Thousands of Russians recently took to the streets to voice their opposition to the prospect of a further six (perhaps twelve) years under the grip of Vladamir Putin’s rule at the Kremlin. Many of the protestors chanted for a more democratic government and a more open society. But not everyone who hates the Putin-Medvedev team is a liberal democrat. There are other, nastier, strains in Russian politics.Charles Clover writes in the FT:
…much of the groundswell of middle class protesters is made up of liberals, standing up for universal human rights and freedoms. But much of it is not. Russian nationalists see democracy as a means to an end, a path to power, but their commitment to a pluralistic political system once they have achieved it is, at best, an open question…However, most ordinary Russians seem more drawn to ethnic nationalism, rather than nostalgia for great power. They are more concerned about immigration, which has increased rapidly under Mr Putin due to Russia’s economic growth; about ethnic tensions between neighbourhood gangs; and the budget-draining federal subsidies for the war-torn north Caucasus.
We’ve had plenty of experience to show us that democratically elected governments in troubled countries are not always smart, good or sustainable governments. In Russia there are some genuinely nasty people waiting in the wings who, if they took office, would generate a wave of Putin-nostalgia around the world.However, the biggest problem that Russian opposition to Putin faces isn’t the ugly and chauvinistic nationalism to be found there: it is the splintering that results from the deep ideological and cultural differences between the west-oriented liberals, the proto-fascist nationalists, and the nostalgic communists who oppose the regime.Add to this that a significant number of opposition figures are opportunists just waiting for the right offer to switch sides and join the Putinocracy, and Russia’s prime minister appears to be one of those rare world leaders who, at least for now, looks pretty secure.