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Russia: The Revolt of “Net Hamsters”

This post is part of our special coverage Russia Elections 2011.

The day after the elections, Russians got together to rally against election fraud. Even though the United Russia party, according to preliminary results, is to lose some 77 seats compared to the previous Duma, most of the protesters considered the election to be neither fair, nor free (see our previous reports on the web crackdown and massive violation reports).

After the polls closed on Dec. 4, Solidarnost movement invited protesters to Chistye Prudy metro station in Moscow, while the Communists, also unhappy with the election results, organized their rally at Pushkinskaya square. Solidarnost movement represenatives, most of whom have no political arena except street actions and the blogosphere, managed to bring thousands of people together (while crowd estimates vary significantly, the most balanced assessment seems to be from 8,000 to 10,000 people).

Chistye Prudy

People began gathering for the Solidarnost event at around 19:00 MSK. Georgiy Alburov posted a picture of the line to the site of the rally:

Line to the Chistye Prudy rally. Photo by Georgiy Alburov

Line to the Chistye Prudy rally. Photo by Georgiy Alburov

British journalist Shaun Walker tweeted [ru]:

Thousands out in cold/rain baying for free elections, Putin to be sent to prison. Never seen anything on this scale. Definite change of mood

The overall coverage was chaotic as the mobile Internet stopped working in the area and people couldn't upload videos and pictures. LiveJournal kept the chronology of the events here [ru].

Only later in the evening people were able to upload videos [ru] from the rally and particularly the speech [ru] by Alexey Navalny, who was among the most popular politicians of the event. His speech probably best describes the essence of the current events:

Alexey Navalny shouted:

“We have our voices. We exist. Do we exist?”

The crowd replied: “Yes!”

And then: “They can call us microbloggers or net hamsters. I am a net hamster! And I'll bite [these bastards' heads off.] We'll all do it together! Because we do exist! [...] We will not forget, we will not forgive”

The reference to ‘net hamsters’ (a pejorative term for politically-engaged Internet commenters) and their political will to change the country has destroyed the myth of the slacktivist nature of political engagement online. Navalny has specifically emphasized ‘forgetting/forgiving’ to show that netizens do not necessarily have a short attention span often ascribed to them.

On to Lubyanka

After several speeches made by the opposition politicians, the crowd moved on towards Lubyanka Square, where the head office of the Federal Security Service is located. The video [ru] uploaded by user bigvane depicts Muscovites moving to Lubyanka and chanting “Free elections”:

Most of the activists, however, were soon stopped on their way. Ilya Barabanov tweeted a picture of the blocked road:

Blocked road. Photo by Ilya Barabanov

Blocked road. Photo by Ilya Barabanov

Twenty minutes after the aforementioned photo was made, Alexey Navalny was detained by the police. Ilya Barabanov was detained three minutes after Navalny. (See this great photo report made by ridus.ru correspondents here [ru].)

But even the detention didn't break the rebellious and quite positive spirit of the protesters. Navalny, while sitting in a police bus together with other activists, shared an instagram photo of the cheerful detained protesters:

'I'm sitting in a police bus with all the guys. They all say hi.' Photo by Alexey Navalny

‘I'm sitting in a police bus with all the guys. They all say hi.’ Photo by Alexey Navalny

Another video, also shot inside a police bus, showed protesters discussing the salaries of police officers, laughing a lot.

The Hamster Revolution

The most interesting part of the post-election rebellion is not its peaceful manner (also an important feature compared to violent nationalist riots), but its new demographics. Tvrain.ru field reporter said that the crowd consisted mainly of the “intelligentsia, hipsters, and young people.” “It is a fashionable rally,” said the reporter. Later, these observations were added: the age of the protesters was between 16 and 33 and for many of those who were detained this was the first street action experience. As Vera Kichanova tweeted:

Леша Никитин пишет, что он единственный из 16 человек в автозаке, кого задерживали раньше. Остальные вышли на митинг впервые!

Lyosha Nikitin writes that he is the only one of the 16 people in the police bus who had been detained before. Others were taking part in a rally for the first time!

***

Meanwhile, levada.ru, the site of Levada Center polling and sociological research organization, has been DDoSed [ru] and the contents of epic-hero.ru were removed [ru] by the hosting provider.

This post is part of our special coverage Russia Elections 2011.

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