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Opposition supporters attend an unauthorized anti-Putin rally OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty Images

Down with the Czar Putin

The protests that rippled across Russia ahead of Vladimir Putin’s fourth inauguration as president suggest deeper stirrings of popular discontent. As he reaches for Monomakh’s Cap, the ruby-studded relic of the Russian czars, President Vladimir Putin risks paving the way for widespread turmoil.

SAN FRANCISCO – The protests that rippled across Russia ahead of Vladimir Putin’s fourth inauguration as president followed a familiar script. Police declared the gatherings illegal, and the media downplayed their size. Alexey Navalny, the main organizer and Russia’s de facto opposition leader, was arrested in dramatic fashion, dragged out of a rally in Moscow by police. On May 15, he was sentenced to 30 days in prison. More than 1,600 protesters across the country were beaten and detained.

But one element of the recent protests came from a much older show. The rallying cry “Down with the Czar!” was brought out of obscurity and onto the streets of Moscow almost 100 years after Russia’s last czar, Nicholas II, was riddled with Bolshevik bullets in a Yekaterinburg cellar.

A century before that, in a bid to lift the spirits of his friend Pyotr Chaadayev, a philosopher who was declared mad for his criticism of Czar Nicholas I, the poet Alexander Pushkin predicted the advent of better times, when “Russia will start from her sleep.” On “the ruins of autocracy,” he wrote, “our names will be inscribed!”

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