Russians form miles-long human chain for democracy
Some protesters in Moscow blamed President Vladimir Putin personally for Russia's lack of openness. But many said they were more focused on long-term democratic reforms.
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Up to 50,000 volunteer election monitors will blanket polling stations across the country next Sunday to watch for any signs of electoral cheating -- a totally new phenomenon for Russia that was inspired by the protest movement.Skip to next paragraph
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Many were repeat protesters, and some said the experience of taking peacefully to the streets has invigorated them, changed their attitude toward Russia, and made them much more hopeful that the country can evolve a better political system if people keep the pressure on.
"I'm just sick and tired of all the lies and corruption we have to live with," says Dmitry Levin, a self-described businessman. "The missing element, until now, has been public pressure on the authorities. It's the only way to make change. As a businessman, I see corruption every day. You never know who's going to try to take a bite out of your business next. It's got to end. Maybe we can't change things overnight, but we can't tolerate this any longer."
Putin faces four challengers from across the political spectrum in an election that appears to be a classic of the "managed democracy" system he designed. Most serious alternatives were weeded from the process long before ballots were printed, leaving a field comprised of familiar, lackluster also-rans, such as Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov and ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who are unlikely to win many votes beyond their well-established followings.
Protest candidate emerges
One exception is liberal billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who can expect to gain little traction in Russia's vast, working class and conservative hinterland, but whom some of the mainly middle-class protesters in Moscow Sunday said they viewed as a viable protest candidate.
"I'm not going to stay at home on voting day, so I'll support Prokhorov," says Tatiana Bozhenova, who works in an optician's shop. "At least he's already rich. I don't want to see Putin come back. His insistence on returning to power did a lot to drive people into the streets to protest."
About 100,000 Muscovites rallied in support of Putin last Thursday, another sign that Russian political culture is changing, and becoming more publicly expressive, in ways that will be hard for any future authorities to reverse.
Viktoria Sergeyeva, a lawyer, said that she will continue protesting after the elections, no matter what the outcome.
"The next wave of protests, after the election, will be bigger that ever," she said. "They're already being planned."