Accessibility links

Perestroika Veterans Pass The Torch To A New Protest Generation

  • Tom Balmforth

Moscow pensioners Irina and Vladislav participated in anti-Soviet protests over 20 years ago.

Moscow pensioners Irina and Vladislav participated in anti-Soviet protests over 20 years ago.

MOSCOW -- Twenty-two years ago, Moscow pensioners Irina and her husband, Vladislav, took to the streets of the Russian capital alongside hundreds of thousands of others in a massive protest against Soviet rule.
On February 4, they were back on the streets of the Russian capital, demonstrating against Prime Minister and presidential candidate Vladimir Putin -- alongside Muscovites who were just toddlers during the couple's perestroika-era activism.
Peering red-cheeked out of her white fur hat on Bolotnaya Square in central Moscow, Irina grins at how, in their old age, they have defied freezing temperatures hovering at minus 20 degrees Celsius. She is quick to point out that they have been at each of the three mass protests since the disputed December 4, 2011, parliamentary elections.
“We were on Bolotnaya Square [on December 10], on Sakharov Avenue [on December 24], and now we’re here. We were there back under [former President] Boris Yeltsin during the 1990s and when there was a referendum. We were always there; we’re really active,” Irina said.
The current anti-Kremlin protests gripping Russia have mostly been the preserve of the young, Internet-savvy, urban middle class whose living standards rose dramatically under Putin's rule and who are now pushing for greater political rights.
But among the tens of thousands who took to the streets in Moscow on February 4, there are also protest veterans who remember the heady perestroika era and the hopes for a prosperous democracy that accompanied the fall of the Soviet Union just over two decades ago.
Irina and Vladislav, who did not give their last names or ages, look back on those years with mixed emotions, even as they reveled in the protest’s festive atmosphere.
"Those events [back then] were much more...revolutionary. Now it is more peaceful,” Irina says.

“There are a lot of differing opinions now, but then there was only one,” her husband adds.
‘Loss Of Credibility’
Vladislav, who calls himself a social democrat, voted for the center-left A Just Russia in the December parliamentary elections. He was angered by the allegations of vote fixing and the official results that handed Putin’s ruling United Russia party a parliamentary majority. He says he immediately decided to join the growing anti-Kremlin protest movement, adding that the current authorities have lost credibility and legitimacy.

Vladislav says he is cheered by the boom in protest activity among the younger generations that erupted in December for the first time during Putin’s rule, which was largely characterized by deep political torpor among most of the public.
Like in previous protests, the overwhelming majority of those demonstrating on February 4 were young urban professionals.
Unlike pensioners Irina and Vladislav, Dima, a 28-year-old manager, and his wife, Dasha, a 26-year old accountant (pictured left) said they had never been to a protest until December.
Since then -- like Irina and Vladislav -- they have attended all the major anti-Kremlin protests and say they will continue to do so until they see change.
“To tell you the truth, it’s just reached the breaking point now. We want freedom, honesty, and we're sick of what's going on in the country. And we don't want to go away and live in another country. We want to change something here," Dima says.
  • 16x9 Image

    Tom Balmforth

    Tom Balmforth covers Russia and other former Soviet republics. He can be reached at