Enraged by the thought of 12 more years under the rule of Vladimir Putin, tens of thousands of Russians braved temperatures of minus 20 degrees Celsius this weekend and took to the streets in protest.
Ever since Putin's party, United Russia, rigged the parliamentary elections in December, citizens across Russia have been rising up to demand justice and democracy. Activists have been getting bolder and bolder, and the authorities seem powerless to stop them. Just last week, protesters hung a huge banner with the words "Putin, go away" on a rooftop across the road from the Kremlin – an act of defiance that would have been unthinkable just a few months ago.
Last week in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman penned an open letter to prime minister Vladimir Putin and president Dmitry Medvedev, capturing the mood behind this surge of people power and drawing a parallel between Russia today and the beginning of the Arab spring uprisings a year ago:
Dear Sirs: You may think that the situations in Egypt and Russia have nothing in common. Think again. Yes, these two countries have starkly different histories. But having visited both in recent weeks, I can tell you that they have one very big thing in common: the political eruptions in both countries were not initially driven by any particular ideology but rather by the most human of emotions — the quest for dignity and justice. Humiliation is the single most underestimated force in politics. People will absorb hardship, hunger and pain. They will be grateful for jobs, cars and benefits. But if you force people to live indefinitely inside a rigged game that is flaunted in their face or make them feel like cattle that can be passed by one leader to his son or one politician to another, eventually they’ll explode. These are the emotions that sparked the uprisings in Cairo and Moscow. They don’t go away easily, which is why you’re in more trouble than you think....