Monday, January 26, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Plan to Organize Pro-Government Demos Likely to Backfire

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 26 – Moscow’s plan to organize pro-government demonstrations this Saturday may given the deteriorating economic situation and widespread feelings that the country is going in the wrong direction could transform opposition protests the same day into anti-government actions, according to the editors of a leading Russian newspaper.
In an editorial describing the pro-government United Russia Party’s plans to stage pro-government rallies as “nashism for adults” -- a reference to the party’s youth group, “Nashi” (“Ours”) -- “Gazeta” says that such actions “organized from above” may produce precisely the opposite of what the regime wants (
That is all the more likely to be the outcome, the paper continues, because the slogans and resolutions of several trial demonstrations of this kind are so transparently the work of the powers that be rather than of the participants that these meetings highlight the weakness and isolation of the government.
The Kremlin administration clearly hopes, the paper says, adding that it hopes its hopes are “sincere” that for most Russians, supporting Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and “even ‘support[ing] the anti-crisis measures proposed by the government’ is an end in itself” rather than something more.
And it is virtually certain, “Gazeta” continues, that the country’s top leaders want to call out onto the street “’the Putin majority’ as ‘our response to Vladivostok,’ and also to Riga, Vilnius and all other East European capitals in which there have been anti-government disorders” in recent days and weeks.
But in taking such a step, the powers that be appear to be ignoring two important facts. On the one hand, there have not been any “mass anti-government disorders” in Russia nor does there appear to be any serious chance that they will emerge unless somehow the Russian people are provoked either by an even worse situation or by example.
And on the other hand, praising the government and demanding support for it in such a “staged” way “an entirely unsuitable” step at a time of crisis, a reality that “Stalin in 1941 understood very well” when he spoke to the Soviet population at the time of Hitler’s invasion of the USSR but that the current government unfortunately does not appear to grasp fully.
While such “theatrical” pro-government demonstrations may fill the television broadcasts, their falseness as an expression of the popular is certain to be so obvious to many Russians, even those inclined to support the regime, that this “Nashism for adults” will set off like “a detonator” anti-government actions.
At present, the editors of “Gazeta” point out, the resources of those who want to engage in protests agains thte government are “small.” They do not have “popular alternative programs, influential alternative politicians, or strong alternative professional organizations,” although it is possible that these things will emerge.
But at present, “Gazeta” continues, “Russian society, apolitical and divided, is still not prepared to take the initiative into its own hands. And the reserve of such apathy may suffice for a long time” as long as the increasingly excitable and nervous people at the highest levels “do not rock the boat.”
Unfortunately for them and perhaps for Russia as a whole, that is precisely what these Kremlin-organized demonstrations are likely to do. That is certainly what many leaders of the opposition hope and what all those who would like to see Russia reverse its course toward ever greater authoritarianism.
But if the government is making a mistake in organizing such Potemkin village-like manifestations of support, many of its opponents are almost certainly equally wrong in expecting that in a test of strength, democracy would be likely to win out against those who advocate an even more extreme form of authoritarianism than the one now on offer by Putin and Medvedev.
The danger of that is underscored in an article in the current issue of “Novaya gazeta,” entitled “Their Kampf,” a pointed reference to Adolf Hitler’s infamous book. In the wake of the murders of Stanislav Markelov and Anatasiya Baburova, the paper looked into the Russian blogosphere and reached a deeply disturbing conclusion.
“In Russia,” the paper said, “fascism exists.” Not might exist sometime in the future but exists now ( And in support of that conclusion, “Gazeta” offers quotations from the RUnet that highlight a dangerous trend in Russian public opinion, one that could all too easily become stronger if politics moves into the streets.
That is something that the organizers of the upcoming demonstration hopefully do not appear to understand because if they do grasp that risk and go ahead anyway, then what they are doing is far worse than dousing a fire with kerosene. It is openly encouraging the kind of blaze that could destroy any chance for freedom and democracy there for a long time to come.

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