New generation leading protests against president
MOSCOW — When almost all the protesters at recent anti-government rallies across Russia went home, teenagers and young adults were the only ones left on the streets.
“In my circle, more and more people are getting protest-minded,” said 20-year-old theater student Andrei Zabara, one of about two dozen youths who ended up staying camped on the streets of Moscow last Sunday. “The girl who was streaming it on Instagram last night — her mom was helping, she brought us food. But as far as the rallies go, (the parents) are afraid to come out.”
Many born during President Vladimir Putin’s 18-year-long rule, young Russians like Zabara have long been considered one of his most loyal constituents. But increasingly, the government’s anti-Western agenda and reports of widespread corruption are turning young Russians against the leader.
In the decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, street protests were led by 50and 60-year-olds, disenchanted by the freewheeling capitalism while their children were busy reinventing themselves in a new market economy. In 2011, when Putin announced his return to the presidency, it was the budding middle-aged middle class that took to the streets to protest what they saw as an unfair and archaic political system. But the violent crackdown on a rally in May 2012 and ensuing criminal persecutions of a dozen protesters have scared off the 40-year-olds.
Meantime, their teenage children have taken the lead. With Russia’s rigid political system offering no other outlet for discontent, young people have turned to unsanctioned street protests, ignoring official bans and unafraid of police brutality.
“Young people are taking to the streets on behalf of their parents, not against them,” said Moscow political analyst Ekaterina Schulmann. “Those kids enjoy the support of their parents who may be wary of the risks, may be afraid (of coming out) ... but they share the same values.”
Zabara says his parents are supportive of his activism but are too afraid to join him on the streets, fearing repercussions for their jobs.
Yevgeny Roizman, who served as mayor of Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city, and is considered one of the most popular opposition leaders, said he found last weekend’s protest crowd in Yekaterinburg substantially younger than he expected.
“Young people are coming out for us and taking the hit,” he said in a video blog, adding that older people should “feel ashamed.”
Young protesters carry a barricade at a rally Sept. 9 against retirement age hikes in Moscow. Young Russians were long viewed as some of President Vladimir Putin’s most loyal supporters.