This week the Russian blogosphere has been all Putin, all the time. So much has been said about Russia’s back to the future president it would take a Talmud to record it all. For the sake of brevity, here is just a quick recap.
Wall Street Woes
Whether out of “love” for all things American or out of concern for the future of the dollar (to which the future of the ruble is so closely tied), Russian Internet users seem to be more preoccupied with the protests sweeping Wall Street than Americans themselves. Indeed, major U.S. media have moved on to other topics – live coverage of the protests dismissed in favor of the news of Steve Jobs’ passing. But the story still makes the local news in New York City and the not so local news on RuNet. Since I happened to be in New York this week, I dropped by Wall Street to see for myself.
The sight is impressive indeed. The makeup of the protesters is what’s most surprising – these are not the hippies and the unemployed who have nothing better to do with their lives. These are students, office clerks, mothers with their toddlers in tow, blue-collar workers, white-collar workers, artists, musicians, and Michael Moore. It is by and large a good cross-section of the American middle class. But even though the drum beating, the chanting, the passing around of the thermos and the revolutionary leaflets make for an atmosphere of a street party (and not of true desperation), underneath the smiles and the camaraderie one still gets a sense that these guys mean business.
The two questions that immediately spring to mind while watching the crowd ebb are “why now?” and “what do they want?” Or, rather, “what do they hope to achieve?” Here are but a few signs I saw people carrying last night: “Turn Wall Street into Tahrir Square” (really?), “We want our future back” (vague enough), “This year’s bonus? New neighbors” (like the humor), “Stop the war on workers” and “Stop class war on the poor,” “Billionaire, your time is up,” “Expropriate Wall Street with a socialist revolution,” and “The best way to fight Wall Street is a revolutionary labor party.” These latter few sound all too familiar to someone born in the Soviet Union, after people with similar slogans got their way back in 1917.
A few other banners that caught my eye were “Sex workers stand with New Yorkers” (huh?) and my favorite: “Arab Spring. European Summer. American Fall.” But why didn’t these people take to the streets back in 2008, when the global economic crisis was at its worst? Maybe because back then, everyone had to tighten their belts, but most of these people never got to loosen them back up? And what can they possibly achieve if their demands are so vague and the slogans so diverse? They’ve occupied Wall Street. They could probably paralyze the work of the stock exchange and a few financial institutions housed in the area. Then what? What scale of social unrest does America need to affect real changes? And how far are these protestors willing to go? Though there are people who say this is just the beginning of something big. After all, the protests are spreading beyond New York to other major American cities.
But despite all these questions, I still get the feeling that these people have way more to say than those Russians who march down Triumph Square on the 31st with their perfectly articulated demands. True, no Russian will ever be surprised by the OMON beating peaceful protestors into a pulp. But as soon as someone gets arrested on Wall Street, the “normal country” standards suddenly apply: “How is this possible in the freest and most democratic of countries?” “Over there, in a developed democracy, they are easily getting dispersed and arrested by the hundreds,” wrote blogger Votabruk on Ya.Ru. Well, that is easy to avoid, I discovered last night. As long as you stay on the sidewalk, the cops behind you will keep discussing their lunch. They really are there for law and order. They are not there to shut you up.
But back to the discussion on RuNet. “The Western world is so two-faced. The suppression of protests in other countries gets chastised as authoritarianism. But if the protests take place in these Western countries themselves, they get dispersed violently and extremely undemocratically. Double standards. The essence of the Western civilization…” wrote user Kojemyakin in his LiveJournal blog. Headlines like “The Whole of America Has Risen Against Bankers” – an overstatement, to put it mildly – also abound on Russian news sites. “All normal people have long realized that the American system is the new USSR, but worse and more perverted: a mix of demagoguery, greed, stupidity, and a lack of principles under the pretense of fighting for freedom – whose and from what doesn’t matter, the main thing is to get some kind of personal gain while blaming others for violating your rights,” wrote user Hitvan in a comment to a LiveJournal post.
Guess this is all kind of expected of RuNet. We take great pleasure in discussing the woes of those whom we perceive as patronizing – the failure of comparative analysis notwithstanding. I am not sure if this is a Russian trait or just a human trait, but I also came across this: “It’s time to run! Time to run away from America, particularly time to get the hell out of Manhattan. Come to Siberia, 40 degrees below Celsius in winter, bugs eat you alive in the summer – sheer beauty! You’ll always have a roof over your head and an assortment in your garden – potatoes and cabbage. You’ll make it,” wrote user Mila_Pavlova in LiveJournal. Indeed, for some, Siberia will always beat Manhattan.
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