So what is really behind the protests Sunday in Russia where tens of thousands of citizens took to the streets to voice their displeasure at what they see as a country run amok in corruption? Not only were they largest protests in years. They occurred despite the government efforts to suppress any kind of civil disobedience. Not to mention a crackdown on the rabble-rousers behind this kind of gentle uprising. Well, according to a report in Christian Science Monitor, there are several factors that may have contributed to this outpouring of support for a more honest and accountable regime.
First, the focus of the protests was not on President Vladimir Putin. He remains popular. Instead, it was on his prime minister and protégé, Dmitry Medvedev, probably prompted by the scathing YouTube report in March, watched by millions, detailing his wealth and the depth of Russian corruption. Apparently, anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, the one who compiled the Medvedev corruption file, was arrested along with other demonstrators participating in the recent protests.
The Monitor piece also points to the decrease in Russian wealth as another reason for the size of the protests — a drop of about 42 percent since 2013, and a result largely of Putin’s policies. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Monitor points to the anti-corruption protests of neighboring Georgia and the success they have achieved in cleaning up the former Soviet state. The country’s so-called Rose Revolution in 2003 led to the removal of a corrupt police force, a simplification of taxes, the removal of a web of regulatory restrictions, a reduction of the government work force, a boosting of salaries, and an overall increase in government transparency.
While the country still has its challenges, particularly with the judiciary, it was judged last year to be one of the least-corrupt countries in Central Asia and Europe according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. And as noted in a January report by the Council of Europe, “Georgia has come a long way in creating a regulatory and institutional framework for fighting corruption.” It may just be that Russians have had enough and are looking across the border to see the progress that can be made from simply standing up and being heard.
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