Protests have been an integral part of Russian life ever since the rise of communism, receiving most attention starting in 50s. Often sentenced to prison or mysteriously disappearing, citizens continue to risk their lives in an effort to change the government they view as corrupt. Of late, there has been an uptick in such events. Starting in late March, demonstrators have come in flocks to major Russian cities holding everything from signs to rubber ducks (and some real ones).
Spurred by a video and campaign by opposition leader Alexey Navalny, citizens have accused former president, Dmitry Medvedev of corruption charges (what a shock). With Russia gearing up for elections in 2018, protests and social activism will be on a rise until results come in. But before we talk about what is happening, we should address what has happened. The words Vladimir Putin, Russia and corruption have become synonymous over the past 15 years and will likely continue to be, but how did it all start?
The political system is pretty confusing, but the version we see today came into being in 1991 when the first official President, Boris Yeltsin, was elected. In Russia, the second most powerful position (similar to our vice president) is known as the Prime Minister, and is chosen by the acting president.
In 1999, Yeltsin chose Putin to be his Prime Minister. Shortly after, facing corruption charges, Yeltsin stepped down and Putin became acting president (his first presidential decree was pardoning Yeltsin for any corruption charges). In 2000, elections made Putin’s presidency official.
Russian law prohibits a president for serving more than two consecutive (key word) terms, so after having been reelected in 2004, Putin could not be reelected again in 2008. This was no problem for him, however, as Dmitry Medvedev, a friend and member of the same political party (United Russia, how ironic), was elected. Medvedev later went on to choose Putin as his Prime Minister and extended terms from four years to six, meaning future presidents could be in office for longer.
In 2012, instead of running for reelection, Medvedev conceded to Putin, who won (in a slightly fishy election where many cry of vote-rigging) and is now serving as President until 2018, where he has the opportunity to run again to serve until 2024. To add to the corruption, Putin chose Medvedev to be his Prime Minister.
As you can imagine, anyone who dislikes Putin is not very happy. Combine this with state-run media and strict control over what can and cannot be said and you have a country that looks very similar to communist Russia.
Alexei Navalny has been making moves of late, including instigating 2017 protests. Described by The Wall Street Journal as “the man Vladimir Putin fears most,” the government has been making swift moves in an effort to silence him.
In December of 2016, Navalny announced that he would run for President in the 2018 elections and is projected to be Putin’s toughest opponent. However, after having been detained for 15 days following one protest, concern has arisen about Navalny’s past record.
In 2012, Navalry was brought up on embezzlement charges of a state-owned lumber company, Kirovles. The charges were initially dropped because of lack of evidence but then were reinstated with a five-year sentence. Later released on probation and currently appealing for an overturn, Navalry is tied up in an immense legal battle.
Unfortunately for him and everyone in Russia, Russian law prohibits anyone convicted of a crime from running for public office. How convenient for Putin and his 2018 aspirations. Pin phony financial charges on political rivals and continue to play a version of political-music-chairs-where-the-musical-never-stops with your buddy Medvedev.
It is hard to see any change happening soon. Even with the European Parliament overwhelmingly passing a resolution to “immediate release and dropping of all charges” against Navalny “and all the peaceful protesters and journalists detained after the recent demonstrations in Russia,” I doubt Russia will comply.
The lack of transparency throughout the country means meaningful change will not happen. Even if the majority of the country votes against Putin, he will still win the election one way or another.
David Csordas is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.