Russia protests

"People attend a rally in Bolotnaya square to protest against violations at the parliamentary elections in Moscow December 10, 2011." -Photo by REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva"

Everyone in the newsroom is rabid over these post-election protests. Journalists are foaming at the mouth – “finally a story!”

Actually, I stayed home today while tens of thousands of people marched in central Moscow, demanding free elections, and shouting anti-Putin slogans. But Bolotnaya Square wasn’t the only place people were discussing the election. Everywhere I went people were talking about it. The city is buzzing – conversations in the bus, around kitchen tables, police officers on edge at metro stations, spilling out of their patrol cars at any hint of a disturbance.

Something happened in Russia this week that took us all by surprise – it seems people here are paying much more attention than I thought they were.

I can be pretty cynical when it comes down to it. I see the corruption and the mess all around – tax money stolen from highways, schools, pensions to fund the outrageous country houses of bureaucrats. People can’t get their kids into school or get decent health care without paying bribes. Russia’s been pumping oil out of Siberia for years now, and what, everyone seems to be asking, have the authorities done with this money? Where has it all gone? Why are the roads falling apart and why is the infrastructure rotting? Why is the life expectancy so short here?

And yet, for years, support for Russia’s ruling party and ruling politicians seems to have been high – Putin’s been enjoying something like a 60% approval rating. I know Russians are patient and they can put up with a lot. So, I’ve been cynical – this is the way it’s always been for Russians and this is the way it will always be.

Maybe I’m wrong.

I’m so proud of Russia this week – proud that they’re standing up for what they think is right, proud that they’re doing something about it.

One thing I noticed right away when I arrived four years ago was how smart Muscovites are. They were better informed on U.S. politics and current events than I was. They’re also savvy about their sources. After 70 years of communism a lot of them, it seems, have a natural distrust of what they see on TV; of what they’re told by authorities. Sometimes this leads to bizarre conspiracy theories, but a lot of times it just means they take things with a grain of salt.

A few days ago U.S. Senator John McCain tweeted a warning to Putin about “spring” coming to Russia, referring to the Arab Spring revolts in the Middle East.

I hope he’s wrong.

As much as I want Russia to have the freedom and awesome country that they want and deserve, I hope that it comes about without the mess, war and bloodshed that countries like Egypt and Libya have seen this year. And I think most people here share that opinion. They just got their stability back after the collapse of the USSR and the horrible “Wild East” 90’s.

Well, there’s my editorial on things. As my boss said on Monday – things just got interesting.

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