A month ago, crowds flooded Moscow’s city squares to protest the controversial re-election of Vladimir Putin as Russia’s president. On Monday, the University hosted a key figure in the protest movement that has shaken Russia to its core.
Ilya Yashin, a 29-year-old leader in the People’s Freedom Party and the Solidarnost movement, delivered a talk titled, “Protesting Power: The 2012 Russian Elections and the Legitimacy of the Putin Government.” Thomas Garza, associate professor in the Department for Slavic and Eurasian Studies, hosted the talk.
Speaking through an interpreter throughout the event, Yashin said the purpose of his speech was to give his audience a fair portrayal of what is happening in Russia and what the goals of the opposition movement are.
“I really hope that citizens in the U.S. and around the world will have their own understanding of what’s going on in Russia, not just what’s spread by Putin’s propaganda machine,” Yashin said.
Yashin said Russia is in a political crisis and that a return to the authoritarian status quo is not possible. Russians knew that elections were falsified prior to Putin’s recent victory, but the rise of a young middle-class and Internet-savvy civil society has led to an unprecedented popular protest movement, Yashin said.
“We have a new generation of Russians, those younger than me, the Facebook generation,” he said. “Those young people use social media to not only meet girls and boys but also as a source of information and self organization. It’s exactly those people who came out into the streets to protest elections.”
Using the Internet, that same young urban population has raised awareness about the extent of corruption in Russian society, Yashin said.
“The awareness of this corruption has shocked the Russian middle class,” he said.
Yashin said Putin’s regime is misconstruing the opposition movement as destructive and revolutionary.
“We’re often accused of being revolutionary, but we’re not,” Yashin said. “The dialogue between the government and the opposition goes like this: The opposition says we want elections, free speech and for our laws to work. The government says that we are CIA agents who are trying to destabilize the country. It’s absurd that any attempt to establish laws or make sure they’re enforced is called revolutionary.”
Garza, who studies Russian culture, said Yashin embodies a rejection of the cynicism that has long dominated Russian political culture.
“Previously, there has been apathy among Russia’s youth,” Garza said. “They thought: Putin’s going to win, so why bother voting? Yashin and Solidarnost are the exact opposite. The last thing they want to do is be apathetic. They think that if they raise the flag and get excited, that will lead to change.”
In his pursuit of change, Yashin has been arrested three times and was most recently taken into police custody two weeks ago, Garza said.
Garza said he has been trying to bring Yashin to UT for 10 years. Plan II senior Victoria Hopper has also been eagerly awaiting the young politician’s visit.
“As a charismatic advocate for democracy in Russia, Ilya Yashin is a very important figure in Russian politics today,” Hopper said. “Political dissent is not an easy pursuit in Russia.”
Printed on Tuesday, April 3, 2012 as: Yashin sheds light on Russian election