Thousands of Russians protested against their government last weekend in a display of displeasure over possible corruption scandals. Recent reports have arisen showing government officials profiting during the country’s economic downturn. Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian prime minister, has come under scrutiny after he purchased a luxury yacht and vineyard estate while the common populace in Russia has seen their income stagnate and shrink in the past decade. Medvedev is accused of a litany of corruption charges including bribery and profiting from his position to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.
Protests are not a new sight in Russia. Despite generally favorable views towards their own government the populace has taken to the streets in recent times. From 2011 through 2013 protests were a common occurrence, with people upset over unfair elections and human rights violations. President Vladimir Putin was able to quash these soft rebellions through a concentrated media frenzy thanks in part to coordinated efforts of the state-run news media.
The protests that took place in late March may signal a change in the government’s ability to direct and control a unified message throughout the country. Alexei Navalny is a politician that has been extremely vocal in his opposition to the Kremlin. Using an array of social media accounts, youtube videos, and old-fashioned street protests, Navalny has amassed a sizable following of young people. The youths of Russia are not consuming media in the same way as their parents, and as such Moscow is having a difficult time controlling the political narrative. Navalny has excelled at directing his message with flashy videos and easily digestible content marketed towards a younger audience.
Navalny himself has participated in numerous protests and has found himself on the receiving end of Putin’s judicial power multiple times. Like many of Putin’s advisaries, Navalny has been swept up by state police and has been in and out of jail on trumped-up charges for much of his political career. During the peaceful protest in March Navalny was singled out and arrested. With this brazen power play Putin has bought himself a small window of time until Navalny is released to gather his propaganda forces and attempt to calm this recent sentiment.
Political protests have also been taking place sporadically across the United States since Donald Trump’s inauguration in January. From the Women’s March in the beginning of the year to frequent but small gatherings in front of Trump Tower in Manhattan, people have been showing up to let their voices be heard. While investigations of corruption and collusion swirl around the White House, young Americans have been gathering in small displays of defiance against a government that they see as out of touch with their needs. The young voters of America value environmental protections and social freedoms, and see an incoming presidency that has vowed to roll back progress on those fronts that was made by the previous administration.
The people of Russia have seemingly put up with a significant amount of unsightly behavior from their president. But it is not technical journalistic standards or vague human rights issues that have caused the streets of Moscow to swell. It is the idea that the people in charge are profiting off of the backs of the citizenry that finally spurred the public to action. Led by a enthusiastic, savvy politician, the young people of a country steeped in war and scandal have finally had enough.
The next generation of citizens of the United States would do well to take notice. No government or politician is above the will of the people. The young progressives across America who feel marginalized and demoralized after this election will need to find a leader who not only speaks their language, but who uses that knowledge to forge a path with them into opposition.