No to War!
March 1917 and March 2022
“We want bread,” and “No to war!”
In March 1917 a spontaneous uprising of Russia’s long-oppressed people overthrew a corrupt autocracy led by Czar Nicholas II. No one planned or expected the sudden end of the three hundred year rule by the House of Romanov. Yet ominous signs of unrest were clearly visible.
By the first weeks of 1917 workers in Petrograd (modern St. Petersburg) were in a dangerous mood. For over two years Russia had been at war with Germany, and most people were sick of it. Yet a revolution that stood a chance of success seemed unlikely.
Then the unexpected happened. On a cold Thursday morning of March 8, a number of women who had been waiting in long lines in front of bakeries grew angry when they were told there was no more bread. Thousands of striking metal workers soon joined them. The discontented workers carried banners with two simple but powerful demands: “We want bread,” and “No to war!”
The next day nervous authorities called in mounted Cossacks to punish the striking workers. Normally the fierce saber-wielding Cossacks used a galloping charge to disperse a crowd. But not this time. The soldiers hated the war and sympathized with the workers and their demands for bread and peace. On March 9, 1917 mounted Cossacks winked at the demonstrators instead of arresting them.
The winks marked the end of Nicholas II’s reign. The isolated and inept czar did not understand the revolutionary force that would soon lead to his abrupt fall from power.
Fast forward to March 2022. Russians are beginning to discover that President Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian forces to invade Ukraine. Russia’s official propaganda machine is calling the invasion a small “special operation” limited to eastern Ukraine. But the truth is beginning to seep thru Putin’s wall of lies.
As Russians learn the truth, feelings of shame, anger, and disbelief are beginning to arouse Russia’s normally passive society. Punitive Western economic sanctions are isolating Moscow from the global economy. The ruble has fallen to an all-time low and Russian authorities have closed the country’s stock exchange. At the same time, the Russian people are beginning to hear reports of missiles raining down on Ukrainian cities, killing innocent civilians, and forcing terrified refugees to flee their homes.
The tightening vise of Western economic sanctions and the heartbreaking images of war are beginning to have an impact inside Russia. Spontaneous demonstrations are now occurring in St. Petersburg and other Russian cities. “No to war” signs are becoming ubiquitous. Thus far, black-clad police like the ones in today’s picture have arrested over 5,000 peaceful demonstrators.
What will happen next? Will Russia’s police continue to enforce Putin’s brutal orders? Is it possible history will repeat itself and the police will sympathize with the protesters and wink at them? No one knows what the future will bring. It is conceivable that Putin’s brutal invasion will provoke a popular backlash that will encourage frightened Russian oligarchs to remove him from office? One hundred and five years ago and equally isolated Russian autocrat felt invincible and didn’t realize that his days were over and something new was about to begin.
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