Demonstrations took place across Russia on Saturday. But
peopling the crowd in Moscow were folks young, middle-aged, and old --
some very old, in fact. The speakers, including anti-corruption blogger
Alexei Navalny and former World Chess champion Garry Kasparov, delivered
blazing denunciations of Putin, President Dmitri Medvedev, and the
The most incendiary address, transmitted via video on
a giant screen by the podium, came from Sergey Udaltsov, the
34-year-old leader of the radical left movement Vanguard of the Red
Youth. Gaunt, pale, and with shaved head, Udaltsov, in detention and on a
hunger strike since his arrest on December 4th, far exceeded in
rhetorical vehemence the now commonplace monikers "crooks and thieves"
applied to the pro-Putin United Russia party. Putin and Medvedev are, in
his trenchant lexicon, "the tandem dwarfs;" more broadly, he labeled
them and their colleagues "Kremlin bandits," "vermin," "filth," "swine,"
"the dark forces of evil," not society's "elite," but its "shit."
Russian oppositionists frequently denounce their leaders in such language, but not often on tape (now posted online)
before a huge crowd in the capital's center. "Tandem dwarfs" caught on
among subsequent speakers -- and this in a country where personalized,
public ridicule of the authorities doesn't happen often. The next day, a
Moscow municipal court extended Udaltsov's detention for a further 10
days, charging him with "disobeying the police." Owing to his hunger
strike, his health is reported to be deteriorating.
citing the Occupy Wall Street campaign and calling Russian protestors
the "99 percent," Udaltsov laid out the protest movement's principle
demands: cancellation of the State Duma election results, new elections
to be held "under citizens' control," the departure of the president and
government, and the drafting of new electoral and tax laws, the latter
to eliminate what he termed the "monstrous social inequality" in Russia.
He also called on opposition deputies (those, that is, who purport to
oppose the Putin government) just seated in the State Duma to renounce
their tainted mandates "or history will not forgive your treachery."
popularity, according to the Russian Public Opinion Research Center,
stands at 42 percent, down some 20 points since the beginning of the
year. He is still officially favored to win presidential polls
scheduled for next March, but thanks largely to the arcane machinations
of Russia's Central Electoral Commission, genuine opposition leaders --
from Navalny to Udaltsov to Kasparov and others -- will probably be
prevented from presenting their candidacy, in the unlikely event that
they should even decide to compete.
leaders at Saturday's protests made clear that they see the
Putin-Medvedev duo, and any elections they hold, as illegitimate -- a
sign that the many of the protestors might not be willing to accept less
than Putin's (and Medvedev's) departure and the resignation of their
government. After all, once you have termed your leadership "swine,"
"thieves," "crooks" and "bandits," how could you accept their continued
rule? Any participation in their elections could be seen as tantamount
to the "treachery" that Udaltsov condemned, when he explicitly ruled out
compromise: "Do no trust at all the tandem dwarfs!"