While protests persist throughout Moscow – creating a glimmer of hope for political change – such optimism seems always soon met with a sharp clampdown on dissent.
In June 2017, activist Alexei Nalvany called on disenchanted Russians to fight against corruption. “I want changes. I want to live in a modern democratic state, and I want our taxes to be converted into roads, schools and hospitals, and not into yachts, palaces, and vineyards,” declared Nalvany.
Just this week, and as still a thorn on the side of the Russian government, security forces raided Nalvany’s Anti Corruption Foundation. According to the authorities, the raid was linked to his refusal to comply with a court order to delete a 2017 online film that accused Russia’s prime minister of corruption. While Nalvany was dragged out of the office, he was not detained. In October, Nalvany’s foundation was declared a “foreign agent” by Russia’s justice ministry. CCTV showed that power tools were used to break into his office.
Nalvany remains a viable agent of change, but one wonders if there remains a public outpouring for wanting political transformation in the Kremlin.
“The mood of the people is of no correspondence to street actions as there have not been many,” Oksana Chelysheva, an intrepid activist and journalist, tells me. Regardless, Chelysheva also reminds me that peaceful protests still took place in mid-July, “triggered by the exclusion of independent candidates from the [ensuing fall’s] legislature elections.” A hunger strike, known as ‘Mothers in Protest to Political Reprisals,’ also began involving two Russian women.
Their hunger strike is still going on.
“Mothers of people targeted within these cases have been staging numerous one-person protests as they consider all the charges against their children as trumped-up,” writes Chelysheva in a recent article. “Four days since the beginning of the hunger strike, the health of both women has deteriorated. Their vision has gotten impaired and they feel very weak. We are asking all [people of goodwill] to get involved by appealing to the leadership of Russia … The mothers deserve to get a chance to talk face-to-face with the authorities of the country.”
A friend and colleague of Russian slain journalist Anna Politkovksaya, Chelysheva received the Amnesty International Journalism Under Threat Prize in 2006.
In other recent news highlighting its crackdown on dissent, a Russian court gave Yegor Zhukov, a 21-year-old political science student a three-year suspended sentence, barring him from managing blog websites for two years, for his publishing of videos in which he criticized Vladimir Putin’s government. After the verdict, Zhukov insisted that the struggle was far from over, saying everything was now political and that Russia’s judicial system was a repressive institution.
“I am glad that I am free, but still what happened was absolutely unjust. We should understand that everything has turned political today,” said Zhukov. It is unlikely he will spend time in prison, but the sentence means he cannot take part in elections for six years.
The people’s desire for political change in the Kremlin remains unpredictable heading into 2020, but if past is prologue: the more things change, the more they may regrettably stay the same.