March 26 was the seventeenth anniversary of Vladimir Putin’s election to the Presidency of Russia. The day did not turn out as Putin had probably hoped. In over ninety cities across Russia, tens of thousands of people protested against the corruption of top government officials. They had been galvanized by a YouTube video depicting Dmitri Medvedev, Putin’s prime minister and the head of the United Russia party, as a corrupt apparatchik enjoying a lavish lifestyle of a billionaire while the rest of the country continued to slide into poverty.
Produced and narrated by Alexei Navalny, an iconic opposition figure who has made a career of researching and publicizing the pervasive corruption of Putin’s regime, the film is a masterful exposé. It combines expert sleuthing, striking visuals, and a good dose of humor to present Medvedev as both a criminal who hides his enormous assets in a network of fake non-profits and a hypocrite who tells impoverished old people, “There is no money. Hang in there.”
Corruption is hardly news in Russia, where offering a bribe to a traffic cop or a low-level bureaucrat is a daily occurrence. So why did Navalny’s video and his call for Russian citizens to take to the streets resonate so much? Moreover, why were so many of the protesters young? And, finally, how much can this protest mean as a political spectacle, given its (non)-coverage by Russian mainstream media? Continue reading
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