In Russia, Protesters Take To The Streets

Robert Siegel speaks with Julia Ioffe, Moscow correspondent for Foreign Policy and The New Yorker, about the riots in Moscow.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Thousands of protestors took to the streets tonight in Moscow. They accused the party of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of stealing votes in Russia's parliamentary elections. The party United Russia won 50 percent of the vote. That's significantly less than it has in the past and less than the party was expected to win this time around. Still, independent monitors and the protestors say the vote was rigged.

Julia Ioffe is Moscow correspondent for the New Yorker and for Foreign Policy magazine and she joins us now from Moscow. And Julia, first, what was the scene in the streets today in Moscow?

JULIA IOFFE: Robert, it was really incredible. It was about six, 8,000 young people, mostly young men who had come out to show their support for the opposition and show their disappointment with the way the elections went and with the ruling party and with Vladimir Putin. The reason it was so remarkable is because opposition protests in Moscow usually draw a maximum of 200 people and those people are usually old. They're Soviet-era dissidents.

And these were, you know, the children of the '90s, the kids that we've heard are apathetic, who don't care about politics, who only care about, you know, the latest clothes or the latest music. And thousands and thousands of them came out. There was no room for them. They were crowding the streets. They were blocking traffic. But they were peaceful and they were organized and civil and friendly with each other. It was a really incredible move and something that, in my years in Moscow and in the years that my colleagues have spent in Moscow, nobody has ever seen.

SIEGEL: And the riot police were called in, I gather.

IOFFE: Yes. I mean, they were there prepared for any kind of disorder. And when the organizers of the meeting said, you know, we're going to march down the street towards Lubyanka Square, which is where the FSB is headquartered. The FSB, if you recall was once the KGB. The riot police quickly intervened and started beating people with batons or dragging people away and arresting them, throwing them into police vans.

SIEGEL: Julia, I want you to try to help reconcile what our conflicting impressions that people over here have of Russian politics today. On the one hand, as we heard, Vladimir Putin's party was expected to lose seats in the parliament. On the other, he's said to be approved of by huge majorities of the Russian public. Does that make sense to you?

IOFFE: It makes perfect sense. It's a long tradition in Russian history and Russian politics. It's the phenomenon of the good czar. We saw it in Stalin's time. The good czar is somebody who is benevolent. And if he knew all of the abuses being perpetrated by his minions and his bureaucrats and his police, he would surely step in and fix things. So, people are fed up with the cops they see every day, their local officials, people they interact with every day.

And these interactions, I can tell you, are usually not pleasant. Putin, they usually see as a man baring his chest or, you know, getting tough with crime or talking saltily like one of the people and they feel that he has things under control and that he's not so bad. It's just these guys on the local level. And if he knew, he would intervene and make it better.

SIEGEL: Is there any talk of resuming these protests? I mean, should we expect to see young people back on the streets again? Is there an Occupy Moscow in the winds perhaps?

IOFFE: Oh, this is what everybody is discussing. Organizers said that they're planning a protest in Moscow for the 10th of December, in five days. But I have a feeling that Moscow authorities are going to do everything in their power to ban that meeting and to make sure it doesn't happen.

SIEGEL: Well, Julia Ioffe, thanks for talking with us today.

IOFFE: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's Julia Ioffe, Moscow correspondent for the New Yorker and Foreign Policy magazine. She was speaking to us from Moscow.

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