First it's important to understand some context. The first round of protests, organized hastily in the immediate aftermath of the elections, were broken up violently and with long lists of arrests and detentions numbering in the nearly thousand between the two largest cities. DO NOT be fooled by how peaceful the following photos look: these protests follow the first wave of violence that the government has now backed away from due to both intense scrutiny and the popular backlash it's inspired. Everyone out there in the streets knows that the Kremlin is taking some time to reformulate its strategy, and hoping that it won't involve more violence. Putin doesn't care much if the U.S. wags its finger at repression; he cares more about a potentially delicate balance of power that could be tipped if the more violence brings out more sympathy for the protesters, especially since his own election will occur in three months.
Right now Putin enjoys astronomical (by American standards) approval ratings, but the fallout from the elections, the immediate violence, and the mass movement of the last few days is starting to call that into question.
That being said, the protests are a great sign. Nothing like this has happened since the early Yeltsin days, and it's impossible not to see genuine hope on the faces of the people out there.
Do the protesters have a unified message? Apart from the demand for clean elections, it's a mish-mash of all kinds of ideological groups, but there are still specific demands out there. One resolution has been circulating through the crowds:
WE DEMAND NEW ELECTIONS!
of the general civil meeting of "For Fair Elections"
December 10, 2011
Those who took part in the meeting demand:
1. The immediate release of all political detainees.
2. The rejection of the results from the falsified elections.
3. The resignation of Churov and the investigation of his activities, the investigation of all the facts of violations and falsifications, and punishment of all those responsible.
4. The registration of opposition parties and the approval of democratic legislation on parties and elections.
5. The conducting of new open and fair elections.
Note: Churov is the government spokesperson on things election-related, and unsurprisingly he has seen no irregularities worth noting.
Let's look at some photos.
To start, there's this from the Livejournal account of drugoi: the title is "My dear Muscovites". Here are translations of some of the signs, by the number of picture:
1. "We are Russia"
2. "We are the 99%; we need REAL democracy" and "Government, resign! ZERO CONFIDENCE in the election results"
4. the box she's holding says "Day of Wrath", the name given to these protests. Also known as "Day of the People's Wrath", but the shorter version carries Biblical overtones (literally Dies irae)
5. "Liars and thieves, give back the election!" Literally 'swindlers and thieves', but the expression has become a tagline in the protests, and we'll see it again. "Deputies, we did not elect you!" The recent election was for deputies in State Duma.
7. Putin-as-vampire sucking the blood of young Russia. "We won't give you a third time"
12. Above the stage, "Russia will be free". To the left, "We demand rejection of the election results"
17. "31" is the logo for "Strategy-31", about which you can read more here
19. The small placard on the far left: "These are the ones jackaling the government".
24. The orange sign, "Putin has to go". Smaller placard to the left, "We demand a vote recount"; above center, same as 19.
25. "Down with the rule of liars and thieves!"
Some of the comments below are worth checking out, too.
This one requires some explanation. The graph says, above "We don't believe Churov" and below "We believe Gauss". The graph shows Gaussian functions that argue the election results were highly irregular/unlikely, and the picture's caption reads "Churov is a moron. It's been mathematically proven". The second photo below, also of Churov, says "Send the magician to Azkaban". I trust most people here will get the reference.
Here's a beautiful above-the-crowd shot showing the mass of protesters flanking both sides of the Moskva river.
This one reads "Bitter truth of the elections", and the sign says "I didn't vote for these swine. I voted for different swine! I demand a recount!" Political cynicism isn't unique to any area of the world, but the pictures here are pointed: the bear (the swine he didn't vote for) is the symbol of United Russia, Putin's party. The apple underneath (the swine he voted for) is the symbol of Yabloko, a Western-oriented social liberal party that failed to meet the lowest threshold for representation in the State Duma, alongside the symbol of the Communist party and a third I can't make out in the photo.
Some interesting crowd shots here. Scroll halfway down for a photo of a small camera equipped with mini-helicopter rotors to hover above the crowd. The placard four photos below it says "Erect a cross over this thieving regime"
More here. The first photo has a number of half-concealed signs; the bottom right placard says "Give us fair elections". Below, note more appearances of our flying camera, as well as troops with guard dogs. The threat of violence is hanging over all of these protests.
Focus in particular on photo 13, which shows an orange flag immediately above a black and yellow flag. These are diametrically opposite ideological groups, protesting together. The caption below reads "Solidarity and Imperialists, next to each other. And it's no big deal." Now that's something.
What happens next is a big question mark. The Kremlin is likely hoping to wait out the protests in the belief that they'll die down. Ten years ago, that may have been the more likely scenario, but the mass organization that social media has enabled is turning expected social dynamics on their head. The anger is real, and now the coordination of that anger is sustainable. The next few weeks are critical.
As always best wishes to everyone in Russia who's out there marching the streets for a just and transparent system of elections. Stay safe, and know that we support you.
2:58 PM PT: Another great set of photos, h/t kalmoth. Here are a few explanations of the signs (I'm going by the pic# in the URL):
5. "Love each other, people!";
6. It's in English, but note the sign in the background;
8. "Unfair elections", with the letters skewed to form "49%" in red - the alleged percentage of the popular vote that allowed United Russia to claim 53% of the seats in the State Duma due to the current election laws;
13. "We won't let you steal our votes". The man in the picture is giving the "fig" sign.
14. "I did NOT vote for you": with the bear symbol of United Russia (Putin's party).
22. I love this one: "We have three demands: 1. Fair elections. 2. Freedom of assembly.... Well, alright, we'll settle for two."
23. This one's the hardest to explain without a lot of context. A few days ago, this video of a young pro-regime woman, bused into Moscow as a 'counterprotester', became the laughing stock of the Russian blogs for her out-of-touch comments about progress under United Russia, not to mention her bad grammar and incongruous dress (oh, and she's very pleased with the agriculture). The placard mocks one of her statements from the video.
27. A pun off the expected "Fuck your mother!" with United Russia taking the place of the F-word. The right side reads "Give us back our elections!" To the right, the smaller placard with Putin-as-Caeser: "I came, I cheated, I conquered";
29. Among others, "Putin needs to go".