Vienna, April 13 –Demonstrations took place in 35 cities in the Russian Federation over the weekend to protest specific government policies and, in a few cases, to repeat earlier demands for the removal of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his government, but few participants or observers expect that Moscow will respond with any major concessions.
But at least one Russian political commentator, Dmitry Oreshkin argues that even so, “the appearance of alternative interest groups is a sign that the country is changing, especially since more and more Russians are speaking up in behalf of interests “not directly connected with the government apparatus” (www.newizv.ru/news/2009-04-13/107850/).
As long as these groups – car owners, the unemployed, pensioners, and uniformed military – act independently, he continues, “the powers that be can sleep in peace.” But “if all those protesting in behalf of particular interests would combine into a single protest movement, then for the authorities, this would be a catastrophe.”
The Moscow media today are full of stories of the various protest meetings over the last three days. The New Region news agency reported that meetings car owners had organized to protest Putin’s introduction of new import tariffs on foreign cars took place without incident in
33 of 35 cities (www.nr2.ru/automobile/228495.html).
But in two places, Novosibirsk and Vladivostok, the protest actions ended with government militia and OMON dispersing the crowds. In the Far Eastern city, the authorities held back apparently until speakers at the meeting “demanded the retirement of the powers that be in the kray and of the federal government.”
Those who took part in the meeting in Moscow said they did not have “any illusions” that the Russian government would meet their demands or even was paying attention at present. Sergey Kanayev, head of the capital’s car owner federation, said however that “it is necessary to meet so the regime will be taught to respond” (www.newizv.ru/news/2009-04-13/107850/).
One indication of the direction that some demonstrators may take as the weather warms and the economic crisis deepens is the appearance of meetings in support of regional leaders but against Moscow. Such a session took place on Saturday in Izhevsk, where demonstrators backed the Udmurt president’s economic proposals, some of which are at odds with Moscow’s.
In an article today, Moscow’s “Novaya gazeta” offered a roundup of reports about the attitudes of people taking part in demonstrations outside the capital. There, the paper said, people are taking part in meetings because “they do not want” Moscow to fight the crisis at their expense (www.novayagazeta.ru/data/2009/038/19.html).
As the paper notes, there are more and more common features in these protests, an indication that those taking part in them could link up under certain conditions. When and where that might happen, of course, remains far from clear, but to the extent that the authorities respond with force alone, it is likely to occur sooner and in more places.
However that may be, it is difficult to disagree with the conclusion of two commentaries on the Politcom.ru site now: Igor Bunin’s argument that in Russia now, “politics is returning” (www.politcom.ru/7951.html) and Roksana Burnatseva’s that Moscow could face new challenges from a group many have written off, the unions (www.politcom.ru/7959.html).