9 million at the end of August 2011. The literacy rate was 99.4 per cent. According to 2010 estimates, the total workforce was 75.49 million. Services employed 58.1 per cent of it; industry absorbed 31.9 per cent while 10 per cent was engaged in agricultural production.
So a huge, 90 per cent of the population is engaged in services and industry and when economy doesn’t do well every section of the society is bound to go down and that in-turn affects the population engaged in agricultural activities. The economic crisis that began in 2008 is more or less there with intermittent bright spots. And the combination becomes deadly when the common man is forced to sip this cocktail mixed with endemic corruption. There comes a time, sooner or later, to say enough is enough.
Does the current wave of protests say this or it is just the public outrage on what they possibly see as the return of a Stalinist sort of regime when leaders are not chosen to run the country but they chose when to step down and certainly none of the dictators have done it voluntarily yet. Do Russians see the next dictator of Russia in Vladimir Putin? Public is particularly outraged on reports of a Putin-Medvedev deal that is about both swapping their positions as the President and the Prime Minister after the next year elections. Putin will again be the President and Medvedev will be its next Prime Minister.
Medvedev says Russia’s current political system is exhausted and needs an overhaul: Medvedev’s statement “the old model — which faithfully and truly served our state in recent years, and didn’t serve it badly, and which we all defended — it has exhausted itself” on protests and Russia’s political system looks cacophonous in the light of the so-called ‘Putin-Medvedev position swap deal’ due next year. Even more cacophonous was his exhortation dismissing the cause behind the protests. He said, “It has already begun. And it began not as a result of some demonstrations — that is just superficial, it is foam, if you like — it is a manifestation of human dissatisfaction.” Here he looks to accept the protests but not the intent behind them. Strange enough! Though no one say can with surety that Medvedev will continue his run in the forefront of the Russian politics given the ever increasing reports of differences between him and Putin, the ground political reality tells us that Russia has started seeing a chronic malaise in just two decades of its democratic experience.
The US Department of State observes and this time, puts in it in a right perspective and not something remnant of cold-war years overture thanks to the ‘still weak’ democratic ground in Russia. It says, “Since then (December 1991 when the USSR splintered into Russia and 14 other independent republics), Russia has shifted its post-Soviet democratic ambitions in favor of a centralized semi-authoritarian state whose legitimacy is buttressed, in part, by carefully managed national elections, former President Putin's genuine popularity, and the prudent management of Russia's windfall energy wealth.” ‘Centralized semi-authoritarian’ and ‘carefully managed elections’ phrases fit into the scheme of the events in the Russia of the day. ‘Putin’s genuine popularity’ is coming down while the ‘prudent management of Russia's windfall energy wealth’ is yet to bring Russia back to the prosperous days of 2000-2008 Russia, a platform that many in the global economy saw as a launch-pad for the developed Russia of the future.
That is ominous. Everyone talks about China’s growing economy but no one in the civilized world is ready to move to China to make it home; no one is going there for higher education; no transnational is going to make China a headquarter for its operations. They see it as a big factory system that has to supply to the world. No one is concerned about the millions of unknown faces in the big factory called China because the Chinese central leadership is not. Almost every just human right is suppressed in China. No need to write much on that. And corruption is endemic there, too. Distortion to this extent of the Communist politics values has become a pandemic and is present in fully distorted fervour in almost of the countries where the old-school Communist politics still exists. China, Cuba and N Korea are its glaring examples. The Communist USSR fell due to this only. They make the common men look like stooges. Just google the YouTube for ‘N Korea mourning’ and you will find a series of videos showing N Koreans mourning in offices and on streets on the sad demise of their ‘Dear Leader’ Kim Jong-il and you will easily find most of them are forced to do so for a dictator who was responsible for over two million famine deaths in his country since he took over it in 1994.
After two decades of a shaky democratic experiment and a prosperous 2000-2008 phase in between, most of the Russians are not prepared to go back to the old days. Explosion of sentiments through the social media and snowballed protests on the ground clearly tell this.
Is the central Russian leadership reading this? Is the central Russian leadership realizing the pulse of the Internet bound, restless younger lot that has the potential to engulf whole of the Russian working-age population? According to the CIA Factbook, 71.8 per cent of Russian population is in the age-group 15-64 while the median age is 38.7 years. With urban population of 73 per cent and unemployment rate of 18.3 per cent, this unrest soon can be a pan-Russia phenomenon with the Internet penetration of 42.8 per cent.
Social media use habits are going to play an important role in this.