Officially, Vladimir Putin has won 64% of the votes during the presidential election back on March 4th. However, various fraudulent schemes were widely deployed, including voting multiple times, known in Russia as “carousel”, ballot stuffing, faking figures in final protocols, absentee ballot fraud, fake voters, fake buildings full of fake voters and even fake polling stations. And that is not counting the cases, where people were forced to vote for Putin with the threats of dismissal. Some independent observers put the real figure at least a little below 50%, necessary for avoiding the second round of elections.
Nonetheless, the inauguration is planned for May 7th. Obviously, there are people who do not consider Putin a legitimately elected president. According to the Constitution, they do have the right to peacefully protest in public places. The reality, though, is quite different. As of now, the application for a mass protest has not been approved by the office of the Mayor. Moscow also happens to prepare for the annual Victory Day parade, to take place on May 9th. Some suspect, that inauguration has been timed this way on purpose, because it allows for huge military presence in the city, as well for the closings of some convenient venues in the center. The rumors are flying around, that even the mobile phone service might be cut off in central Moscow for the inauguration.
One can anticipate that the numbers are going to be somewhat higher than twenty something thousand on Noviy Arbat the day after the election. People were tired, disappointed and many were exhausted by serving as independent observers for many hours, which was hard ungrateful work, particularly eye opening and in some cases not even safe. The protests for May 6th were originally billed as a March of Millions. While it is reasonable to doubt that they will gather a million, the dissatisfaction with the status quo runs high. Especially since some tightening of the screws has already taken place since the election. Even though the position of city mayor is going to become an electoral position once again, some federal and municipal filtering is written into the new law. Party registration is simplified, but penalties for unlawful protests are supposed to rise soon. Divisive politics are on the rise, with the ban on homosexual propaganda in place in St Petersburg and Novosibirsk, and being considered in Moscow and on the federal level. There is often talk of the enemies, domestic and sponsored from abroad, when government or church official’s actions are being questioned. This was seen in the case of almost 50 Volgograd officials flying for the Easter weekend to Italy on a charter plane, rumored to have been loaded with vodka. Later, the Governor expressed a surprise, that the trip has attracted attention at all, as it has been just a working visit for the purposes of cooperation in pig farming. Yes, during Catholic Easter. Those who noticed, were bound to have been enemies. Many other things happened since election. Three young women are being held on vague charges of misdemeanor for almost two months now. They held an unorthodox prayer in a famous cathedral, asking the Mother of God to get rid of Putin. The reaction of the Church was aggressive, with a lot of mentioning the words “enemies” and “sacrilege”, sure enough some internet reactions were nothing short of stoning. This case, among others, is seen as a sign of intensifying of political repressions. At the same time, corruption and lawlessness keep blossoming. Another beautiful forest is being cut for another highway project, which was kept under wraps until the night when the cutting actually started in the town of Zhukovsky. Protestors have yet to see the permits for cutting and construction, but they have been beaten, arrested and held in a cage without charges for 5 hours.
Probably the same fate awaits 60% of Russian territory, just to the East from the Ural mountains, for which a state development corporation with simplified laws is currently under consideration in Duma. One shudders to elaborate, what “simplified” laws would mean in reality.
With so much to be unhappy about and with more unhappiness anticipated, people are planning to protest on May 6th. As Moscow is not known for its plentiful and affordable hotels, Moscovites are opening their doors to those who want to come from afar. Social networks make possible both help with tickets and lodging. Watching these acts of unity and selflessness is extremely endearing. But the same social networks make trolling and spying easy too. People are reported to have been intimidated not to come to Moscow for this weekend. There are reports from Yaroslavl, that some of those who clicked and joined the event, were paid the visit from the police, with the requests not to participate in an extremist action, or at least to give a written promise not to. Reports from Orenburg were even worse, people planning to go to Moscow were told, that something might just happen to them.
Sure, by the North Korean standards, this might seem gentle. But in a state, that still dares to call itself a democracy, it is looks like a sign of much worse things to come.