Recently, Russia’s uncommonly chilly early summer and volatile political atmosphere gave rise to a joke. Putin goes to a fortune teller and asks: “How long do I have left?” The fortune teller responds, “You have one summer.” “All right,” Putin says, “No more summers!”
The delayed summer weather finally arrived, but Putin’s government is still pretending that the protests that have been occurring since late March are isolated eruptions fomented by provocateurs, in particular by the opposition blogger Alexei Navalny. To maintain this pretense the authorities have deployed overt repression, covert intimidation, and ideological indoctrination to stifle public displays of dissent. Yet the recent wave of protests on June 12, Russia’s Independence Day, demonstrated that these tactics have only inflamed the spirit of disobedience.
Many young Russians are eager to proclaim their independence from the corrupt and unjust regime, and the March 26 protests, dubbed “the children’s crusade,” announced that a new generation has joined politics. High schoolers and college students who have grown up under Putin have paradoxically turned out to be more free and idealistic than their parents who had a taste of Gorbachev’s glasnost and Yeltsin’s reforms. Their youthful enthusiasm in denouncing corruption and naive assertion of their constitutional right to free assembly caught everyone, including the government and its obedient media, by surprise.
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