By Yury Polyakov
Russian Domestic Politics is probably the most boring subject for all enthusiastic researchers in Russian Studies. Russian people view Vladimir Putin as the new Brezhnev because his style is similar to Brezhnev’s tactics over the Zastoy days. In other words, you can sum up Putin message as ‘Sleep tight, my beloved country’. In 2000, Vladimir Zhirinovsky argued that Putin’s era would be calm and stable. In effect, the LDPR’s leader was right when he said that, as the TV was no longer a debate platform. Likewise, Ex-Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov made another decisive statement when he described Duma as the place which does not exist for political discussions. Personally, I believe that these were obviously gloomy. There have been moments when awful things as the Second Chechen War, Kursk, terrorist acts, Beslan, and several other sad events have occurred in the 2000s.
Potential critics might point out I’m ignoring the 2011-2012 protests. However, I do not necessarily see them as the real protests, because it’s older and affluent people who led them. For instance, they were not able to foresee Putin’s intention to tighten the grip on the opposition. Moreover, many of the activists were standing for President Medvedev because he seemed to be a young and energetic person. Later on, it became clear that he was just a figure without political ambitions. That is, he was just a puppet in Putin’s hands. When the Arab Spring began, Putin pulled Medvedev as the string and prepared the ground for his comeback. Next, Putin used the old leadership method as increasing pay rise for certain social groups (pensioners, soldiers, police officers, army, etc). The election was not fixed in spite of various violations with bulletins. He was destined to win, whereas the opposition could only lose. And that is why public politics steadily declined after 2012.
It was hard to imagine that turnout at the Anti-Corruption protest would be so impressive. In fact, over 20000 Moscowites and 60000 people in various regions took it to the street to demand an investigation of Medvedev’s fraud. There was a moment in Navalny’s documentary where he outlined how Medvedev asked his friend Ilya Eliseev to buy him foreign sneakers. The link between protest and Medvedev’s ‘sneakerhead’ inclinations is that people were bringing a pair of trainers to hang them on the street posts and lanterns. Furthermore, more ‘risky’ people brought posters with anti-Medvedev slogans. Where protests were very large, the police acted decisively against protestors. Their tactics were well-known to the experienced demonstrators, but nobody expected them to be so forceful against teenagers. Technically, the protest was not negotiated with civil authorities, so the police was legitimated to block the demonstration on Pushkinskaya Square. Despite declining Navalny’s request, Moscow authorities did not suggest an alternative location. Thus, Navalny responded with a reference to a Constitutional document and asserted that the protest could take place.
He is not ‘Dimon’ to you and the Anti-Corruption Fund
Dimon means ‘Little Dmitry’ in Russian. The central aspect of Medvedev’s premiership is that he generated more political memes compared to his Presidency days. It is appropriate here to start with the wardrobe and link it to the recent scandals, as one can understand a lot about Medvedev by looking at his clothing preferences. It is not surprising that Medvedev loves foreign brands because the evidence shows he has not just selected Western trainers. The great illustration of this pattern is an article from Esquire magazine, where the authors affirm that Medvedev and Putin were wearing Loro Piana training outfits which cost over 1400 USD. Nonetheless, both Russian and the Western public do not think positively of Medvedev’s style. In fact, his harsh critics recurrently refer to the moment when Medvedev wore a female Burberry coat during his meeting with Putin in May 2012. Moreover, there were various moments when he looked very cringy, as when he wore the colourful shirt in 2016. All of these were discussed on social media. Hence, Alexey Navalny targeted Medvedev to appeal to the masses.
Navalny announced that he launched his Presidential Campaign in November 2016. Simultaneously, he started to invest more time and money into the YouTube channel of his Anti-Corruption Fund. The Fund gets its donations presumably from Kremlin opponents. This NGO is a genuine success story because they proved that Russian Opposition could function effectively even under post-2012 legal constraints which impose the security restrictions on funding sources. The Fund’s YouTube channel gains thousands of reposts in the Russian Web sphere. The most astonishing finding is that ACF employs a personnel of 30 people. In so far, they use various graphics, charts and research techniques that enable them to get such a substantial amount of views. Bearing in mind that seniors are more likely to watch the state TV, young Russians could find Navalny videos straight from their YouTube playlist recommendations. By far, they were a great relief because the situation inside Russia is currently deteriorating, risking to transform into a full-scale crisis. Hence, it was not too surprising to notice that the investigation about Medvedev’s property attracted teenagers to rush to the various protest locations across Russia.
What drives young people?
Dr. James Sloam supposes that the disenchantment with traditional politics activated the developments in young people movements in the West. In fact, the same trajectory has been developing in Russia over past and current decades. For instance, the party system in Russia stopped being competitive when the pro-Putin United Russia won the majority of seats in 2003. Next, the 2004 Presidential Election was reminiscing of a plebiscite of approval of Vladimir Putin policies by the general population. Indeed, such candidates as Kharitonov, Glazyev, Khakamada, Malyshkin, and Mironov were contrastingly bleak to Putin. Sociologists imply that young people aged between 16 and 22 do not have a clear political stance because they are in the process of finding groups with which they can align themselves.
I acknowledged the Russian party system is not competitive when I asked my friends for which party they would vote in September 2016. The most popular answer was ‘for no one because I do not determine our political future’. One step to code this reply, however, is to link all to the tradition of Russian statism, which stems back to the Empire days. Nevertheless, this categorisation is not relevant because teenagers have the social media constantly monitored by authorities. The answer to this question lies in Internet sphere where young people select their content and form their attitude to politics.
In any case, the stagnation in Russia is an interplay of economic and political problems. Older people prefer to turn the blind eye on Medvedev’s property, whereas young people see it as morally inappropriate. I recall my experience at school where some of my classmates attempted to question the outcome of 2011 Parliamentary Elections. Teachers were always trying to change the subject. Possibly, such situation persists today, which in turn sparked the protest mood among young Russians. The actions of the Russian police during the protest can lead to a more dynamic shift in the attitudes of the youth. Treating young people as bad as the police did in Pushkinskaya Square can potentially result in the resurrection of rock’n’roll behaviour in Russia. Hence, it will be similar to the situation in the United Kingdom with various subcultures in the 70s and 80s.
Sloam, J. (2014) ‘The Outraged Young’: Young Europeans, Civic Engagement and The New Media in a Time of Crisis, Information, Communication & Society, 17(2), pp. 217-231