Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 89

Yesterday’s demonstration marking the one-year anniversary of President Vladimir Putin’s inauguration has drawn wide commentary in the Russian media. The demonstration in support of the Russian president, which was organized by a youth movement called “Idushiye Vmestye” (Moving Together) drew an estimated 7,000-10,000 people, most of them teenagers. The lower estimate came from the Moscow police. The demonstrators wore t-shirts bearing Putin’s likeness, which came in red, white and blue–the color of Russia’s flag–and carried signs declaring “Youth follows the president,” “Together with the president” and “Youth all-star team of Russia–head coach Putin V.V.”

The first to address the assembled crowd was the head of Moving Together, Vasily Yakimenko, who declared that Russia’s youth had finally “turned their face toward Russia, and you-know-what toward the West”–a comment which, according to one newspaper account, was greeted “ecstatically.” Yakimenko declared that “all Western nonsense is being shoved aside and youth understand that what is most important today are not Western values, but preserving the system of relations handed down to us by our own history.” Several speakers condemned “corrupt media” while Ilya Malikov, leader of the movement’s branch in the town of Taganrog, declared that with Putin’s accession as president all Russians were given the chance to work, feed their families and “openly speak about patriotism.”

However, the paper, along with others, noted what might charitably be called the unspontaneous character of the demonstration, reporting that when asked why they had come to the demonstration, a number of the young demonstrators simply gave answers like “We came because we are with him” or “Only with Putin has there appeared some hope for the future” (Vremya Novostei, May 8). Indeed, a Moscow student and member of the movement was quoted as saying: “We are a very rich organization. Our chiefs have immeasurable money. Do you think it’s cheap to gather 10,000 people from the cities of Russia for a half an hour in the center of Moscow?” The student, however, refused to say how much the regional members were given for their trip to Moscow (Radio Liberty, May 7). A newspaper reported overhearing a Moving Together member saying that upon joining the movement on May 1, she had been guaranteed ten hours of Internet access per month, two movie tickets per week, entrance to a swimming pool once a week, along with promises of free aerobics classes and foreign-language instruction (Kommersant, May 8).

Such practices were the target of criticism from someone who in theory should be a Moving Together supporter–Aleksandra Burataeva, the head of the youth wing of Unity, the pro-Putin political party. “Our president should not be supported this way–he moves well enough on his own,” she told the Interfax news agency, claiming that Moving Together had attracted participants in the demonstration by handing out pagers. “Pagers are not handed out in our organization; people come to us not for pagers, but to work,” she said. A member of Yabloko, Aleksei Melnikov, was even more critical of yesterday’s demonstration, calling it a “disgraceful” event on which “huge amounts of money” were spent. Melnikov said that the demonstration seemed like something which should have taken place in Pyongyang in support of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (Russian agencies, May 7).