Last Thursday I participated in an International Conference on Youth Volunteering in Moscow, Russia. There were only a few international participants and I was happy to be one of them. With most of the participants coming from different provinces of Russia it was good to see that there are engaged young people even in remote places. I was particularly happy about the interest in and positive feedback on the FAIR Future Network.
Even though I was there only for four days, Moscow left a strong impression on me.
The vast Boulevards and Buildings and the seemingly endless streets with another important looking place, palace or church at every other corner, it felt like the biggest city I’ve ever been. On the other hand, the streets were much more colourful and lively than my stereotypes had led me to expect. This seemed in particular true for the nightlife, of which I had a quite intense taste thanks to some nice people I met by chance.
On Friday, I met Ivan from Transparency Russia for lunch at the Higher School of Economics. This is one of the elite schools of Russia and corruption seems to be an openly and actively embraced topic there. TI Russia’s anti-corruption lab at the university looked like a professional press centre. The more I was delighted that Ivan expressed his interest and possible support for the FAIR Future Network.
For Saturday, a great demonstration against the fraud in the parliamentary elections was announced. I don’t know enough about Russian politics to have a clear opinion on this. But having read that in the autonomous region of Chechnya 99,4% had voted for the ruling party “United Russia”, it’s clear to me that some fraud has taken place. The Chechen people, who have suffered inconceivably under the brutal repression of their independence struggles by Putin’s government, are to my knowledge largely depoliticized by the rule through fear of the Kremlin-installed local dictator and infamous human rights violator Ramzan Kadyrov. Elections there certainly have nothing to do with free and fair elections, lest with democracy, and these results are with absolute certainty artificially created.
Yet, discussions with young Russians left me with the impression that while maybe appreciating the nobility of the protests, many still think that they won’t lead to much. “There is no real alternative anyway”, I heard quite often.
From the few looks I could get at the demonstration on Saturday, I was left with three main impressions: First and most of all the impressive and scary show-off of state power, which the Russian government knew very well to stage. All big streets in the centre seemed to have been lined by broad-shouldered, hard looking policemen every two meters, making me think that at one quick order all passing people in the area could have been beaten up at the same time.
Secondly, the government seemed to have tried to capture the demonstration, advising people to dress warmly, organising logistics carefully, and providing public toilets and security scans for those who want to enter the place as if it was for a music concert. Also, some rather scary and well organised looking groups took part in the demonstrations…
But all this, and this is the impression I left with, did not succeed to undermine the protestors’ spirits. Friendly looking young and old people came to show their discontent, and their wish for a different political game. The visit made me looking forward that the Russians will join the global struggle for a world where the political and economic structure work for, not against, happy human co-existence :)