On Monday an unprecedented wave of anti-government protests took place across Russia, with thousands of demonstrators gathered in more than 100 cities, denouncing corruption and political stagnation.

  • Police arrested over 400 protesters in Moscow already and another 300 in St. Petersburg.
  • Protests took place on Russia Day, the national holiday dedicated to the 1990 declaration of sovereignty.

In Moscow, the police arrested the anti-corruption activist Aleksei Navalny outside his apartment, who is the main architect of the protests on Monday, along with similar ones in March. He was quickly sentenced to 30 days in jail for organising an unauthorised protest.

His wife posted a picture of the moment her husband was arrested saying, “Alexei has been arrested in the entrance to our block of flats. Our plans haven’t changed.”

Authorities had granted permission to march on a secondary street in Moscow, far away from the crowds gathering to celebrate Russia Day. However, Navalny called on supporters to go to Tverskaya Street instead – leading to his arrest.

Navalny is seeking to bring attention to alleged corruption within the Russian government, but he is also seeking to promote his bid to run against President Vladimir Putin in next year’s presidential election.

“Russia without Putin!” / “Down with the tsar!”

These chants rang out amongst the protesters as riot police were drafted in, wielding batons.

According to Open Russia, a civil society organization led by former oil tycoon and well-known dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky, more than 400 have been detained in Moscow, with arrests continuing there and in St. Petersburg.

“I think we are seeing the beginning of a youth protest movement,” said Anatoly Golubovsky, a Russian historian surveying the crowd at one corner of Moscow’s Pushkin Square, which erupted in vigorous jeers of “Shame” whenever riot police officers rushed into the crowd to drag someone away.

“I cannot remember, and old-timers, as they say, cannot remember, when was the last time in Russia that so many people attended demonstrations in different cities,” said Georgy Alburov, the deputy head of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, started by Mr. Navalny.

History did not repeat itself

Those familiar with Russian history can try and recall examples of coordinated protests in almost 200 cities & towns: there aren’t any. The protests that unfolded on the 12 June 2017, are truly unprecedented for Russia in that one all-important criterion: they reflect both a breadth & a depth of popular discontent that encompasses literally all of that society.

Consider that given the weeks of threats (as well as actual arrests & even violence such as the blinding of Navalny in one eye a few weeks ago) as well as the bitter legacy of Gulags, only the bravest of the brave dared show their faces for formal protest. So you can safely assume that for each Russian that went out on the streets, at least 10 support the cause who were afraid to go.

At no prior time have Russian opponents of any political regime turned out in such numbers in so many places. IT has made this possible. After years of being afraid even to speak candidly to neighbours, people mingled freely & peacefully, sharing experiences & opinions. These are the makings of a new civil society.

The world will be a better place & a safer one for all when Russia finally emerges out of its crisis, as a secular, pluralistic, tolerant, free democratic society governed by reasonable people with brains and integrity, instead of paranoid & corrupt ex-KGB chiefs. Let’s keep the spotlight on so no one is harmed who is under arrest.

Deterioration of civil liberties

Learning of how civil liberties have deteriorated in Russia, I am reminded of former Supreme Court Justice David Souter’s prescient remarks:

“I don’t worry about our losing republican government in the United States because I’m afraid of a foreign invasion. I don’t worry about it because I think there is going to be a coup by the military as has happened in some of other places. What I worry about is that when problems are not addressed, people will not know who is responsible. And when the problems get bad enough, as they might do, for example, with another serious terrorist attack, as they might do with another financial meltdown, some one person will come forward and say, ‘Give me total power and I will solve this problem.’”

Back in 2000, Putin was welcomed by both Russian voters and foreign leaders as someone who could fix the chaos of the Yeltsin years. Putin literally promised to make Russia great again. The Russians exchanged their hard-won, short-lived democracy for promises of a strong man who will fix everything.

Russia is a crystal ball that let’s us look into our own future. Trump’s attacks on the press, his battles in courts, his trouble with Comey, his blatant lies and disinformation campaigns – these things are not just about their immediate issues. These things are portents for the future of American democracy.

Wake up call

This should be wake-up call to all Americans who prize the freedom of living in a Democracy. Donald Trump may admire Russia and Vladimir Putin for a host of reasons that may or may not be clear, but if clamping down on the opposition is one of them, the United States of America as we know it is in for some very troubling times ahead.

In spite of the political odds, you still have Constitutional rights, which includes having a voice.

Use it.