Hong Kong puts Moscow to shame

It has been reported that hundreds of thousands, perhaps a million people have taken to the streets in Hong Kong to protest against a law that would make the city’s residents extraditable to China. A huge turnout for a city of seven million people. Moscow’s population is close to 13 million according to official estimates, and a street rally of 50,000 is nowadays considered a success for the opposition.

It wasn’t like this 30 years ago. In the late 1980s and especially in 1990-91, pro-reform crowds in the streets and squares of Moscow (then a city of nine million residents) numbered in the hundreds of thousands, sometimes in the 500,000 – 1,000,000 range. There was no Internet then, obviously, and the opposition had no access to major TV channels; only the print media was half-free.

By 1990, Gorbachev had started to back-pedal on his reforms, but in June 1991, Boris Yeltsin was elected president of the Russian Federation (then part of the USSR) in the first-ever competitive all-Russian election since 1917.

As a result, Yeltsin became not only the de-facto leader of the opposition but the de-jure chief executive of the USSR’s largest constituent republic. Thanks to the 1990 election, he had a popular mandate that no other politician in Russia had at that time (he received 57% on a 77% turnout vs. 17% for the runner-up). Obviously, the picture is rather different today, with free and fair elections impossible other on the municipal level. But that’s a poor excuse for the undersized rallies. There’s no Yeltsin in Hong Kong either but they are fighting tooth and nail against Beijing’s dictates.

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