Putin and Navalni seek youth

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Opposition protests have this year attracted new generations
Putin and Navalni seek youth

Oleg Alexéiev, 21, and Kaliningrad, a university student with concerns, represents the new generation that has joined the new campaign of protest that in the first half of the year has led Alexéi Navalni, the most prominent figure of the weakened opposition extra-parliamentary Russia.

He has just started the university course, but he will not be able to follow his law courses because last July the Baltic University expelled him. The official reason is to have paid a small bribe, like dozens of other students, to be exempt from physical education classes. However, he associates his expulsion to the anti-corruption rally he organized on June 12 in the city and a previous meeting with the dean in which he asked him to move the rally outside the city, which he refused.

Corruption and lack of confidence in politicians have cemented the phenomenon

The rally was attended by no more than 300 people, but it was one of the hundreds of protests this year organized in hundreds of Russian cities in March and June against corruption. Alexéiev believes that it is a form of intimidation aimed at young people, mostly university students, but also from the last high school courses, which have joined the protests.

Sociologists who study the behavior of the younger generation find that there is a clear division. Most are still with the current Russian political system and trust the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

They are convinced that the current Russian society enjoys a time of relative prosperity, improved education, freedom to travel and access to information technologies. They accept the view of public television, which compares the current situation with the continuing economic crisis of the 1990s, after the break-up of the Soviet Union. And they are also attracted by the exaltation that makes the power of a heroic past, where the protagonist role is the victory in World War II against Nazi Germany.

Most rely on the current system because Russia enjoys relative prosperity

But there is a part that distrusts the political elite and has found in the charisma of Navalni an active way of expressing itself. “I think what happens is that those under 25 do not see television practically. They get the information online, where the internet is much freer, “said Ksenia Fadéieva, of the Navalni election office in the city of Tomsk.

Ignored by the official media, Alexéi Navalni has turned all his campaigns on the internet, including a video in which he accused Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev of corruption in March and served to launch demonstrations throughout the country.

With a direct, clear and sometimes irreverent style, Navalni has connected with the youngest. “He is a leader who can talk to young people, and for him they are willing to go out,” said analyst Yekaterina Shulman on the independent TV channel Dozhd (RV Rain).

These are young people who were born shortly before Putin’s first term and now adults, while admitting that the situation in general has improved, encounter something they do not like: corruption. According to a report by the College of Economics last May, 66% of university students identify corruption as the main problem of the country. To deal with the demonstrations, power used riot control and the systematic arrest of demonstrators.

The author of the study, Valeria Kasamara, believes that any attempt by the authorities to alienate them from the opposition would only have the opposite effect. And is that to the new generation there is nothing that causes them more mistrust than the politicians installed in the power.

In spite of the phenomenon, far from the manifestations the young continue preferring to the Kremlin. Alexandra, a 19-year-old Moscow university, criticizes the lack of cleanliness in the elections, for example, but says “Putin is the best there is today, the only one who can put order in the economy.”

For the sociologist Alexéi Levinsón, from the Levada Center, “there is a surprising phenomenon” in Russia. “Youth is the most conservative part of society. It is also the most loyal to Putin. If their approval rating is 86%, among young people reaches 90%, “he says.

Although young people support the authorities more than the general population, “data from all official institutions are falling and the mood for protest is increasing in many sectors,” said Denis Vólkov, also from Levada.

Andrei, 26, belongs to that minority and believes that there has been a “total degradation of institutions” because whoever has power “steals and then pretends using the media.”

Although not yet official, the 64-year-old Kremlin chief is more than likely to run for re-election in March 2018 to become Russia’s president for another six years. Theoretically Navalni, 41, will not be able to run for election, because he is charged with several felony convictions that his supporters claim made to cut off his political career.

Months are missing for the appointment, but the electoral race has already begun, also towards the youngest. The anti-corruption campaign has a second goal: that Navalni will receive enough support to force the authorities to allow their candidacy.

Navalni and his Foundation for the Fight against Corruption have to act without the lifeline of having parliamentary representation nor minutes on television, turned into a roll of propaganda of the power. However, his speech has been for years in the population.

This lawyer began to be known in 2008 for his anti-corruption blog. In 2011 and 2012 he became the most prominent of the protests against electoral fraud in the legislative elections and against Putin, the most massive since his arrival in power, 17 years ago. In 2013 he was introduced to the mayor of Moscow and with a neighborhood-to-neighborhood campaign he obtained almost 30% and was about to force a second round with Putin’s man, current mayor Sergei Sobianin.

In July, the Kremlin began its own election campaign among the new generation. Taking advantage of the televised tug of the annual question-and-answer marathon, a similar one was organized with young people and teenagers in Sochi, on the shores of the Black Sea, in which the leader tried to be close.

“There is an attitude of protest and we have to work with these (inclined) children to protest,” Education Minister Olga Vasílieva, quoted by the Tass news agency, said in a forum on May 17.

In June the economic daily Védomosti reported that the Kremlin had ordered two large surveys to provide an additional portrait of young Russians. According to the press, Vladimir Putin’s re-election campaign will focus on issues of concern to youth, such as “the quality of education, the first job, the job search or credit programs.”

The first day of class in Russia, on September 1, the Kremlin sought a new approach to adolescents. Putin visited a school in Yaroslavl and then had a face-to-face meeting with a group of high school students at a forum on the future career. Days before, the National Front movement of all Russia, founded by Putin himself in 2011, announced the creation of a youth section.

Despite this race to attract the divine treasure of Russian youth, most are reluctant to participate in demonstrations. The study of the School of Economics shows that 55% do not believe that there will be large demonstrations in the cities and 72% believe that rallies have little or no influence on politics. Only 14% are willing to participate. In addition, 47% would vote for Putin, and for Navalni it would only be a 7.1%.

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