Russian Demos Revive Memories

(Significantly, the first party to register under the new political freedom was not the Communist Party but the so-called "Liberal Democratic Party of Russia" (LDPR) led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Mr Zhirinovsky can be described in many ways, but neither "liberal" nor "democratic" would be among them. This was deliberately engineered by the KGB to discredit the terms in the eyes of the then politically naïve population.)

Later significant mass demonstrations surrounded the attempted - and inaptly-named - coup against the Soviet President, Mikhail Gorbachev in August 1991. During the three days of tension demonstrations were small; most people carried on with their daily lives while keeping half an eye or ear on what was going on around the Russian White House. It was only when it was clear that it was all over that hundreds of thousands came out on the street.

A little over two years later, in October 1993, when the row between the Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, and parliament boiled over, there were more mass demonstrations, this time turning into serious violence and the deaths of nearly 60 people. Mr Yeltsin decided that the answer was to order his tanks to fire on the White House. The Russian people again watched and waited; and in December showed their disapproval in the first elections for the post-Soviet State Duma by voting in significant numbers for the LDPR.

October 1993 marked an end to the mass political demonstrations in Moscow. People were too busy trying to survive the chaos and the hyper-inflation which had engulfed society. One or two matters brought out protesters – such as the two wars in Chechnya, or the plight of pensioners - but the age of the mass manifestatsiya seemed to be over.

Until now. As much as anything, it was the sight of so many policemen and police vans in Moscow this month which brought back the memories of the 'nineties. A massive and aggressive-looking police presence - now, just as then - seems to be the authorities’ only way of responding to the people. Unfortunately, now as then, the bulk of the Russian police force and Interior Ministry troops who are sent to deal with the demonstrations are under-paid and under-educated; and even if (fortunately) they don't shoot first and ask questions later, the first questions they do pose are via their truncheons.

Perhaps the biggest single difference between the earlier demonstrations and these latest protests is that now a significant number of people have been mobilised via modern communications: the Internet, Facebook, Twitter; mobile phones are far more prevalent now than 20 years ago.

The main issue, though, is similar: discontent with the way the politics of the country are being run. And, for the first time in a number of years, people around the world are taking an interest in what is happening in Russia, just as they did 20 years ago. If the Russian authorities choose to ignore the voice of the people now, the Presidential election in March next year could prove far more interesting than most people thought.