|The protests in Russia over disputed |
We understand. That's the message Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sent to the pro-democracy movement when he announced new reforms. But will the protesters be satisfied?
Russia is holding its breath. How many protesters will come this time? The 50,000 that have been approved by Moscow authorities? Or will it be up to 80,000 like two weeks ago? Or perhaps far fewer?
The tension ahead of this second major rally in the Russian capital is growing. While western Europeans are gathering with their families for Christmas Eve, tens of thousands of people are expected once again in Moscow to protest alleged fraud in parliamentary elections earlier this month. More than 30,000 have already said they are coming through social network sites like Facebook.
"It's very important that we don't have fewer people at the protest in Sakharov Avenue than we did two weeks ago at Bolotnaya Square," wrote the opposition politician Ilya Yashin in a blog. The demonstration on December 10 was the biggest in Moscow in more than 10 years.
The 28-year-old Yashin wasn't able to be there because he had been arrested at another demonstration and sentenced to 15 days in jail. He's now been freed and has joined the organizers of this weekend's rally.
Medvedev's carrot and Putin's whip
Yashin says Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin are playing good cop and bad cop. "First Putin insults the demonstrators and now Medvedev is promising political reforms," he said.
|Medvedev has pledged reform,|
but experts are skeptical
In a major speech on Thursday, Medvedev promised reforms that would ease the Kremlin's grip on power, including the reinstatement of elections for regional governors and a simplification of the process to approve political parties and presidential candidates. In his last state of the nation address to parliament as president, Medvedev said he had heard the "call for change." It remained unclear, however, when the changes would be put into place.
"In his speech, Medvedev went further with democratic reforms than we've seen in the past," said Jens Siegert, the head of the Moscow office of Germany's Heinrich Böll Foundation. "This is clearly a reaction to the protests."
Siegert doubts, however, that these promises are much more than the lip service of a lame duck president whose days in power are numbered.
Cornelius Ochmann, an expert on Eastern Europe at the Bertelsmann Foundation in Berlin, is also skeptical.
"Content-wise Medvedev's speech is good, but it unfortunately comes too late," Ochmann said. "Today almost no one was listening to him. Everyone is looking at Putin."
No election redo
Despite Medvedev's promises, there's no indication that the protesters' main demand - for elections to be held again - will be met. The central election commission in Moscow said only the results in 21 of more than 90,000 polling stations would be canceled due to violations.
According to official results, United Russia, the party of Medvedev and Putin, won 50 percent of the vote and an absolute majority in parliament. The new parliament met this week for its first session.
Now the fight for the post of president has begun. Putin was the first candidate to register to run in the election to be held on March 4. He, too, has hinted at democratic reforms. Observers suspect that the Russian authorities will make small concessions to the protesters with the hope that, eventually, their endurance will wear out. Many have noted how calm the situation in Moscow has been and that the Kremlin has allowed the demonstrations to take place without the police beating up the protesters like they usually do: Even state television, which usually tows the party line, has reported on the rallies.
|Will Saturday's protests capitalize on the successes of the last few weeks?|
Many in Moscow believe that the Kremlin is counting on the coming holidays to take the wind out of the protesters' sails. Between New Year's Day and the Orthodox Christmas in early January, many Russians will take vacation, which could affect the number of people who are willing to demonstrate. Those in power also seem to assume that the fighting within the protest movement will keep it from taking off. Just ahead of Saturday's rally illegal recordings of telephone conversations in which opposition leader Boris Nemtsov badmouths his colleagues. He has since apologized, but says that the recordings were released to undermine Saturday's protest. He's now hoping that the exact opposite happens, and that even more people take to the streets.
Author: Roman Goncharenko / hf
Editor: Gabriel Borrud