03/29/2017, 10.29
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Moscow, something new in youth protests

by Vladimir Rozanskij

What is new is not Alexei Navalny, but the protests of young people. Medvedev and his jogging "shoes" fetish. Putin's nationalism losing support, partly because of the economic crisis. Russia, like the rest of the world, seeing the impoverishment of the middle class.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - After three years of patriotic exaltation and unanimous consent for the "Tsar" Putin's policies, due in large part to the "narcotic" effect of the Ukrainian conflict and sentiments for the "holy land" of the Crimea, Russia has awakened to the spring this year with the sensational and unpredictable mass protest against corruption, which resulted in the "jogging shoes" protest last Sunday, March 26. Many wonder whether this is a sea change and signal of the beginning of the end of the long "Putin stagnation".

Since 2013, after the period of the square anti-putin Bolotnaja uprisings that followed the parliamentary elections of 2011 and the presidential elections of March 2012, there haven’t been such large public protests. Then President Putin returned by popular vote, after the Medvedev brackets of the previous term. The protesting crowd in that case against electoral fraud that would have allowed the regime to reassert a consensus that, in fact, seemed less solid than it wanted to appear. It was around that time that the figure of the blogger Alexei Naval'nyj emerged, current secretary of the "Party of Progress" and president of the Democratic Coalition, formed together with the liberal politician Boris Nemtsov, who was assassinated in February 2015. Naval'nyj, arrested last Sunday and sentenced to 15 days of detention, it is one of the main landmarks of the opposition to the regime; already a young activist of the Liberal Party "Yabloko", reduced by Putin to a minimum in parliamentary terms, he is a proponent of a anti-oligarchic nationalist breakthrough. In the elections for mayor of Moscow in 2013, despite government attempts to oust him, he was able to present his candidacy against Mayor Sergei Sobjanin Putin, achieving a brilliant 27%, the best result of the last two decades by a political opposition.

It seemed that the post-Crimea nationalist politics had made a clean sweep of these threats to the state policy, geared to the recovery of national pride and international prestige of Russia, strengthened by the wave of populism in Europe, the US and some of Trump 'everywhere, they look to Putin like a messiah’. In reality, what is impressive about the marches of March 26 is not so much the political strength of the opposition: Naval'nyj remains a rather isolated phenomenon and little known by the masses, and he has no real political support base for change. The real news is twofold: on the one hand the expression of dissatisfaction with the privileges of the powerful, and in particular that of Prime Minister Medvedev, and on the other hand the young age of the demonstrators.

The slogan of the square was aimed primarily against Dmitrij Medvedev, Putin’s loyal political companion who ascended with him to St. Petersburg from the mists of the social transformations of the post-communism and becoming his "right hand man" even in the Moscow. His figure, before the scandal exploded last month, was that of a reliable and moderate politician, but definitely less substantial than his "big brother" and surrounded by a reputation as a gaffeur that almost inspired tenderness, so much so it led to his childish nickname Dimon. In Russia, moreover, the use of childhood pet names is not less than those of Brazilians Pele or Kaka, and the two leaders are "Vovan and Dimon", with the latter relegated to the role of the bumbling brother. But today the figure of the Prime Minister takes on an aura of dark vampire, who has created an empire of unbridled luxuries more so than any other Russian oligarch. More than villas and dream residences, what has remained the most symbolic is the impression created by the huge number of his expensive running shoes, he orders over the Internet at a rate of 20 per month.

The signs of the Russian squares read : ‘he is not our Dimon !, to represent symbolically the disaffection of the people toward Putin’s Presidential "family" and the end of the illusion of "good oligarchs" that would have replaced the "bad oligarchs" Yeltsin, the various Berezovsky, Gusinskij and the company of which he was made a clean sweep. From "Dimon", the anger is likely to move easily towards  "Vovan", also known for hedonistic tendencies, a close friend of Silvio Berlusconi. In fact, what is happening reflects a well-known situation in the West during the years of economic crisis from 2008 to present: the impoverishment of the "middle class" and the fear of not being able to sustain a standard of living to which they had become accustomed, the root of all populist protests of the richest societies  and mass migrations of people eager to turn to enjoy the advantages of the West. Russia is trying to take a grip on the crisis, due to the course of war and Western sanctions, which have emptied the stores of food products and increased the longing for luxuries, such as jogging shoes. It's a offset global economic problem; the first to be affected were traditionally richer countries, now BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) suffer and economies linked to them, they have stopped to grow exponentially and are likely to face a down turn. If Putin does not find a way to revive the economy and in turn consumption, his next term is likely to be as problematic as ever; not so much re-election in 2018, which is not in question, but the real consensus among the population, and especially among the exponents of the true powers of the country, from banks to the army.

What remains impressed from these protests is the many children and young people took to the streets against "Dimon" and Putin himself. Just a week earlier, on March 18, he had tried to organize a celebration to mark three years since the annexation of the Crimea, even paying the public and with the compulsory presence of students, but it was obvious the low appeal of the patriotic celebration, especially among the youngest. It is no coincidence that Putin did not turn up, to avoid tarnishing his legendary popular appeal. Now the government propaganda is trying to accuse the Sunday protests with the same charge, accusing Naval'nyj and partners of having paid the kids who took to the streets, including many minors, but their embarrassment is evident. Young people have clicked a million times on the You Tube video in which they denounce Medvedev’s luxuries, and their indignation marks the emergence of a new generation. There are more kids who blindly trust in the power of the president in front of the world, the so- called Nashi ( "Our") Putin youth movement who marched in the streets like the Mussolini Barilli in the early twenty-first century. Today's kids are unpredictable and indecipherable to all world establishment. Even the Russians are the young people of today’s world in which we live, and this is news.

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