Russia’s opposition demonstration scheduled for March 5th was supposed to have been the defining moment in the chain of events started by the mass protests of December of last year. Nothing of any substance occurred, however. Furthermore, instead of a crescendo it popped and fizzled. Of course half a year ago the collection of tens of thousands of people at Pushkin Square would have been a sensation; however the fact that there had been hundreds of thousands of people protesting across Moscow made this mob look modest. It was a testament to the demobilization of the mass-movement.
Having repeated the same words once more – about the corrupt regime, pouring bile onto Vladimir Putin, and calling citizens out to do battle, the organizers of the demonstration quietly dispersed. A few radicals who had waited until the majority of people had left the square then held their own mini-demonstration by the fountain. Drawing their strength from several hundred supporters, before whom they announced their readiness to settle in Pushkin Square and to stay there until the criminal regime apparently realizes all the horror and hopelessness of its position, hands them the keys to the Kremlin and go away on its own. The night spent sitting about in the cold March winds clearly threatened the participants of this action with colds and even pneumonia, however their potential ailments were prevented by “benevolent” law enforcement officials who twisted their arms, brought them into warm, enclosed spaces, and subsequently let them go home.
It seems that this time the liberal publicist Denis Dragunsky was right: history repeats itself not twice, but three times. The first time it was in the form of a tragedy, the second time in the form of a farce, and the third time for fools. Rather, the inability of the Russian opposition leaders to understand or learn anything is so phenomenal that even this humiliating defeat is unlikely to cause them to change anything in their actions.
The lessons of the last two months are painfully obvious; and what is most insulting is that they were completely predictable. The reluctance of opposition leaders to develop and grow the protest leads to the movement’s decline. Their intention to keep around them, regardless of what would happen, the widest spectrum of forces, precluded their ability to formulate even the semblance of a constructive program, which in turn led to a narrowing of the social base of the protests and to the demoralization of its participants. It all boiled down to a personal insult of Putin, in whom they saw the sole and single cause to all their ills and evils. Political slogans were limited to cries of theft and corruption. It was already impossible to motivate a society awakened from political apathy with such primitive and abstract slogans. However, the most important contributing factor in the opposition’s political suicide was their attitude towards the presidential elections.
On the evening of December 4th, when the powers that be announced Putin’s victory, the moral leader of the opposition demonstrations, Boris Akunin, announced that the extent of the fraud was not of great importance (analysts agree that there were indeed violations, and they were quite significant, however, even without them Putin would have won more than half of the votes.) It is impossible to recognize this election as legitimate simply because initially it was not free and the sitting government picked and nominated candidates for the opposition. They acted as a troupe of backup singers next to a lone soloist, emphasizing his advantages and illustrating the main thesis of the official propaganda, that there were no alternatives to Putin. So then the elections were not free from the very beginning, nor were they democratic or legitimate. Why then was it necessary to wait out the entire election to recognize this obvious fact? With regard to such an election boycott is the only morally and politically justifiable position. Only such a position provided the foundation for calm and confident discourse regarding the refusal to recognize the results of the election. Only such a position provided the opportunity to systematically introduce general agitation during the span of the entire pre-election campaign; without reviewing slogans and decisions, nor demobilizing supporters following the completion of the election, nor worrying too much about the conclusions of the election committee or what the video cameras set up at the polling stations showed. It is important to note that the populations of the capitals, which had endured the experiences of December and February’s mass protests spontaneously submitted themselves to just such a position; Moscow and St. Petersburg experienced rather low voter turnout. Even the official numbers, inflated as they may be, showed a sharp decline in voter activity (less than 50%.) However, this did not occur as a result of the opposition’s agitation, but in spite of it!