A Russian Spring?

The most incendiary address, transmitted via video on a giant screen by the podium, came from Sergey Udaltsov, the 34-year-old leader of the radical left movement Vanguard of the Red Youth. Gaunt, pale, and with shaved head, Udaltsov, in detention and on a hunger strike since his arrest on December 4th, far exceeded in rhetorical vehemence the now commonplace monikers “crooks and thieves” applied to the pro-Putin United Russia party. Putin and Medvedev are, in his trenchant lexicon, “the tandem dwarfs;” more broadly, he labeled them and their colleagues “Kremlin bandits,” “vermin,” “filth,” “swine,” “the dark forces of evil,” not society’s “elite,” but its “shit.”

Russian oppositionists frequently denounce their leaders in such language, but not often on tape (now posted online) before a huge crowd in the capital’s center. “Tandem dwarfs” caught on among subsequent speakers — and this in a country where personalized, public ridicule of the authorities doesn’t happen often. The next day, a Moscow municipal court extended Udaltsov’s detention for a further 10 days, charging him with “disobeying the police.” Owing to his hunger strike, his health is reported to be deteriorating.

After citing the Occupy Wall Street campaign and calling Russian protestors the “99 percent,” Udaltsov laid out the protest movement’s principle demands: cancellation of the State Duma election results, new elections to be held “under citizens’ control,” the departure of the president and government, and the drafting of new electoral and tax laws, the latter to eliminate what he termed the “monstrous social inequality” in Russia.