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Russia's Democracy Movement Looks Ahead

Opposition protesters with a placard depicting Czar Ivan The Terrible gathered during a rally in Moscow, Russia,  March 10, 2012.
Opposition protesters with a placard depicting Czar Ivan The Terrible gathered during a rally in Moscow, Russia, March 10, 2012.
James Brooke

Vladimir Putin's election as president on March 4 dealt a blow to Russia's middle-class-based opposition movement.  After a winter of massive street protests, a protest on Saturday drew a comparatively small crowd.

Russia's democracy movement is searching for new directions after Vladimir Putin's election to a six-year term as president.

Ksenia Sobchak, a television personality turned activist, told demonstrators in Moscow that the movement has to clearly state positive goals.

She says that the movement has to get beyond chanting "Russia Without Putin." She says democrats have to say that they are for an independent court system, a diversity of opinion on television, and a restoration of direct elections for mayors and governors.

Protester Mikhail Makarov says that democracy advocates should spread the movement across Russia.

An Internet user, Makarov says people in Russia’s far-flung regions depend too heavily on state-controlled TV for their news.

Nearby, Olga Sergeyeva says that the expansion of civil society will be key to building a more open system in Russia. She says Russian democrats now need a real political party.

In the March 4 elections, Mikhail Prokhorov, a billionaire businessman, got more votes in central Moscow than Prime Minister Putin. This week, Prokhorov is building on this middle-class base to form a new political party.

Andrei Khoroshilov, an organizer, sees this party as a natural outgrowth of this winter’s citizen poll-watching movement.

He believes that with the warm weather of spring, Russians will become active in Prokhorov's party and in other grassroots movements.

Moscow has Russia’s largest concentration of universities.

Asya Shvydkova, a 20-year-old language student, came to the rally with her boyfriend.  She says young Russians have a new interest in politics.

“We just talk a lot and think what we can change.  That's why we are here,” Shvydkova said.

As the anti-Putin coalition prepares for spring, it is losing its extremes.

Saturday's rally lacked the black flags of the nationalists - and the red flags of the communists.

The nationalists were angry that their leaders were not allowed to speak to the crowd.

They broke away, conducted an unauthorized march and were promptly arrested.
Sergei Udaltsov, a leader of the Left Front, spoke at the rally and called for a “March of 1 Million” to protest Mr. Putin's inauguration on May 7.

He then led his own breakaway march.  But he was followed by only a small group, and he, too, was promptly arrested.

Within hours, liberal leaders broke with Udaltsov.

Determined to keep middle-class support, liberals say they will work in the coming months for reform in Russia - not revolution.

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