Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Is the Population of the Russian Federation Again Beginning to Stir?

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 17 – After the quiescence of the Putin era, there are indications that the population of the Russian Federation is beginning to stir again politically, a welcome development for those who would like to see the emergence of a vibrant civil society there but one for which many in the current Russian government appear to have little tolerance.
Yesterday, the Levada Center published the results of a representative poll conducted across the country May 16-19 showing that Russians are far more tolerant of and thus perhaps willing to participate in demonstrations than many have assumed on the basis of their behavior over the last decade (www.levada.ru/press/2008061602.html).
Fifty-five percent agreed with the statement that “street meetings and demonstrations are normal democratic means for citizens to achieve their goals and the authorities do not have the right to prohibit them. Only 32 percent agreed that “if street meetings and demonstrations interfere with those around them or lead to disorders, then the authorities should prohibit them.”
Among the specific findings of this survey, some of the most interesting were the following: First, “the larger the city, the stronger were ‘anti-meeting’ attitudes. Thus, only 27-28 percent of residents favor banning meetings that may cause disruptions or lead to disorders, whereas 41 percent of Muscovites do.
Second, “the closer an individual is to the authorities and the higher his social status, then the more frequently he is on the side of the powers that be and not on the side of those taking part in meetings,” with those in the force structures being the only group where the share favoring banning meetings roughly equaled those who say meetings should be permitted.
And third, “the number of supporters of the right for street meetings and demonstrations increases with the rise of educational level,” with 60 percent of those with higher education supporting that right while only 52 percent of those with less that middle school training saying that they back the rights of demonstrators.
According to the Levada Center, patterns of support among different age groups “merit particular attention.” Young people between 18 and 24 show the greatest support for the right to demonstrate with 60 percent for and only 29 percent above, while older groups, and especially those between 24 and 39 and over 60 show are less supportive.
Whether these attitudes will presage a general rise in public demonstrations is an open question, but such attitudes, especially beyond the borders of “anti-meeting” Moscow, already appear to be having an effect, to judge from three events reported on the Russian Internet already this week:
In the Russian Far East, groups that oppose the construction of a pipeline project are planning to demonstrate today (www.regrus.info/news/383.html). At the same time, the Evenks have launched a petition campaign against the construction of a hydro-electric dam that will flood their traditional homeland (www.raipon.org/АКМНССиДВРФ/Новости/tabid/428/mid/1276/newsid1276/2992/-----/Default.aspx).
And last but certainly not least, the Ingush opposition announced yesterday that it has collected 85,000 signatures there for the removal of republic head Murat Zyazikov and the return of his predecessor to office (www.regrus.info/news/383.html), a petition campaign Zyazikov has sought to stop by his moves against Ingushetiya.ru (www.ingushetiya.ru/news/14571.html).

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