SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Vladimir Putin has ruled Russia for almost 20 years. He stayed in power that long by promising stability. But now, following unpopular government decisions and years of stagnant economic growth, there are protests breaking out across Russia. Many of the demonstrations are over local issues.
NPR’s Lucian Kim traveled to a town 90 miles outside of Moscow and sends this report.
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LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: For centuries, the ancient town of Pereslavl-Zalessky has slumbered on the banks of a picturesque lake northeast of Moscow. With its Orthodox churches topped by onion domes, this town of 40,000 is the very image of eternal Russia. But even here, discontent with the authorities is bubbling up.
Mikhail Mulenkov, who works for a building management company, says things have gotten so bad he was forced to go into politics to help save his town.
MIKHAIL MULENKOV: (Speaking Russian).
KIM: “People here hate the government,” he says, “because it raised the retirement age, is planning to open two garbage dumps nearby and is incapable of maintaining the public utility that keeps homes warm during the winter.” Mulenkov ran for city council last year and won a seat, thanks to what he calls a protest vote.
MULENKOV: (Speaking Russian).
KIM: He says he’s not in the opposition, but just a local resident who wants to improve life in his community. Mulenkov insists his anger is directed at local officials, not at Vladimir Putin, who he says has done a lot for the country. In Russia, there’s an expression for that kind of thinking – the czar is good, but his noblemen are bad.
But Natalya Vlasova, a local blogger and activist, says that’s beginning to change. She says people are slowly making the connection between Putin and the top-down system of political management he built.
NATALYA VLASOVA: (Through interpreter) It seems to me that people are starting to connect the dots, namely that the rot starts from the top.
KIM: Vlasova says there’s tension in the town over a host of unresolved issues, including the planned landfills to accommodate Moscow’s unstoppable flow of trash.
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KIM: Earlier this month, the town held its third rally this year to protest the garbage dumps. The waste removal company involved is owned by the son of Russia’s chief prosecutor.
Mikhail Kazinets, who runs a local factory, holds the Kremlin responsible for what’s happening.
MIKHAIL KAZINETS: (Speaking Russian).
KIM: “If Putin and his party can’t solve problems like garbage collection after 20 years in power,” he asks, “then what problems can they solve?”
Marina Stoyan, a teacher, is also angry about the landfills, but she blames the regional governor, not Putin.
MARINA STOYAN: (Speaking Russian).
KIM: “Who else is there besides Putin?” she says. “We’re all for Putin.”
Kazinets, the factory director, admits he’s in the minority.
KAZINETS: (Speaking Russian).
KIM: But he says that minority can easily inspire a much bigger protest. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Pereslavl-Zalessky.