On a freezing winter day last month, a tall man with blond hair walked up to a microphone in northern Moscow and began speaking to 80,000 people. This was not a rock concert or a football match. It was a demonstration against the government – the biggest in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The figure marching across the stage was Alexei Navalny, a 35-year-old lawyer. Virtually unknown two years ago, in the past six weeks Navalny has become the talisman of a growing movement for change that has put the Kremlin and Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir Putin, on the back foot.
Russians of all backgrounds joined the rally on Sakharov Avenue on 24 December, in protest at the Kremlin “stealing” a parliamentary election for Putin’s United Russia party earlier that month. Some waved placards ridiculing Putin’s comment that ribbons worn by people at a previous protest looked like condoms. They clapped the speakers, including a former MP in a flat cap like an English country gent – but when Navalny stepped up, a frisson of excitement passed through the crowd.
“I’ve been reading this little book,” cried Navalny, who wore jeans, a black coat and a knotted grey scarf. “It’s called the Russian constitution. And it says that the only source of power in Russia is the people. So I don’t want to hear those who say we’re appealing to the authorities. Who’s the power here?” “We are!” the crowd shouted in delight. “Who’s the power?” Navalny repeated. “We are!” (via guardian.co.uk)