While it is true that the 2011-2012 Russian street protests have been unprecedented in recent years in their scale — with a participation unseen since the 1990s — one may well want to take a closer look at the figures being trumpeted by Western and Russian pro-democracy observers and media (which incidentally have almost always been much higher than the official statistics from city authorities).
Describing one of the largest protests, The Economist, echoing many of its colleagues in the Anglo-Saxon press, exuberantly wrote: “But Russia is changing. A richer and more vocal middle class has sprung up, one that recognizes Russia as an ill-governed kleptocracy. The rigged parliamentary poll in early December was followed by street protests in Moscow and elsewhere. A demonstration in Moscow on February 4th got 100,000 people outside in a temperature of -22°C.”
“100,000” — that’s in a city with a population of 11,503,501, according to the 2010 Census. Similarly, U.S. and Western media reports have been replete with celebratory mentions of “thousands and thousands” of anti-Putin demonstrators and democracy activists in their coverage of the protests, ostensibly dismissing the fact that this is in a country with a population estimated in 2012 at 143,030,106.
Please help me with my math if I am missing something here.
As for “In a temperature of -22°C” (-7.6°F): Russians’ Arctic cold-braving abilities have also been much extolled by these same media and are often presented as evidence of their passion for democracy. What these reports don’t say is that (at least speaking to my knowledge for Moscow and Saint Petersburg) throughout the long Russian winters, theaters, cinemas, nightclubs, shops and restaurants are packed, and even in freezing temperatures, long lines can be seen at ticket sales booths in the streets, food vendors’ kiosks and the entrances of entertainment venues. In other words, Russians are out and about —not hibernating bear style-like throughout the cold season, except for getting out to go and defend democracy in public spaces as the stereotyping Western media would like us to see them.
If to compare to the Middle East protests, citing just one case out of many: a full year after the first uprisings in the small island state of Bahrain, on March 9, 2012 “at least 100,000 people participated in one of the largest anti-government protests along Budaiya highway,” according to CNN. “The march, estimated by opposition activists at between 100,000 and 250,000, filled a four-lane highway between Duraz and Muksha.” (Just a little note in parentheses: these places are not mega-cities like Moscow, but villages; and these figures are out of a population for the state estimated in 2010 at 1,234,571).
If any sense of relativity matters, it is clear then that some American journalists and pro-Western paradigm defenders worldwide have been far too optimistic in their assessments of the Russian protests, and too quick to draw comparisons with the Arab Spring movements, or with any long, deeply-ingrained desire for democratic change.