The “Snow Revolution” part of the title comes from the Epilogue of the book “The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin,” by Masha Gessen. A dissident put up a Facebook post asking people to wear white ribbons on their arms to show they protested the announced election of Putin to be president of the Russian Federation in December 2011. The author estimated as many as 150,000 people arrived at the protest wearing white armbands or some other white article. The Russian people deserve better if only a few of the allegations and speculations put forward by the author about Putin are true.
Gessen was interviewed by John Williams of The New York Times, and he said she had cataloged disastrous events “…and lay much of it at Putin’s feet. How much of this is concretely provable?” Gessen’s response was that conclusive evidence would have to be obtained by law enforcement, and “None of the murders or acts of terror that have occurred in the last 12 years have been properly investigated.”
How many people arrived to join the Snow Revolution protest? The estimates vary widely, but are significantly lower that what the author predicts. An article on Newyorker.com by Julia Ioffe says the protestors claimed 85,000, the police estimated 25,000, and the media said 50,000. There no dispute that there were thousands of people all over Russia who protested the “…rudely falsified elections.” There is an article with photos of thousands of people in the the streets, and many are holding white ballons. What is important now is what happens with the protest movement. An article titled, “Russia’s Revolutionaries Ponder Next Move” includes a photo of many people carrying white balloons. The protestors are said to face the challenge of creating a unified front.
Russian protest leaders have never pretended that things would be easy. “One peaceful march will not change our country,” protest organizer Boris Nemtsov said on the eve of one rally. “We are in for a long, hard struggle.”
I’ll give a brief review Gessen’s book, which gives background for why there is a Snow Revolution. The book details how Putin made it from being a self-described thug in his youth to becoming the brutal leader of the Russian Federation. He was a bureaucrat in the KGB, and claimed he resigned from that secret police organization when the Soviet Union was collapsing. A man named Sobchak worked himself into being chairman of the Leningrad City Council. He hired Putin as an assistant, because he was said to know “…that it is wiser to pick your KGB handler yourself than to have one picked for you.” There were several steps from there to leadership, and apparently one high level person after another picked Putin as the person to be beside them believing he could be trusted and controlled amongst all the political intrigue. The last in this chain was Boris Yeltsin, who had launched democracy in the Russian Federation with great hope but was forced to resign.
Putin immediately began to transform Russia back into the USSR. He is said to have used state control of the media, murder, corruption, and perhaps even terrorism to retain power. The book discusses how he took control of the government while making himself an incredibly wealthy man. Critics were beaten, imprisoned, or murdered. Some critics died of mysterious poisons which could not be obtained by anyone other than a central government.
The accounts reminded me of a book I reviewed titled “Spy Catcher” by former senior British intelligence officer Peter Wright. There is a description of a container of antidotes for all the known Soviet poisons that was kept with Soviet agents who had escaped the USSR to turn themselves in to British authorities. I believe Wright would also have said that Putin was following the advice of Lenin in keeping control of the country. “Lenin understood better than anyone how to gain control of a country, and, just as important, how to keep it. Lenin believed the political class had to control the men with the guns, and the intelligence service, and by these means could ensure that neither the Army nor another political class could challenge power.
I fear for the author. She is obviously at risk of violence if only a fraction of what she writes about Vladimir Putin is true. She writes in the Prologue that she worked as a journalist in war zones “…but this was the most frightening story I ever had to write: never before had I been forced to describe a reality so emotionless and cruel, so clear and so merciless, so corrupt and so utterly devoid of remorse.” She lives in Moscow, and told The New York Times interviewer that she had thought of leaving, but “I love my home, my friends, my life. And if Putin doesn’t like me he can leave.”
Recent statistics on this web site indicate there are large numbers of readers in the Russian Republic and Ukrainia. I thought of those readers as I was reading Gessen’s book and prepared the review and this post and wondered how many Russian readers would be Putin supporters and how many would be protestors.
To readers in the United States, I think we should all renew our appreciation of the freedoms we have. I read a joke said to have been told quietly within the Soviet Union. The joke isn’t all that funny, but I think it is pertinent. An American and Russian were arguing about which country was best. The American said, “We are so free that I could stand on a street corner in New York and shout ‘Reagan is an idiot’, and nothing bad would happen to me, although some might stop to argue with me.” The Russian replied, “That’s nothing. I could stand on a street corner of Moscow and shout ‘Reagan is an idiot’, and nothing bad would happen to me, and no one would even argue with me.”