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Ownership at all costs?
Putin’s aggressive response to protests over the past many years has been endemically negative. Should he consider changing his stance this time, post his intent to stand for Presidential elections?
Without debate, the name of Putin is as synonymous with Russia as would be the most generic of brand associations. The man has been single-handedly running Russia since 1999 after Boris Yeltstin – and this, even after stepping down as President (and becoming the Prime Minister) due to constitutional constraints after a second term. In the year 2000 victory, he secured 52.94% votes; a figure that went up to 71.31% in 2004. Now, he is looking to stand for the President’s post for a third term in a country where the current President – Medvedev – is apparently a prim and proper puppet controlled by Putin.
Interestingly, despite what all global commentators – including yours truly – may hypothesize, the man seems to be gaining more popularity with every passing day even now. A majority of Russians believe in Putin’s competence – and not without good reason. Putin has ensured that Russia, post the instability that the glasnost wave brought in, once again became stable and predictable rather than be left at the mercy of large scale mafia groups and regional fanatic factions.
Yet, it is also true that there is significant ‘bunch’ of civil population that does not believe either in his ideologies or in Putin’s mode of staying in power; and for a third time this time. Just days after Putin announced his intent to stand again for elections, around 300 people rallied in Moscow against Putin. Not that the protest represented in any way what the majority believe about Putin, but what was surprising was the immediate clampdown that Putin ordered on the protest march – a puny protest given the 10 million population of Moscow.
The fact is that political marches or protests in the streets of Moscow (or St Petersburg) are banned officially; and the resultant crackdown on these protests has been, as mentioned, immediate. Though scattered anti-Putin protests were on the streets since the 2000s, the first large scale protest was seen on December 16, 2006, when around 3000 protesters demonstrated on Moscow’s streets to defy the official rule that restricted any protest against Putin and his policies. The heads who led the protest included former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, and the radical nationalist Eduard Limonov. While many leaders of this protest were immediately arrested, the amusing part was that there were around 10,000 security personnel deployed to control the protesting public.
Similarly, just a week before the Parliamentary elections of December 2, 2007, the police cracked down on protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg arresting hundreds of people, arresting opposition leaders Boris Nemtsov and Nikita Belykh. Nemtsov had planned to run for the 2008 Presidency. After another protest against Putin in 2009, the Russian Police arrested 41 people. In 2010, there was a series of protests across the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Around 4000 protesters held 50 different unauthorised rallies at a huge Lenin monument in Arkhangelsk. Around 70 people were arrested.
In essence, Putin’s response to protests has been endemically negative. But this time, Putin has a choice – given his massive popularity and the fact that the so-called protests are not even garnering the required mass, Putin could and should well allow these protests for whatever they’re worth. Not only would it showcase his openness to accept democratic protests (even if a hackneyed version), it would also provide evidence to the outside world of his massive popularity; and of the opposition’s minimal reach. Allowing protests could further endear Putin to the borderline fence-sitters who still do not know whether to support or oppose Putin. Of course, Putin can stymie the protests whenever he wishes. Till then, there’s much sense in trying out a more lenient outlook.
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