Never mind the Slavic Spring label. This is Russia’s own protest

“Hundreds arrested as rattled Putin tries to crush ‘Slavic Spring’”, said a headline in yesterday’s Times. Hmm. Headliner-writers can’t resist alliteration and a nice hand-me-down phrase, can they?

The Times article reckons that some of the protestors in Moscow and St Petersburg have “dubbed the street protests as the beginning of a ‘Slavic Spring’” (“in reference to the Arab uprisings that have swept away dictators across the Middle East”, it adds, helpfully), but would they really do this? I’m doubtful.

Anyway, setting aside the fact that it’s not spring in Russia (current temperature in Moscow: zero degrees), and that the Russian Federation is not an ethnically homogeneous country of Slavic people (there are over 170 national minorities in Russia, including Koreans, Finns, Tatars, Armenians: see the 2002 census results here; ie many ethnic groups and peoples), the post-election protests in the country are clearly significant.

It seems to me that the protests are more than copycat ones (are people ever that impressionable anyway?). They’re surely an outpouring of anger at the way that Russia’s senior politicians appear almost disdainful of basic human rights. There have of course been significant protests in Russia for years – not least the the “Article 31” demos, held on the 31st of the month to highlight how Article 31 of the Russia constitution supposedly guaranteeing freedom of assembly is regularly being flouted by the authorities.

But the week’s events in Russia are developing their own momentum (and counter-momentum). The mass arrests of hundreds of protesters and the use of excessive force by the Russian police have both been criticised by Amnesty. The jailing of the blogger Aleksei Navalny and other “leaders” of the protests is also a clear over-reaction.

What next? On the one hand dozens of further protests are planned in Russia on Saturday. Meanwhile, the war of words between some of the world’s major political figures is only underlining how important Russia’s fledgling protest movement could yet be. Would-be-president-again Vladimir Putin’s attack on Hillary Clinton for supposedly providing protesters with a “signal” by criticising the parliamentary elections, is pretty startling, as is former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev saying Sunday’s elections should be re-run because of widespread rigging.

Blimey. All it needs is for a former US presidential candidate to start tweeting about how the Slavic Spring is coming to Russia or something! And of course, that’s also already happened, with the US Republican Senator John McCain recently tweeting “Dear Vlad, the Arab Spring is coming to a neighbourhood near you”.

Well, I won’t quibble with Mr McCain again over the actual terminology. Whatever words you use, it’s certainly a big week in Russia.

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