Sunday, April 5, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Demands for Putin’s Ouster and Appeals to Medvedev Multiply

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 5 – Demonstrations yesterday in various parts of the Russian Federation called on President Dmitry Medvedev to dismiss Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his government for their failure to cope with the deepening economic crisis, warning that there could be “a social explosion” if he is not ousted soon.
But perhaps even more indicative of the tragedy now engulfing many people in the Russian Federation was a demonstration in a small industrial center in the Far East where people sought in the first instance food for their children, and even more indicative of the shift of public support from Putin to Medvedev was suggested by three open letters to the Russian President.
In Moscow, demonstrators led by the United Civic Front (OGF) not only held up signs demanding that Putin and his government be fired but also collected signatures on a petition to that effect which said that “the present government cannot offer effective measures for getting the country out of the crisis (
Moreover, in an indication of the way in which the removal of Putin is becoming an increasingly central issue for a growing fraction of the opposition, the OGF called on “all opposition forces” to support the collection of signatures on similar petitions demanding that President Medvedev take that step.
Meanwhile, there were similar demonstrations elsewhere around the country. In the Mordvinia in the Middle Volga, approximately 500 people assembled to demand that Putin be fired. If that does not happen, speakers from the KPRF warned, the country will face further and increasingly serious turmoil (
And on the same day in Orenburg, 150 demonstrators, led by several different parties, marched through the city carrying signs reading “The RF Government Equals the Crisis” and also demanding that Putin and his government be fired. Similar protests with similar demands took place in St. Petersburg and Khakassia.
A more emotionally wrenching protest took place yesterday in the Svetlogor’ye settlement in Primorsky kray, where people demanded back wages and free food for their children because the factory there has not paid their wages for months and local stores have stopped providing food on credit (
Meanwhile, three very different open letters were dispatched to President Medvedev at the end of last week, letters whose specific demands may ultimately prove less important for the future of the Russian political system that the decision of their authors to turn to Medvedev just now and the arguments they provide for doing so.
The first of these letters came from Boris Nemtsov, an opposition figure who is running for mayor of Sochi. He called Medvedev’s attention to the fact that the Russian interior ministry had illegally confiscated 125,000 of his campaign leaflets, which, given the authorities decision to keep all candidates off the airwaves, effectively deprived him of his ability to campaign.
Nemtsov said that the president should dismiss Krasnodar kray Governor Aleksandr Tkachev for his “illegal actions,” order the interior ministry to stop “illegal interference in the electoral process,” and thus ensure that the constitution and laws on elections will be fulfilled in Sochi (
The Russian politician said that “the shameful situation” in Sochi is affecting “not only Russia’s reputation and not only the site of the 2014 Olympic Games” but also the reputation of Medvedev “personally” because of the president’s responsibility to serve as “the guarantor of the [country’s] Constitution.”
The second open letter came from longtime human rights leader Sergey Kovalev who said that the recent attack on Lev Ponomarev bore every sign of being a “political” act. And that is especially unfortunate because “politically motivated force up to and including even murder has become for us something quite usual” (
What strikes any observer of these events, Kovalev continued, is that “when political motives are evident, the victim is always a critic or an opponent of the powers that be,” rather than one of their defenders. And even if the attackers are not special services but fascist bands, that raises the question as to why such groups are closer to the regime than to the opposition.
“Can it be,” he asked rhetorically, “that we are returning and quite quickly to the epoch of ‘socially alien’ and socially close’ groups” such as existed in Soviet times, with the new ‘socially alien’ category consisting of “liberals, the opposition, human rights activists, ‘dissidents,’ and independent activists’?”
Unless Medvedev takes action to block this development and to reverse the course that Russia apparently is now on, Kovalev warned, “Law will be associated with hypocrisy,” a linkage that is “catastrophically dangerous and something for which “the powers that be area always the guilty party.”
Kovalev concluded by saying that he did not hope his letter would “change something,” but he added that he thinks “simple things always should be discussed openly,” especially when the dangers of doing nothing for everyone concerned are so obviously great and so equally obviously already in evidence.
And the third open letter sent to Medvedev at the end of last week came from members of the Volya Political Party, individuals who described themselves as “simple citizens of Russia” who have been inspired by the Russian president’s call for ordinary people to help solve the country’s political problems (
In a clear reference to Putin, the writers said that they are “tired of beautiful speeches” in the newspapers and television about how “the financial crisis of the West will not be repeated in Russia,” especially since “the crisis in our country has turned out to be even more serious than in many other countries.”
Having detailed efforts by the powers that be to prevent their party from organizing, the Volya writers say that “we cannot have a conversation with our mouths gagged. Honest discussion is a precondition for the rational and just administration of society. Administration without opposition creates illusions and leads to serious mistakes.”
“We turn to you as the President of Russia with the following request: defend our fights.” You, President Medvedev, have the power to make “extraordinary decisions -- use it. And then there will be a basis for trusting you. But until that happens, we do not know whom you serve – the people or someone else.”

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