For Newsmill.se: As tens of thousands gather in Moscow and other Russian cities, it is in protest against a corrupt regime, which no longer can provide its people with a belief in the future that might legitimize its further possession of power. The feeling of "we cannot live like this anymore" that became the hallmark of the last days of the soviet empire has reawakened, but the question is only how decisive this feeling will be for the further development of the country.
That we now see people take to the streets and squares on a scale not witnessed since the soviet demise in 1991 is on the surface a consequence of the farcical fraud that took place at the 4 December parliamentary elections. To an even higher degree, it bears witness of a growing popular realization of a profound systemic crisis and that the current regime is uncapable of assuming rising challenges. Power is not even capable of arranging election fraud without it becoming embarrassingly obvious how badly organizsed even the fraud is. For Russians in general it thereby stands beyond doubt that elections are primarily intended for the division of power within the reigning United Russia party and not even represents an approximate popular will. That is an arrogance of power that fewer and fewer Russians are willing to accept.
That a Google search under the Russian term of "party of crooks and thieves" ends up with United Russia as first result is as good an evidence as any of how corrupt the regime is considered. People are simply not prepared to go on along a road chosen that seems to go over the cliffs. The question is how strong and wide the public wrath is and if it is sufficient for continued and increased outdoor protests in sub-zero degrees when the Russian New Year approaches with party and leisure. Disconent with the system still remains and handling it may become a hard task for both Putin and Medvedev for the upcoming 4 March presidential elections. A lot may still happen before then.
What kind of a system is it then that has been constructed during the Putin era and now is questioned by an increasing number of people? Simplified, it is a classic trade-off between power and people. Political power is handed over to an elite in exchange for economic prosperity. From an ideological perspective, Russia's political system is very alarming in combination with a failure of power to deliver on its economic promises.
That civil rights and freedoms have been heavily limited over the last decade has probably been observed by most. These limitations are however not only systematic but depart from an interpretation of the constitution with very reactionary roots. The role ascribed to presidential power under Putin departed from the ideology of the reigning party United Russia, which then was called "sovereign democracy".
The fundament is a system where the president - or sovereign - always has the final say. In its pure form, the president has the constant right to proclaim a state of emergency without democratic accountability.What constitutes a rule of exception, only the president is privy to determine. In essence, it is from this constitutional interpretation that the country's systematic limitations of civil rights and freedom should be perceived. In current Russia the Damocletian sword is constantly hanging over the heads of each and everyone who expresses a divergent view and opposition is considered extremism and an attempt to usurp state power.
Despite president Medvedev's skepticism towards this constitutional interpretation and a high measure of pragmatism in its implementation, it remains a political system practically applied. The practical reason is that supreme political power in Russia has been transformed into a role of arbiter between conflicting political and economic interests, which lack democratic legitimacy and mandate. It is in light of this that the reigning United Russia party should be considered a representation of disparate interests, where primarily Putin but also Medvedev have had to act as arbiters to preserve domestic peace among cynical actors only looking out for their own egotistical interests. As parliamentary elections were carried through, the main purpose was to divide power and positions between different interests within United Russia and not to allow for any expression of real public will.
Why then protest now, in connection to elections to an apparently powerless parliament, when elections for the mighty presidential office awaits in just a few months time? As the Russian electoral system has been designed, it constitutes a two-stage rocket, where parliamentary elections in December determines the division of power within United Russia and presidential elections in March decides who will act as arbiter during the coming six years. That an increasing number of Russians now rise against this system is thus not that strange, as the parliament by way of United Russia symbolizes the corrupt exercise of power felt in everyday life. Protests emanate more from the effects of the system than from its contents.
That the economic component of the trade-off between elite and people has failed is obvious. United Russia's urging the Russians to "enrich yourselves" has not been accompanied by such economic liberalizations that would allow for a wider popular enrichment. Against the background of growing corruption and bribery, today's Russian youth do not consider enterprise and entrepreneurship as a method to reach a reasonable living standard. Instead, the youth is encouraged to seek their livelihood by serving the state within the public sphere. That the future of the young generation would lie within the public sector however rests on the cynical perspective that the more people are corrupted the less will be the interest to upset the fundaments of the system. What stands out is a reality where on the one hand every public office may be purchased at a determined price and on the other hand that the citizens' price list to access public services is decided by the cost of appropriating a public office. As bureaucracy grows, corruption feeds itself and becomes sui generis in a way that lies beyond the bounds of any political exercise of power. In this context, the December parliamentary elections have become a symbol of the corruption and lawlessness, which means that many Russians have lost their fate in the future.