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Russia

Russia's opposition seeks to strengthen position

Russia's opposition has announced renewed mass protests for December. Moscow stands ready to counter the demonstrations no matter what it takes - almost as if the Russian state feared its citizens.

It is a race for power. Who calls the shots in Russia, the so-called Siloviki structures - that is the military, police and intelligence services - or is it the opposition? The battle is not quite fair: on one side there is the power of the state under President Vladimir Putin; on the other there is a splintered protest movement.

Striving for better coordination and a single voice, the opposition has elected a Coordination Council via the Internet.

Protesters demand freedom for political prisoners, stopping repressions, social justice, fair power and free Russia without Putin. EPA/SERGEI ILNITSKY

Protesters want a Putin-free Russia

Courageous but quarrelsome

It is Russia's youth, above all, who say they want a future without meddling by authorities, a future without Putin.

Isabelle Magkoeva, 21, joined the protest movement in December 2011. Today, she is one of the leaders of the "Occupy Moscow" movement and has clearly pinned her hopes on her peers.

"We are preparing the revolution!" the Japanese teacher told DW, adding that she does not share her parents' non-political attitude. "There are people of my generation who know nothing about the Soviet Union. But contrary to my parents' generation, we are not afraid, and we are not as cynical - we believe change is possible in our country."

Political activist Magkoeva addresses her generation

Indeed, the young demonstrators are fearless. They also lack a clear platform and conceptual common ground. The opposition counts among its members environmental activists and economic liberals as well as right-wing nationalists. Nationalist leader Dmitry Dyomushkin prides himself on his close contact with celebrity government critics like former deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov and Sergei Udaltsov, leader of the Left Front movement.

German model

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny is detained REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Navalny started a new political party

Even the Coordination Council is at odds. Yevgeniya Chirikova, a Greens environment activist and member of the newly formed Council, criticized prominent co-activist Alexei Navalny for hiding and changing his views.

Chirikova said the Greens movement in Europe and in Germany inspired her and gave her courage to start a similar movement in Russia.

"There was nothing comparable in Russia," she told DW. "But in Germany, for instance, I saw people fight for their ideas, take to the streets and launch movements. Grassroots movements, not ordered by the government."

Chirikova's recalls the beginnings of the environmental movement

Most Russians, however, still lack Chirikova's courage: though the protests have spread from St. Petersburg and Moscow to other cities, the middle class has mainly kept away from the opposition movement. At the age of 35 or 40, many people are fully occupied with their jobs and families; a lack of time, fear of state repression and finding their names on "black lists" has kept them off the streets. The majority of Russia's middle class does not want to jeopardize its painstakingly acquired security.

Harassment

Anastassia Mesheryakova runs two popular restaurants in Moscow. The single mother of two has but one goal: that the laws in her country really count for something.

"Whether left, right, liberal or social democratic - honestly, it barely matters to me," she told DW. "I don't care about ideology. There should be rules everyone adheres to - the state and its institutions as well as the people. That would make life much easier."

Mesheryakova said she believes the middle class might eventually become more involved in politics in view of the constraints on their civil rights.

"Ten years ago, we didn't even talk about politics - that has changed," she said. "When we get together with friends, politics is an issue, one of many."

***
DW-Korrespondent , Egor Winogradow

Russians want more freedom and an efficient state

The Russian state does its best to keep people like Mesheryakova from joining the protests: arrests, harsh punishments for demonstrators, restricted right of assembly and construction sites on Moscow's major squares prevent people from gathering. New legislation includes an espionage law that makes it easier to brand Russians who work for foreign organizations as spies. Even in the face of these laws that can be interpreted as necessary by prosecutors to charge anyone, the opposition announced the protest movement would pick up speed again in December.

A voice from the middle class

There is another way to protest the regime. Navalny set up a new political party, the People's Alliance, scheduled to hold its inaugural meeting in December. Vladimir Ashurkov, an advisor to Navalny and former director of the Group Portfolio Management and Control at Alfa Group Consortium, said the party is aimed at giving a voice to the wide swath of society that is unhappy with the present authoritarian and corrupt regime.

"The party platform consists of two fundamental principles," he said. "We see Russia as a European country and we represent the interests of the middle class."

Opposition politician Ashurkov sees himself as the voice of the middle class

All opposition groups, with the exception of the Communists, reject Putin's paternalist-style government. They reject being patronized, harassed and sanctioned - all of which has been on the rise since Putin's re-election. They are fighting for a different Russia - with more domestic freedom and a clear orientation toward Europe.

"We feel Russia does not have to find its own, special path," Ashurkov said. "Russia is a European country and from a cultural historical and religious point of view, we are part of Western civilization."

The day when Russia will be a part of Europe is near, Ashurkov added. But the goal is not necessarily an economic, political or military alliance, the opposition politician said, adding, "The goal is more constitutional legality, freedom of the press and an efficient state."

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