For many Russians, this Saturday marked the first day they had ever been on a political demonstration.
Tens of thousands of them turned out in Moscow and across all 9 time zones of the country. They braved the winter cold and in some cases sleet to protest the alleged faking of last Sunday’s elections in favor of Vladimir Putin and his party United Russia.
This despite the fact that every effort had been made to deter people from going out into the streets. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the U.S.- funded broadcaster based in Prague, reported that Moscow school authorities – clearly concerned for the betterment of their youth – were forcing students to attend extra classes. At the same time Russia’s top health official appeared on TV to warn protestors that they might catch cold if they ventured out into freezing temperature
Like the Arab Spring, Russia’s Winter-Spring is using Facebook and its Russisan equivalent Vkontakte to mobilise its vanguard. For background on how social media have been helping to organize the protests in Russia have a look at the analysis by Alexey Sidorenko of Global Voices, the international community of bloggers.
Russia’s establishment media changed their tune today. Instead of ignoring the protests as they did earlier in the week, the main TV newscasts led with reports of the rallies. Russia Today, the 24/7 English language news channel had extensive coverage.
For the English language Moscow Times the message is clear:
“In less than a week, the country has changed. If someone had told you that tens of thousands of people — 35,000 have signed up on Facebook alone — would demonstrate against fake elections, would you have believed them? None of us at this paper would.”