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“Once people begin to believe the ice is in fact thin, it doesn’t matter how thick it really is… everything can change very suddenly” ~ Aleksei Navalny, Russian anti-corruption crusader and protest leader

Again people are marching to vent their frustration and fury against an overbearing and corrupt government. This time it was in Russia where it was reported that tens of thousands took to the streets in nearly 100 towns and cities across the nation over the weekend to protest against corruption.

Many of the protestors were in their twenties and came from a generation that was considered largely apathetic and had never known democracy, freedom or good governance.

The response was swift and harsh. Hundreds were arrested and beaten, many for nothing more than being present.

And the usual spiel that illiberal leaders everywhere dish out when faced with popular dissent was on full display with Moscow calling the accusations of corruption “provocation and lies” and accusing the organizers of “tricking people into protesting and paying teenagers to participate.”

A Kremlin spokesman also lamented that “citizens, many probably out of ignorance, didn’t want to use the alternative avenues” to voice their discontent. Of course, they were quick to add that the government respects the people’s right to demonstrate except when it is “absolutely forbidden,” as in this case.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

The ice is too thick

In protesting against their government, Russian protestors took on a well-entrenched police state that brooks little dissent, that totally controls all the levers of power, that cares nothing for human rights or international approbation.

If we think we have it bad here, it is far worse in Russia.

And yet, there they were, against all odds, taking to the streets in defiance of tyranny, convinced that somehow they could make a difference.

Everywhere, it seems, ordinary disenfranchised people are slowly but surely finding the courage to defy impossible odds, to stand up against the might of abusive governments.

Many around them may shake their heads in despair and insist that change is not possible, that peaceful protest against a well-entrench corrupt police state is a losing battle, that the best that can be hoped for is a velvet glove upon an iron fist.

In Russia they have a saying that “the ice [of tyranny] is too thick to break.”

But such is the thirst for justice, the innate yearning to be free that even people who have never experienced it, hunger for it. They may not have a clear idea of how to proceed but they know that proceed they must. It’s in our very DNA, I suppose, and can never be quenched or eradicated from the human psyche.

Bound by a common struggle

To be sure, Russia is as far away removed from Malaysia as one could get. And yet what happens in Russia touches us too because “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” [Martin Luther King].

Their struggle surely informs and inspires our own just as ours feeds the fires of hope elsewhere. It encourages those of us took to the streets here in peaceful protest to keep going, to keep contending against the behemoth of tyranny in pursuit of what we know are inalienable rights – the right of the people to determine their own future through free and fair elections, that governments ought to be accountable to the people and respect their rights and freedoms.

Those young people in Russia, like the young people in Malaysia, who dared to protest, dared to stand against the power of an almighty state, dared to dream that they can change the world, inspire us all not to lose hope, not to be discouraged by past failures and setbacks but to press on secure in the knowledge that change will come.

The day might be dark, the night may be long, and hope itself might burn low but for so long as there is even one lonely voice on a hill crying out for justice, or standing on a street corner unafraid of water-canon or baton charges or languishing in jail, crushed but not broken; freedom lives.

The voice of hope

And in the midst of despair, there will come the voice of a Martin Luther King or a Nelson Mandela or an Anuar Ibrahim or an Aleksei Navalny (the Russian anti-corruption crusader and protest leader) to whisper hope and inspire us to press on. We ourselves might not see the promised land of liberty and justice but that day will surely come.

As Aleksei Navalny put it, “Once people begin to believe the ice is in fact thin, it doesn’t matter how thick it really is… everything can change very suddenly.”

And so I salute those brave Russian protestors for standing up to tyranny on behalf of us all, for insisting that their government chart a better course, that justice not might shall rule them.

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 29th March 2017]