From the September-October 2019 issue of News & Letters
In August, Russia saw the largest wave of protests in years. The immediate cause was the government’s refusal to allow opposition candidates on the ballot for Moscow city council elections. The demonstrations grew in size and spread to other cities, when riot police beat down and arrested hundreds of peaceful protesters.
By Aug. 10, 60,000 marched through central Moscow. Many were young people who had never engaged in protests before. Officials were quick to place blame on foreign agents, as they had in the last major wave of dissent in 2012.
But continual falling standards of living, political repression, the recent hike in retirement age to 65 years for men (40% of Russian men will not live that long), and the expense of Putin’s genocidal war in Syria have fueled this round of discontent. As one woman said, “The elections are just part of it. We need change.”
There has also been a series of high profile prison abuse scandals, including torture and the use of slave labor. A new law will increase the use of prison labor which some have compared to the Soviet-era gulags. Half of the world’s prisoners are held in just three countries, Russia, the U.S. and China.