There has been surprisingly little coverage of almost three hundred arrests yesterday of protestors across Russia demonstrating against Putin on his birthday. While the evidence so far is that demonstrations were not suppressed with the same level of brutal thuggery as witnessed in Spain, many more arrests were made which will have long term consequences for protestors.
I fear the reason it was not covered much is that it is unsurprising. We have become habituated to the idea that democracy has not really taken root in Russia, and probably will not. But Putin’s continued domination of Russian politics, his playing of the system to avoid the restriction on number of terms, the elimination of the opposition media and the gradual but relentless tightening of the limits of free expression, are not inevitable.
Children of the Cold War like myself were brought up to view Russia as isolated, threatening and entirely irrelevant to contemporary European culture. That of course is wrong. Russian writers, thinkers, scientists and composers are central to the very fabric of European civilisation. Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Bulgakov are as central to our thought as Tchaikovsky is to our emotion.
The end of the Cold War promised to reunite Europe’s great cultural traditions. The neo-imperial ambition of the western powers, and their remorseless pursuit of the neoliberal agenda, has since again isolated Russia from the West, despite the fact that very many (myself included) have been very thankful to Putin for redressing the balance of Western foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East, where the USA’s Saudi driven support for Sunni jihadists is barking mad.
One result of the neoliberal fury at Putin’s great effectiveness at frustrating their international designs, has been the McCarthy like anti-Russian phobia sweeping the USA. Today is exactly one year since the FBI announced it was investigating Russian “hacking” allegedly to damage neoliberal idol Hillary, and in that twelve months the one thing that is clear is that there is not one single solid bit of evidence to back it up. It is perfectly possible both to recognise that Trump is a disaster, and to understand that the Trump/Russia scandal is the biggest Fake News of all.
But none of that must blind us to the very real democratic deficit in Russia, and the very real failures in Russian democracy, which is going backwards not forwards. Nor must it blind us to the very nasty anti-Muslim and anti-refugee subtext to Russian nationalism, which explains some of the strange preferences of Russian media in the West. Those arrests of demonstrators yesterday ought not have happened. Russia can be better than this.
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