Letter from Moscow

On Sunday the Russian government held parliamentary elections. As usual, the results were massaged. But after fifteen years of such massaging, going back to the presidential election of Yeltsin in 1996, voters have finally had enough. A large protest gathered on Monday in the center of Moscow, at Chistye Prudy. Our friends in Moscow write:

What happened today at Chistye Prudy was, unquestionably, a major event. There were five or six thousand people. Most of them were young. For many it was the first conscious political act of their lives. Of course, there were many familiar faces, the ones you see at all the opposition meetings. And of course we got the familiar, empty rhetoric of the old guard of liberal activists: Ryzhkov, Yashin, the rock critic Troitsky. And of course the jokes of Shenderovich and the poems of Bykov.

But the spirit of the meeting, and what followed, was radically new. It was the sense of a new power, a conscious and dignified rage against the government and its police, and a creative willingness to step easily over the narrow bounds of the allowable. And the main thing: a sense of changes happening, not somewhere and sometime, but here and now. On this street, in this square, in this city.

I can honestly say: this is the first time I felt the spirit of Tahrir in Moscow. Certainly distant, and certainly for the moment only as potential–but no longer impossible.

It’s all happening against the background of an increasingly aggressive and helpless government. Thousands of police, bused into the center of town; their lumbering armored vehicles; fantastical constructions of empty stages with the portraits of our “leaders” and the United Russia bear hanging over them; and most of all, the absurd election results–it all just looks so pathetic. And therefore dangerous. The sense of losing control will aggravate the authorities, will cause them to overprepare. There will be more beatings on the kidneys; more “preliminary conversations” with kidnapped activists; more criminal trials on trumped-up charges.

And finally, as never before, one felt today the poverty of the movement’s strategy. No one knew what to do after the protest, where to go, what to demand and of whom. The liberals had no sense that the meeting should not, must not end. The result of the meeting should be a concrete goal: the resignation of the government; cancelation of the election results; the beginning of real change. These goals cannot be stated and then achieved by a narrow group of politicians. They can only be achieved through the will and the conscious organization of a constantly growing collection of people who simply refuse, under any pretext whatsoever, to leave the streets to the police.

Translated by Keith Gessen

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