Russian students committed to fighting ′absurdity′ | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 28.03.2017
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Russian students committed to fighting 'absurdity'

Young Russians who took to the streets in Moscow and St. Petersburg during the anti-corruption rallies on Sunday tell DW why they decided to protest. Their main goal? Changing a system they view as corrupt.

Among those who took to the streets in dozens of Russian cities on Sunday following a call by opposition leader Alexei Navalny to protest against corruption were many teenagers and students - unusual for the Russian protest movement in recent years. Nearly half of the current protesters, according to some participants in the demonstrations, would have been too young to join the hundreds of thousands of people who rallied in the center of Moscow in 2011 and 2012 as part of a then-unprecedented nationwide protest movement.

I expected 'at least some reaction'

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@dwnews - Anti-corruption protests sweep Russia and social media

Nikita, a 16-year-old high school student from St. Petersburg, told DW he had decided to join the rally after watching Navalny's video, which accused Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of corruption. "I trust Navalny, that is why I decided to participate in the demonstration," he said, adding that he was "not scared of anything." The teenager pointed out that he plans to participate in protest rallies in the future, although he is disappointed that the Sunday demonstration failed to bring any immediate change. "I expected that there would be at least some reaction after the rally, ideally launching an investigation or at least voicing some kind of position by the authorities," Nikita said. 

But another high school student spotted on St. Petersburg's streets, 17-year-old Svetlana, said that she didn't have any illusions concerning the government's immediate reaction to the protests. "I realize that a few demonstrations will not change much, but the authorities will understand that people are not satisfied with the results of their work," she said. Svetlana said she had joined the rally because she supports the ideas of its organizers and plans to participate in similar demonstrations in the future if she is interested in them. The Sunday protests, Svetlana said, "brought only good vibes" and allowed her to "meet like-minded people." 

Russland Antikorruptionsproteste in Moskau (Getty Images/AFP/O. Maltseva)

Protesters in St. Petersburg gathered outside the city's famous Winter Palace

'I would have a bad conscience if I stayed at home'

Many Moscow students, including 18-year-old blogger Maxim Sotnik, learned about the upcoming protest from Navalny's YouTube channel. "I went to the demonstration because I am against corruption," Sotnik, who studies at the Moscow University for the Humanities, told DW. He was aware of the fact that the Moscow authorities had not sanctioned the demonstration. But "it doesn't mean that I, as a Russian citizen, am not allowed to take a walk along Tverskaya street," he argued.

"I decided to participate in the rally on March 26 because I knew that I would have a bad conscience if I stayed at home," said Valeriya, a 17-year-old student at a Moscow college who asked DW not to use her real name. During the rally, she was detained by the police and like many protesters had to spend nearly 12 hours in one of the district police stations. Now, the minor is facing charges over a violation of Russia's Administrative Code.

Valeriya believes that Navalny's investigation into Medvedev's alleged corruption schemes uncovered "the lawlessness taking place in the country." She also complained that everyone is aware of this situation but nobody is taking any measures to change it. "When you see that something totally wrong is going on in your country and then you see facts and proofs which are impossible to dispute - it just moves you," Valeriya said. "For me, the investigation into Medvedev reached the point of no return when I realized that the time has come to stop this absurdity." The way Russia's "state-controlled media" ignored the rallies only fueled the desire "to go against the system," she added.

Russland Aufmarsch Oppositionskundgebung in Wladiwostok (Reuters/Y. Maltev)

Rallies were held accross the country, including Russia's Far East, in the port city of Vladivostok

Young Russians against the system

Yury Krupnov, who chairs the supervisory board of the Institute of Demography, Migration and Regional Development in Moscow, called youth participation in the protest rallies a "phenomenally important event." In a DW interview he pointed out that this trend had taken shape long ago but came to light only on March 26.

He described the young people that took to the streets on Sunday as part of the "generation of smartphones that grew up in a time of relative stability and is bored and needs a makeover." But the Russian authorities have so far failed to meet those needs, offering the young generation only a "fake new image" and "falsehood from morning to evening," Krupnov explained.

Political analyst Mariya Snegova believes that young Russians took to the streets because "they are not part of the system."

"They are angry with the system and, unlike their parents, have nothing to lose," she said. Snegova added that young people are not satisfied with the stagnation in a society where old politicians are leading the country "in a vague direction and nothing changes." However, she believes that Navalny's video about Medvedev was simply a symbol of a broader protest movement. "All the slogans at the rallies were against [Russian President Vladimir] Putin," Snegova said. "It was the system against which they protested."