Tens of thousands of protesters rallied in Moscow today, in the first such demonstration since the swearing in on May 7th of woodsman, pianist and blooming despot Vladmir Putin. In what were seen both in Russia and abroad as deeply flawed elections, Putin won a record third term in the office of the Russian Presidency, replacing his protégé Dmitri Medvedev, who kept his seat warm while Putin took a well-deserved break in the office of Premier. Indeed, since taking office in 2000, Putin has been almost hectically busy. Yet somewhere between riding bareback in the Caucasus, racing Formula One cars or fishing shirtless with his favorite photographers, Putin has found time to abolish the election of federal governors (who are now appointed by–guess who?–the president), cancel the direct election of members to both houses of the Duma, and bring the procedure for forming political parties firmly under control of the Kremlin, steadily dismantling in the process what in Russia was already a shaky democratic system.
The crowds of protesters set out this morning from Pushkin Square–fervent, but possibly not hopeful children of a long-lived people whose every ruling power has looked askance at liberty. As the poet wrote after the failed Decembrist Revolt of 1825: “I’ve lived to bury my desires/and see my dreams corrode with rust;/now all that’s left are fruitless fires/that burn my empty heart to dust.”