Written by Ariel Cohen
On Sunday, the Russian New Year’s Eve (in the old-style Julian calendar), tens of thousands of Muscovites poured into the city center to protest the new law banning adoption of Russian children by Americans, known as the “Dima Yakovlev law.”
Despite the nasty January weather, people of conscience did not back down. They have shown the country, the world, and their president that there is a groundswell against the legislation (called by opposition “Herod’s law” or “scoundrels’ law”). The Duma adopted the law in response to the Sergei Magnitsky Act, which was passed by the U.S. Congress in December.
Opposition held its marches in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other major Russian cities. According to the Russian media, about 50,000 people gathered in Moscow.
The protest had two major demands: abolition of the “anti-Magnitsky law” and the dissolution of the Duma.
Demonstrators carried posters of Russian President Vladimir Putin and members of both houses of the Russian legislature who voted for the law, labeling them “scum.” At the end of these protests, protesters symbolically threw the signs into a huge dumpster.
Putin’s spokesman, the polished Dmitry Peskov, commented: “We must pay tribute to the view that prevails, and accept the law, because the law is the law. This is what any state should be based on. Disagreement does not exempt from implementation of the law.”
Such response only further angers the people of Russia. Even worse, many in Russia view the Duma as illegitimate, as allegations of fraud were rampant before, during, and after the recent elections. Foreign observers boycotted the polls, and the ruling party severely curbed parliamentary candidates’ access to media, funds, and other resources, such as assembly halls.
However, history offers some important lessons to the situation at hand. Like 108 years ago, at the time of the 1905 First Russian Revolution, the regime is overstepping its boundaries. Both then and now, people want a dialogue with the government and reform, not bloodshed. However, the opposition’s arguments fall on deaf ears while the authorities become increasingly oppressive.
Indeed, the haughtiness and callousness of power remains constant. Sympathy for innocent children abandoned in orphanages is driving tens of thousands of fresh protesters to the streets in the middle of the Russian winter. People are becoming more committed to protest.
Ignorance of history and a lack of understanding of their people may come to haunt the powers that be, which have now been in place for 13 years. Stagnation is setting in, opposition says—especially the youth.
The country may have entered a pre-revolutionary stage, opposition leaders warn. In Russia, this situation may turn very ugly indeed.
Ariel Cohen brings firsthand knowledge of the former Soviet Union and the Middle East through a wide range of studies, covering issues such as economic development and political reform in the former Soviet republics, U.S. energy security, the global War on Terrorism and the continuing conflict in the Middle East.