A New Dawn in Russia

The mass protests in Russia this week mark a new era for the Russian state — an end to a cowed population that will accept whatever the government offers.

This is not a “Moscow Spring” — the government is not going to fall, nor is that what the protestors are seeking.  Rather, the call is for honesty and accountability in government.

The response of the regime has been just as important as the demonstrations themselves.  Moscow is not Chechnya; the regime is not going to enforce compliance at gunpoint against thousands of its citizens.  The widespread use of the internet to broadcast images of the protests also left the state-controlled media with a tough choice — ignore or misrepresent the protests and be ridiculed for ignoring a mass event that everyone has already seen online, or cover them as they occurred.  The media chose to do the latter.

Individual businessmen and political dissidents could be arrested, and individual journalists who persisted in uncovering dirt on the regime could be beaten or even killed.  But tens of thousands of Russians assembling peacefully in a dozen cities represent a different challenge.  They have managed to puncture the image of Putin and his regime as inevitable and invincible.

Nothing much is likely to change now — the courts seem unwilling to entertain a change in the announced election results, much less throw out and redo the parliamentary elections.  Yet over the next few months the political game in Russia will change.  A new election commission that has more public trust will almost certainly be demanded for the Presidential elections.  And credible opposition candidates may be allowed to campaign.

Whether Putin is in danger of losing will depend on what happens in the Russian economy in the next few months.  A European crisis that drags down Russia, or the continued outflow of capital to a degree that cramps investment and demoralizes Russia, could lead to a strong challenge.

It seems unlikely that any challenger has sufficient national recognition and standing to defeat Putin at the polls, even in a reasonably fair election.  But we cannot rule out surprises (although Putin will do all he can to do so).  The world did not expect Salafists to do so well in Egypt; nor for Herman Cain and then Newt Gingrich to lead the US Republican polls.  When people are given freedom to vote, surprises can emerge.  Who knows if an ‘anyone but Putin’ movement will gain traction in the coming months?

A new chapter has begun in the politics of the Russian Federation.  We can only watch as it unfolds with excitement and hope.  Where it will lead is not yet clear.

About jackgoldstone

Hazel Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University
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6 Responses to A New Dawn in Russia

  1. Alex Klotz says:

    Id like to know more about the baby boom generation, historically, but particularly how its population decline will effect the US. My perspective looking at the graphs is from that of Gen (wh)Y, male and I notice a big drop off in the ‘shoulders’ after the boomers push through. I must admit, it appears to be a somewhat painful United State; a difficult one to understand and work effectively within.

    I would be interested to hear your opinion about what the rise of the boomers meant in respect to the ability of one generation, to ‘hold court’ over others. With such a large and entrenched population of older people existing at the top of the labor force (ostensibly at the peak value of their careers in terms of pay, benefits and as would necessarily follow output), democratically speaking, it might be true that if organized, a same-age class population could have an undue influence on being able to ‘have things their way’–for better or worse. This assumption may be completely invalid but it is hard to understand how the American dream is still alive when the future looks to be irreducibly, whether you individually outsource it or not, one of domestic ‘service’ for a substantial proportion of the populus. Looking at ‘population pyramids’ from 1960-2050 the rise and death of the boomers could be assumed to have a great impact on how all other generations make decisions and use resources that could be construed as being of detriment to those generations (possibly OWS content).

    In general, it could be assumed that boomers aging will represent a great loss of service to society, something that may necessitate more shared responsibility between generations or cohorts. Carrying that burden, it may be difficult to see boomers age, to unravel their individual histories and to follow the inevitable signal of change in decision making power from a cohort majority to an age distributed majority. If you know of any precedents or case studies please relate them.

    I briefly read your bio and research interests so I would be interested to know how your models or information sources tackle this problem– I think it would be wise to have some kind of conversation prepared to assuage populist fears.

    • Alex Klotz says:

      and wise in the sense of it might be enlightening. Overall the picture of the US looks pretty stable to me with a pretty high quality of life

    • Alex,
      Your questions are outstanding, but would take a book to answer! In brief, the baby boom generation will play a pivotal role in US economics and politics until it passes from the seen. But there are no precedents we can turn to for guidance, because life expectancy through history has always been far shorter than todays. In the past, a population ‘boom’ produced pressures as the youth bulge moved through childhood and adolescence and early adulthood; but by the time the boom reached their 50s they would start dying off. There has never been a situation in which a significant portion of the adult population was 60+. So we will have to innovate in how we cope with this; and you are right it will rest on new cross-generational agreements. Simply trying to hold on to the 1960s’ promises to the elderly will not work.

  2. Tony T says:

    Jack, how does the world’s current revolutionary spirit compare with other periods in history? I’d love somebody to write a book comparing and contrasting what is going on now with other major revolutionary periods.
    Interesting times.

    • That is a BIG project – but a good one. I will give it some thought. For past global comparisons, you can check out The Age of Revolutions in Global Context, c. 1760-1840. David Armitage and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, eds. London: Palgrave Macmillan 2010.

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