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group of protesters Bild: Moskau, DW/Jegor Winogradow
Image: DW/J. Winogradow

Seeking soul mates

Ute Schaeffer / tw
May 8, 2013

The Russian government will do whatever it can to weaken civil society. But until the opposition presents a united front, there is no realistic alternative to President Vladimir Putin in sight.


In Russia, the fight for power is on. The "Silowiki" - collectively the military, the police and the secret service versus the opposition. While the former represents the near impenetrable state under Putin's iron rule, the other is synonymous with a deeply fragmented protest movement.

In an effort to unify efforts to secure a future free of state paternalism, the opposition recently set up a co-ordination council.

Many among its ranks are members of Russia's younger generation, such as Isabelle Magkoeva who became one of the spokespeople for the Occupy Moscow movement after she started attending demonstrations in December 2011. The teacher of Japanese believes the opposition is paving the way for a new Russian revolution.

"Unlike our parents' generation, we are not afraid, and we're not so cynical. We believe it is possible to change something in our country."

Yet although the young demonstrators have no fear, they also lack a united front. The opposition includes environmental activists and economic liberals and right-wing nationalists, such as Dmitry Dyomushkin. He might like to brag about his contact with prominent government opponents such as former vice premier Boris Nemtsov and the left-wing political activist Sergei Udaltsov, but there are great discrepancies in their ideas.

Germany's Green movement sets an example

Last year, in an effort to unify efforts to secure a future free of state paternalism, the opposition set up a co-ordination council, but even that is not without in-fighting. Environmental activist Evgenia Chirikova criticized spokesman Alexei Navalny for his chameleonesque approach to politics.

people sitting in a field Bilder von DW-Korrespondent in Moskau Egor Winogradow
Germany's Greens have been an inspiration for protestersImage: DW

For her part, Chirikova knows what she wants. She speaks highly of the Greens movement in Europe and Germany. "It inspired me, because there was nothing like it in Russia. But in Germany I saw that people really fight for their ideas. They protest and form movements from the bottom up rather than following orders from on high," she said. What she saw outside Russia encouraged her to try and do the same within.

The majority of Russians, however, don't have her courage. Although there are demonstrations in cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg, the middle classes are noticeably absent in the movement for change. Many are too busy with the day-to-day business of earning a living to keep their families, but there is also fear of the arbitrary nature of the state, and of being black-listed. The vast majority of those in the middle class are simply not willing to risk the security they have worked so hard to achieve.

Bullied by the state

Anastassia Mesheryakova, is a prime example. The single mother of two runs two successful restaurants in Moscow. "All I want is that the laws in our country are upheld. I don't really care whether we follow a left, right, liberal or social democrat ideology, I am not concerned with ideologies." That said, she concedes that any further limitations on civil rights could force people like her to become more political.

Man holding placard DW-Copyright. Zulieferer: Gennadij Temnenkov
The "No" to Putin's laws is becoming more visible and audibleImage: DW

"Ten years ago we never talked about politics, but that is different now," she said. "When we meet friends, politics is an issue, even if only one of many."

The state does what it can to intimidate and keep people like Anastassia away from protests. It arrests and imposes draconian sentences on demonstrators, restricts the right of assembly, and sets up construction sites at known protest sites. The government has also introduced far-reaching new laws, such as the "foreign agent law," under which Russians who work with foreign organizations can be accused of espionage.

United in rejection

Although the different opposition groups represent different views, with the exception of the Communists, they are united in their desire to see an end to Putin's paternalistic government, and the harassment and sanctions intrinsic to it.

epa03644230 Opposition activist Leonid Razvozzhaev c) dpa - Bildfunk+++ pixel
Moscow's way of dealing with activists is to lock them awayImage: picture-alliance/dpa

As Vladimir Ashurkov, a close ally of Alexei Navalny, explains, the opposition is simple fighting for a different Russia, one which offers its people greater freedom and subscribes to European values. "Russia is a European country, and in terms of our culture, history and religion, we are a part of Western civilization," he said. "It won't be long before Russia belongs to Europe. Not necessarily in an economic, political or military alliance, but in terms of the rule of law, press freedom and general efficiency."

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