Young Communist movement threatens Putin’s power

Putin's power may be at risk with rise of new communist movement among the young. Source: Kremlin.ru (via Wikimedia Commons)

By Ka Long Tung | Contributor

Russia’s Communist Party showed a growth of 15 seats last month in the State Duma – the lower house of parliament – while President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia lost 19 seats. Young communists and leftists such as Mikhail Lobanov have contributed to a change in the Russian political atmosphere.

Lobanov, 37, is a math-lecturer-turned-politician, and a self-described democratic socialist. He ran for the Communist Party in September’s Russian parliamentary elections, despite not being a member of the party.

“We know that the left agenda is in demand,” he told the Washington Post. “We showed even though we had no resources and basically nothing at the beginning, we can unite and inspire people and create a huge campaign.”

The Communist Party, a long-serving opposition party in Russia, has been led by the same politician, Gennady Zyuganov, since it was founded. The last time Zyuganov created a real threat to United Russia was by winning the parliamentary elections in 1998. He has participated in four of the last six presidential elections without winning one. 

Besides participating in elections, young people have demonstrated their anti-authority determination on the streets nationwide. On January 31, over 5,600 people were detained by the police at pro-Navalny protests across the country, according to OVD-Info, a group that monitors political arrests. Yevgeny Stupin, a 38-year-old member of the Moscow city council, was one of the detainees.

Another popular communist figure is Nikolai Bondarenko, a video blogger who has amassed more than 1.66 million followers. He was arrested last winter for attending pro-Navalny demonstrations.

In the September elections, Lobanov recorded the best opposition result in Moscow. In paper balloting, he was around 11,000 votes ahead of pro-Kremlin state television anchor Yevgeny Popov, though he failed to win a seat.

Electoral districts in Moscow count not only paper ballots, but also online votes. Lobanov lost the seat, among other anti-Kremlin challengers in Moscow, by nearly 20,000 votes after the delayed release of the online ballots. The delay prompted the Communists to accuse the online balloting of being rigged.

In spite of the surge of 15 seats in parliament, from 42 to 57, the Communist Party is still outnumbered by Putin’s United Russia, which occupies a major majority, holding 324 of the 450 seats.

On September 28, police arrested a lawyer of the Communist Party to serve 10 days in jail, minutes before the party planned to file lawsuits challenging the election results. Amid the chaos, the party managed to file the actions later in the day. 

Following the election, United Russia will control the State Duma for another 5 years, signaling there is a long way to go to change the country’s political environment, despite gains for some young Communists.


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