Opinion: Why don’t Russians demonstrate for freedom and democracy?

Thousands of people are protesting on the streets of Iran. Yet Russia remains calm. Fear of police brutality can’t be the reason, as this is equally bad in both countries, argues DW’s Miodrag Soric.

Why are hundreds of thousands of Russians allowing themselves to be sent off as cannon fodder in this criminal war of aggression?

Why are they placing their fate in the hands of a warmonger?


Why don’t they rebel?

Most people outside Russia can’t answer these questions. It seems that Russians are prepared to allow anything. Commentators resort to stereotypes about the supposed national character: Russians are forbearing, they’ve always obeyed whichever tsar was in the Kremlin, or they’re afraid of freedom, as Russia author Fyodor Dostoyevsky once wrote.

It is true that rebelling is dangerous right now. Anyone in Russia who stands up for freedom risks imprisonment and torture. But these consequences also threaten demonstrators in Iran— yet over the past weeks, thousands of people there have taken to the streets to protest the mullahs’ brutal regime. Dozens have already paid with their lives. But those who manage to escape the Iranian police seem undeterred. They continue to protest, although the slaughterers in Tehran and other Iranian cities are no less brutal than the OMON [special riot police] in Moscow.


Lukanshenko will fall without Putin’s protection

The world is following the Iranians’ courageous protests with admiration — just as millions of people everywhere paid tribute to the courage of Belarusians two years ago, when they revolted against Lukashenko’s rigged elections, or to Ukrainians, who fought repeatedly for democracy.

In Ukraine, the people prevailed. In Belarus, they haven’t yet. But when Russian President Vladimir Putin is no longer able to protect him, Belarusians will drag Lukashenko to trial.

It is nonsense to claim that Russians are unsuited to democracy. Reference is often made to surveys which claim that around one in three Russians believe “Western democracy isn’t suited to Russia.” Those who think this way, if any do, are the older generation. They have never spent much time in the West. The younger generation, on the other hand, is as open-minded as their peers in Paris or London. Young Russians want freedom, real democracy, prosperity, the opportunity to travel.


It is also nonsense to claim, as leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church have done, that democracy supposedly undermines morality. The opposite is true. Only courts that are independent of the state provide justice for all, no matter how good or bad their personal relationships with politicians may be. In today’s Russia however, the Kremlin decides what the verdict should be when demonstrators are brought to trial. Russia’s judges are the henchmen of power. In stable democracies, corruption and cronyism don’t stand a chance.

The trauma of the 1990s

The 1990s are cited as another reason why many older Russians are skeptical about democracy. But what Russians had to endure back then had nothing to do with democracy. Rather, after 1991, the old Soviet elites — former party functionaries and secret service members — indulged in self-enrichment at the public’s expense. Then they were able to control the country’s politics with their mountains of cash.

Yet Ukrainians and Georgians went through this in the 1990s too. Oligarchs also had tremendous influence in Kyiv, but Ukrainians still managed to vote governments in and out of office. Gradually their standard of living improved. The country developed into a model, showing what Russia could be, and in doing so, became a threat to Putin. It was suddenly clear that democracy and freedom were also possible in the East.


Ukrainians will continue to fight for their country. They don’t want to live in an authoritarian state. They are united by their enormous sacrifice and their war of defense against Russia will shape them for generations.

If the citizens of Russia also want a decent life, in freedom and prosperity, then they too will have to fight for it. Just as the people of other nations have done.

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