Russia: Putin's Return Rouses Online Polemics

In the wake of protests against Vladimir Putin's inauguration, the reactions of Russian bloggers demonstrate a wide spectrum of opinion online. That oppositionist activism has suddenly taken on a more radical tone has only further inflamed the passions of already polemicized observers.

In the Eyes of History

Certain bloggers have raised vivid, though not always convincing, historical analogies in their posts about the May 6 protests.

Vladislav Naganov, oppositionist blogger and frequent author at Novaya Gazeta, authored a post [ru] titled, “This is War,” where he compared police brutality on May 6 to the French invasion in 1812, as well as the Nazi offensive in 1941:

Скажу сурово, без прикрас – как оно есть. Это – война. Идёт битва за Россию. Я надеюсь, что каждый, кто до сих пор этого не понимал – теперь, наконец, это понял. Уже сброшены все маски. Расставлены все точки над «i». Отныне война народу объявлена публично.

I'll say this harshly and without embellishment — just how it is: this is war. The battle for Russia is underway. I hope that each person, who didn't understand this before, finally understands now. Everyone's true colors are at last revealed. All the i's have been dotted. From here on out, war has been declared publicly on the people.

In a post [ru] titled, “The Bloody Sunday of the 21st Century,” blogger Sparkman likened the violence outside Bolotnaia Square to the 1905 massacre [en] of protesters outside Tsar Nicholas II's Winter Palace in St. Petersburg.

Собственно, ведь и демонстрация 9 января 1905 года рассматривалась не как начало Революции, но как последний всплеск петиционной кампании, начатой осенью 1904 года – сперва банкетами во славу призывов к реформам, затем принятием либеральных обращений от имени земств, адвокатских и профессорских собраний.

In fact, the actual demonstration on January 9, 1905, is seen not as the beginning of the [Bolshevik] Revolution, but as the final episode of the petitions campaign, which first began in 1904 as a series of banquets celebrating the calls for reform, and then grew into various liberal public appeals from groups of councilmen, lawyers, and professors.

What It Means For the Future

Putin and his wife in the Kremlin's Cathedral Square in Moscow after the inauguration ceremony, (7 May 2012), photo by the Presidential Press and Information Office, CC BY-SA 3.0; Wikimedia Commons.

Rather than turn to the Imperial or Soviet past, other bloggers have focused instead on what the current protests mean for Russia's future.

Viacheslav Egorov, who blogs as jurist_egorov, discussed the recent violence in a post [ru] titled, “Who Scares the Authorities?” exploring possible motives for what he believes was excessive police force:

Чего она боится, заставляя полицию применять слезоточивый газ, избивать митингующих, задерживать спокойно сидящих на земле оппозиционеров Навального и Удальцова, задерживать сейчас спокойно митингующих на «народных гуляниях» Алексея Навального и Ксению Собчак??? Чего боится Власть? Чего боится Король? Революции? Бунта уставшего народа? Так бунт неизбежен, если Власть будет так вести себя. Революция неизбежна, если Правительство (новое) и Король (старый новый) не станут прислушиваться к своему народу!!!

What are the authorities so afraid of that they force the police to use tear gas, to beat protesters, to detain the oppositionists Navalny and Udaltsov, who sat calmly on the ground, and now to detain Aleksei Navalny and Ksenia Sobchak as they protest calmly in the ‘people's walks'??? What are the authorities so afraid of? What is the King so afraid of? Revolution? A rebellion of Russia's weary people? Ah, but a rebellion is inevitable, if the authorities continue to behave as they have. And a revolution is inevitable, if the Government (the new one) and the King (the old-new one) don't learn to listen to their own people!!!

Blogger Nazavrik reviewed [ru] a controversial statement made by President Putin's Press Secretary, Dmitri Peskov, who said that police displayed too much self-control and should have used greater force against the May 6 protesters. Nazavrik posted photos of similar police measures used against crowds in Italy and Chile, arguing cynically that Moscow's police are increasingly eager to hone their skills studying the West's police history:

Он прав. У нашего омона пока ещё недостаточно опыта для разгона массовых мероприятий. На Западе давно уже отточены все действия по применению газа, резиновых пуль, провокаторов, водомётов и прочей спец.техники. На Западе в этом плане и законы жёстче и полномочий побольше. […] Но теперь, когда стабильность вновь воцариалась в стране, наш омон быстро нагонит зарубежных коллег и все приёмы, годами репетируемые на учениях, отработает на протестующих, действуя жёстко в угоду переживаниям Пескова.

[Peskov] is right. Our riot police still lack the experience to disperse mass public events. In the West, they have already fine-tuned the use of [tear] gas, rubber bullets, provocateurs, watercanons, and other special tactics. In the West, in this respect, the laws are stricter and the police powers are greater. […] Now, however, when stability in the country reigns again, our riot police will quickly overtake their colleagues abroad, and every technique they've spent years studying and rehearsing will be employed against the protesters, and done so severely, in order to allay Peskov's worries.

A Digital Delusion?

Other bloggers have pointed out that Moscow's street demonstrations are far from the concerns of average citizens, dismissing as hysteria rumors about “revolution.” In a reversal of the typical oppositionist claim that digital and citizen media breaks through censorship to reveal a truer picture of everyday life, Dmitri Kotukov argues [ru] that protesters have constructed a false reality by tweeting and writing endlessly about their adventures with the police:

Несколько дней практически не открывал ноутбук, не использовал айпад, короче как и положено в праздники – отдыхал. Сегодня открыл ленту и удивился. Читаю все эти надрывные истории о столкновениях непонятных людей с ОМОНом, какие-то нелепые призывы куда-то выйти, про марши миллионов-триллионов, революции […]. […] Что самое удивительное, эта видимость существует только в инете. В реалии люди отдыхают, радуются весне, гуляют, встречаются на праздники.

For a few days, I practically didn't open my laptop, didn't use my iPad, and — in short and as is appropriate during the holidays — I relaxed. Today I looked at the headlines and was surprised. I'm reading all these hysterical stories about clashes between these incomprehensible people and the police, about various absurd calls to march off somewhere, about million-man marches and trillion-man marches, [and] revolution […]. […] The most remarkable thing is that this illusion exists only on the Internet. In reality, people are relaxing, enjoying the spring, taking walks, and meeting for the holidays.

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