How did Putin become ‘Put-out’?
CENK BAŞLAMIŞThese days Russia is experiencing an interesting, important and perhaps even dangerous process that, up until now, no one could ever imagine.
On March 4, Russians will go to the polls to choose a new president for the sixth time since the fall of the Soviet Union. Perhaps the most fortunate among the five candidates in this election is Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. He served two terms as Russia’s president, ending in 2008, but since the constitution would not allow him to run for a third consecutive term he became prime minister. Now Putin will either have to win half the votes in the first round or the two candidates with the most votes will move on to compete in the second round.
Two separate demonstrations were held in Moscow on Saturday: One was held by opponents of Putin, and the other was organized by his supporters. Each demonstration had more or less the same amount of people, roughly 100,000 people. Slogans of the Kremlin opposition included, “A Putin-Free Russia” and “Thief Putin, Get Out!” At first glance, these seemed like the usual demonstrations during any electoral struggle to spectators, but actually they contained several secret codes.
Prior to this, Putin was a leader seen as “undisputed” and “untouchable.” When he came to power in 2000, his most important achievement was to ensure stability following the chaos of the last years under President Boris Yeltsin. The second of his successes was to repair the honor of the Russian people that was broken in the 1990s when Russia became a country ridiculed and despised in the international arena. Fortunately for him, during this process oil prices increased, providing the Treasury with funds. His self-confident, informal “macho” style, combined with a fist-pounding command, raised him to heroic levels, perhaps even idolized.
Democracy had never been a priority for Putin; and Russians did not have such an expectation since, for them, democracy was equal to the chaos experienced during the Yeltsin years.
The scene changed in the beginning of December 2011 when the once-weak opposition claimed fraud had been committed in the parliamentary elections. The number of demonstrators this time was not just a few hundred people, but 100,000 people. The slogan “Putin Resign!” which was at one time frightening to even think can now be heard throughout the streets of Moscow, even echoing through the walls of the Kremlin.
What has changed to cause a once worshiped leader to fall? In fact, Putin didn’t change – Russia and its people did.
The golden age of the 2000s, with its slogan of “stability,” has begun to lose its old charm, and a generation grew up not knowing the chaos of the 1990s.
Quality of life for the Russian people remained far behind the West.
Russia has been alienated by the outside world, and left with a hand of allies.
Russia was far behind the age of structure of a dilapidated state.
Corruption was so widespread that even the traffic police in front of the Kremlin could easily take bribes.
The result was that a leader once bowed to with respect had lost his charisma in the eyes of some electorates. Or even, in the words of the opposition, “Put-in” became “Put-out.”
As for the cause of the dangerous electoral process in Russia, some sources in Moscow claim that immediately following the elections, the opposition will launch a “rebellion” claiming votes were manipulated. Preparations are being made for what may be an Arab Spring in Russia. Even the U.S. is said to be providing help and support. While the actuality of a “Russian Spring” is unknown, the rumors are being taken seriously, and all possible preparations are being made to suppress any rebellion.
Indeed, Putin seems strong enough to repress a revolt. But no matter what, he is facing the most difficult days of his 12-year-long political career.
Cenk Başlamış is a free lance journalist