Unlike 2017, young people were not the dominant force at Saturday’s pro-Navalny protest. I managed to talk to several people who had not gone to protest actions before. They turned out to be representatives of Russia’s disappearing middle class, who, everyone thought, had disappeared forever from opposition rallies.
“I came to the rally in support of Alexei Navalny today because I am deeply outraged by the lawlessness and arbitrariness with which the Russian authorities are treating Alexey!” said Marina, a businesswoman in her sixties whose clothing store has been affected by the pandemic. “I want me, my children and grandchildren to live in a legal state. Freedom for Alexey Navalny!”
“We squandered our chance [to change the situation in the country] in the 1990s,” another older protester said. “Now I’ve come out to correct the mistake of my youth, when we did not protest.”
“I’m sick of it,” admitted senior manager Anatoly, 31. “I’m tired of the tyranny and lawlessness by the powers-that-be. I’m tired of being afraid to look up, say something, express my opinion. Tired that corruption has permeated all layers and branches of government. And not only the authorities. We are not a country, we are just pure corruption. Because of this, the entire social sphere is going to the dogs. Everything is in ruins. I am tired of watching my country degrade and become increasingly poor from year to year. The country is flying into the abyss, more like Somalia than the Third World. Into chaos. I am tired that the government is not changing. Tired of seeing people who have an opinion different from the opinion of the authorities being grabbed by the scruff of the neck and put in jail. I’m tired of all this. This needs to be changed. Everything is very simple.”
Anna, 34, participated for similar reasons. The young mother says she is tired of “lawlessness and corruption.” “I no longer want to watch how they rob my homeland, destroy its natural resources, poison our people! I came out to protest for myself, my children, my relatives and all the people of my country!” she said. Her friend, Yulia, who is department head at an international company, decided to attend “despite her fear” and despite the fact that she “has something to lose” .
“This time I responded to the call not to stand aside,” she said. “Because I want to believe that my position and vote means something. That at some point there will be so many people who are no longer afraid, that it will be no longer impossible to ignore us and take us into account, while they steal and break the law.”
I asked programmer Ivan, a protest veteran, why he was here. He pointed to the contrast between the “courage of Alexey [Navalny], his faith and commitment” and “the cowardice of the guy who sits in his bunker”, a reference to president Vladimir Putin. “I couldn’t help but come. I just couldn’t accept Navalny’s arrest. The investigation about Putin’s palace itself was cool, but it did not affect me in any way, there was nothing fundamentally new in it for me. Everything was clear [about president Putin] for a long time. But it’s great that the investigation stirred up other people. I was skeptical about how many people would come out – but I’m glad to be mistaken and see how many new people are out today.”
“Whose palace do you think it is? Whose ugliness is this?” a girl in a fur coat asked a line of police officers, showing them images of a certain luxurious Black Sea resort. The police were silent.
“I also understand you,” she continued. “But why are you doing this? Stop fucking guarding them! This bunch of snakes and parasites! May they flee our country someday!”
“Who do you mean?” one officer asked.
This post was originally published on Radio Free.