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May 23, 2024

Russian Spring: Will the revolution catch on?

By STEFAN KAY | February 8, 2012

In the past year, a shocking number of undemocratic regimes have been met with adamant citizens demanding more freedom. For a while, members of the Kremlin were proud that Russia was an exception. This pride, however, may have gone a little too far. A few months ago, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced that he and President Dmitry Medvedev would nonchalantly ‘swap' roles, thrusting Putin into a leadership position for potentially the next 12 years.

A few months later, the Kremlin manipulated the national party elections in favor of the leading United Russia party. Immediately after, in early December, Russia was no longer an exception to the growing list of undemocratic regimes met by avid censure. But what will these series of protests manifest into? According to numerous news sources and political pundits (and apparently John McCain), the situation in Russia should prove to expand the borders of the Arab Spring to regimes beyond the Arab world. Although it is really anyone's guess as to what exactly the next few months hold, there are important factors to consider that radically distinguish the Russian movement from the Arab Spring.

The first and most important one is climate. Although to people at Hopkins climate may appear drastically inconsequential in determining significant political changes, it will likely prove to be more influential than any one of the major protesting figures of the antigovernment movement.

This past month in Moscow, the temperature has kept between its customary five and negative five degrees Fahrenheit, which is about 30 degrees below a ‘cold' January day in Baltimore. This reality makes marching outside of the government buildings that much more difficult, regardless of people's dedication, seeing as they can only remain outside for so long before they begin to literally suffer from frostbite. In that respect, the type of pressure the immovable Egyptians put on Mubarak by refusing to leave Tahrir Square will not be put on Putin and his entourage, at least not yet.

This distinction is significant for multiple reasons. First, people will presumably have to stay home and postpone acting on their thirst for freedom until the temperature is markedly more conducive to regime change. The excitement will have inarguably declined, which could make for a far less influential movement (although there is a strong possibility that when Putin wins the March election, the movement will be reinvigorated). Second, the inevitable delay of action, if the protests do in fact reignite, will give the Kremlin a luxury no government that was victim to the Arab spring had: time. The Kremlin now not only expects a resistance movement, but will also have prepared extremely well for one. The Arab governments, dissimilarly, were caught by surprise and appeared to not know how to react in certain cases. Finally, keeping up a movement this politically unidentified and unfocused through a period of inactivity will inevitably require people to step up as figureheads to keep the enthusiasm going and the motive in sight.     Unfortunately, the people who will likely take on that role preach certain political ideologies that just don't appeal to many. The movement is thereby at risk of becoming associated with a certain ideology (which isn't necessarily undesirable, but obviously not applicable to everyone). The movement's popularity will be hurt considerably.

The second reason that a resistance in Russia is incongruous to what occurred in the Arab Spring is the political difference between Russian citizens and citizens everywhere else in the world. Russian citizens have rarely had any sway over who governs them. They have never really had much political freedom with the exception of the Yeltsin years that were economically unstable and chaotic; Russians seldom remember them fondly. The citizens have generally prized economic growth and financial stability in their lives over certain social and political rights, and Putin's rule justified withholding the latter by ensuring the former.

As such, the movement could prove to revolutionize politics in Russia and introduce an era that changes much more than merely who is in charge. This distinction is important because it would make this movement as much a social revolution as a political one, as Russians fight for a type of freedom few of them can say they have experienced before.

Although economics did not completely fuel the Arab spring, financial desperation did play a notable part. Most Russians are more financially well-off than ever before, which means that the revolution will remain, in many ways, purely social and political. The movement will therefore be far more disorganized, last longer, and only succeed if it manages to thrust Putin from office.

One certain similarity between the Arab movements and the Russian one is that the people, if resilient enough and truly dedicated, will ultimately prevail. But, right now, it is anyone's guess as to how events over the coming months will unfold. The only suggestion worth making is that looking back at the Arab Spring as a means of determining what will come in the future may prove to be less fruitful than many expect.

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