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Moscow housing decision Alexander Ryumin/TASS/Getty Images

The Eruption of Moscow’s Housing Estates

Just a few months ago, it seemed that Russians had fully surrendered to the Kremlin’s “soft despotism,” characterized by the jailing or silencing of opponents. But recent protests suggest that Russians still have some fight left in them.

MOSCOW – Just a few months ago, it seemed that Russians had fully surrendered to the Kremlin’s “soft despotism.” The jailing or silencing of opponents across Russia had produced a pervasive feeling not of fear, but of despondency – the sense that words and actions simply do not matter, and that speaking and mobilizing are therefore useless. But recent protests suggest that Russians still have some fight left in them.

To be sure, Russian Kremlin-backed “patriots” remain a potent force for denouncing President Vladimir Putin’s critics. At the May 9 Victory Day celebration, commemorating the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, more than a million people throughout the country marched, holding portraits of Stalin and the fallen in all Russian wars, including the current one in Ukraine.

The so-called Immortal Regiment march, once a wonderful civic initiative, has been taken over by the Kremlin for profit and propaganda: it is a display of national unity, in which the state provides, for a fee, items like portrait-holders and ribbons. When one woman dissented, holding a sign about stopping all wars, the crowd carried out their Kremlin-inspired patriotic duty, shouting in anger, “You are embarrassing our war president.”

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