The rally came after 13 extraordinary months in Russia’s emerging political consciousness. In December 2011, demonstrators unexpectedly began rallying for fair elections, charging that the vote for the Duma that month had been distorted by widespread fraud in favor of President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party. The authorities have fought back with repressive laws and a robust anti-Americanism.
Although leaders of the opposition joined Sunday’s march, it was cast as a civic event, not a political one. The rally seemed to rouse the opposition, bringing out stay-at-homes as well as those who had begun to avoid protest as they lost hope in its effectiveness.
“I’m against this anti-orphan law,” said Yevgeny Skvortsov, a 22-year-old student. “Children shouldn’t be caught in bureaucratic games.”
Shivering in the 14-degree air, he bore the likeness of Nikolai Gonchar, a United Russia deputy who voted for the ban, on a poster attached to a pole, as if carrying a head on a pike. Skvortsov, who is about to leave for India for a year-long IT course, said that he had gone to earlier rallies and that the passage of the adoption law had relighted his passion.
“If there’s a revolution,” he said, smiling, “I’ll be on the first flight back.”
The Duma has passed ever more restrictive laws against dissidents, who first came out on the streets because they considered the parliamentary election illegitimate. Putin began to blame the nascent protest movement on manipulative U.S. policy, accusing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton of encouraging such demonstrations. In September, the U.S. Agency for International Development was expelled from Russia. The Duma went on to pass the adoption ban and is considering a law making it illegal for Russians with dual citizenship and foreigners to criticize Russia on state media.
The adoption ban was passed in retaliation for the U.S. enactment of the Magnitsky Act in early December. The law, which imposes visa and financial restrictions on corrupt Russians, infuriated Putin and his government, but many Russians approved of it because they saw it as aimed at crooked officials rather than ordinary citizens.
“I’m very grateful to the American people for the Magnitsky law,” said Georgy Didenko, who journeyed three hours by train from Tver to join the protest. “You saved the honor of the Russian people with this law. We didn’t — you did.”