December 10, 2011 – they showed their mettle for the first time.
December 24, 2011 – they defied all the analyses of being an impulsive fizzle by turning up again in tens of thousands.
February 5, 2012 - a day after Putin’s supporters rally in Moscow and a month before March 4 Presidential election of Russia – they came back again – tens of thousands of them, weathering the Moscow chill of minus 22 C.
And on February 26, 2012 – in the next leg of the ‘PLANNED’ protests’ – yes they made it again!
Yesterday, on February 26, as had been planned, thousands gathered again to mobilize masses and spread awareness on Vladimir Putin’s intent in the context of allegations of wide-scale rigging and fraud in December 4, 2011 Duma polls and its subtext on the Russian Presidential poll on March 4.
And came today the news as announced on Russian television that an attempt on the life of Vladimir Putin had been thwarted!
This is not the standalone case. There have been over a dozen attempts on Putin’s life since 2001 according to a media report. But never had it generated the skepticism like this time. There were reasons then for the incidents to be taken seriously. And there are reasons to get skeptical about it now.
Yesterday’s protest was about to form a human chain in Moscow and that needed around 34,000 heads. Over 40,000 gathered. Thousands collected to demonstrate in St. Petersburg, Putin’s hometown. This is symbolically significant, just a week before March 4 election as the ‘planned’ protest events are continuing and gaining strength.
There has been a remarkable trend when we see the changing mindset at every subsequent protest event since the December 4 Duma polls. It clearly tells us the stand being taken by the protesters is hardening.
Thousands came together in different parts of Russia on December 10 alleging wide-scale vote rigging in the December 4 parliamentary elections and the mood of the prevailing sentiment could be gauged the assessment made by the Associated Press - “Frustration has grown with the ruling United Russia party and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who has dominated Russian politics for over a decade.”
Different cities witnessed the second Saturday protests on December 24. Most of the independent reports put the Moscow gathering at the Sakharov square to be more than 1,00,000 in addition to the thousands in other parts of Russia weathering the freezing temperature. A WSJ blog post characterized the diversity of the gathering, “The protesters span a huge range, from anarchist activists, communists to popular authors and actors.”
The next big upshot came on February 5 this year when the protesters came again on streets to defy yet another round of analyses that the prolonged time and holidays would abate the fighting spirit. Instead, by the February 5 rallies, the chant to de-Putinize Russia of Putin got even stronger. "We have already reached a point of no return. People have stopped being afraid and see how strong they are together," Reuters wrote quoting a protester.
Protesters had said they would come back on February 26. Thousands of them were at it again forming a 16-Kilometer human chain around the Central Moscow area. And yes, they wore the white ribbons again mocking Putin’s ‘condoms’ synopsis on their peaceful protest symbol. The Los Angeles Times quotes a protester saying "I have come out today and I will come again and again until we become a majority and win our fight for a better Russia.”
This is really a tricky situation for Putin given the implications of such statements. Putin has run Russia with an iron grip but had to do the packaging with taking ingredients like the pseudo-democratic practices, short-term-immediate-return economic policies and the effective control of communication.
But what Putin is facing now is some real problem. These representative observations about the protests on every next planned event show a toughening attitude. History tells us it doesn’t take long for a minority opinion to become majority view in an almost literate and exposed society with Services and the Industry as the major job providers.
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.
And a Russian population that was not well exposed to the international world and even to the fellow Russians internally has got the taste of the global citizenry by having an ever-increasing presence on the social media highway.
It is in this context of strengthening protests and toughening posture of the protesters, that the news of yet another attempt on Putin’s life, just a week before the Presidential polls, raises questions.
One - it is its bad timing. Just a week before the polls, so it might be seen like an extension to his acts like the state organized pro-Putin rallies and pro-Putin social media brigades, to gain sympathy to increase his vote share in an election that he is already poised to win, though not with landslide figures.
Other - it is the fishy details about this assassination attempt. Incidentally, these two Chechen assassinators were arrested in Ukraine and accepted to a plot to kill Putin in early February, and that too, after weeks of questioning. Any direct evidence wasn’t made available. One interesting fact is that the last attempt on Putin’s life was just before 2008 Presidential polls.
This all says Putin is not reading the writing the time is encrypting on the wall of Russian democracy. 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.
Instead, he, his regime and his puppet friend Medvedev are trying what all dictators try in the intermittent phase on the rise to the absolute dictatorship, manipulating and forcing a flow of pro- opinion to legitimize the rule. So he looks dismissing protests in the lighter vein while his administration works backdoors to armtwist and suppress the independent thinking.
Russia is a place to watch. Things are not going as Putin wants and we need to see how he reacts once he is back in the office as the President.
Will he be the next dictator or has he learnt something after scathing attacks and declining popularity? Only time will tell.
For the moment he looks more poised to become a dictator. A protest poster During the February 4 rally equaled him with Adolf Hitler.
And certainly the World and the Russians, we cannot afford to have another Adolf Hitler.
A protest poster During the February 4 rally equaling Putin with Adolf Hitler
Photo courtesy: UPI
©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey - http://severallyalone.blogspot.com/