Russia’s Concentration Camp and Why Occupy Should Care

Despite the protests over Putin’s recent elections (their alleged coercion and fraud) dying down, the problems for United Russia seem far from over. Putin’s regime had seemed to regain control of the media, shutting down the last of the protests from disenfranchised voters. However, the rush of anti-United Russia sentiment reared its head again in the local elections.

Oleg Shein, a candidate for Mayor of Astrakhan (which is a large city in the southwest of Russia) lost his race as part of the opposition. He gained only 30% of the vote, while the “approved” candidate received almost 60%. Shein claimed fraud in his election and since that date he went on a hunger strike for 40 days, drawing media attention and restarting many Russian protests.

During a press conference (of which many members of opposition movement A Just Russia walked out of) Putin seemed to belittle Shein. He called a hunger strike a non-legitimate form of protest. He suggested Shein take his case to the courts where the matter could be decided, legally, so no one could disagree.

Shein answered Putin by calling Astrakhan a “concentration camp”.  He also said a hunger strike is a legitimate form of protest in a concentration camp. Astrakhan has a de-facto curfew, is often occupied by military and journalists are often blocked from even entering so little information manages to get into the press. Shein’s supposition that an entire region of Russia has little to no freedom is a significant statement. Considerations should be made by Russia but also the United States.

It is not unheard of for Russia to overturn this kind of issue. In the past, contesting elections have sometimes been resolved. The situation is bad either way for Putin. He either ignores the claims, continuing to incite Shein and his followers, or he compromises his position by giving his opposition a victory and revealing corruption within his administration. This will continue to lend itself to the instability of Putin’s grasp on Russia.

The consistent problems in Russia should not be overlooked by the United States, that should be well noted. While the most supported opposition movement to Putin is Communism, right now there is a “vote-against” mentality as opposed to favoring a particular party. The Anyone-But-Putin coalition could lead to greater instability in the region.

The other lesson for Americans out of Russia comes straight from the mouth of Shein. No matter how terrible political events proceed in our country, no one can claim that their state is a concentration camp. If occupiers in Atlanta made this claim, they would be laughed at or considered mentally unstable. The average American cannot fathom the horrors of a true loss of freedom. But Shein’s claim has at least a basis in facts. Something that would be unheard of here. And yet this country is considered our first world ally.

Something to consider. Especially today as Occupiers celebrate May Day.

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