Vienna, March 10 – Yesterday, Elena Lyuikova, the Kaliningrad health minister, retired “at her own request,” according to Russian media, but because local political activists had staged 63 demonstrations over the last 18 months calling for her resignation, they see it as a major victory by them and the people of that region over the oblast government.
And while the Patriots of Russia party reacted by saying that they hoped Lyuikova’s departure would leading the Kaliningrad government to reverse course on its policy of closing medical facilities, others in that non-contiguous part of the Russian Federation and further afield are already speculating about the impact of this on the wave of demonstrations there.
On the one hand, some are implying that by making this concession, along with other steps to restrict the size of future protests, the government of Gyorgy Boos may have insured its own survival. But others suggest this action will only further embolden protesters who have called for the ouster not only of Boos but of Vladimir Putin (svpressa.ru/society/article/22272/).
But regardless of which side in this debate proves correct with regard to the situation in Kaliningrad itself, the notion that public demonstrations have forced the government to make a concession -- whether that is the whole story or not -- will certainly energize the opposition and may cause the Russian powers that be to take more draconian actions against it.
As they had 62 times before, members of the Patriots of Russia five days ago, picketed the Kaliningrad government building to demand the reopening of hospitals for sailors, veterans and pregnant women and the replacement of the oblast minister of health whom they had come to call “the minister of burial of health” (www.annews.ru/news/detail.php?ID=216576).
Lyuikova had infuriated Kaliningrad residents in general and the members of the Patriots of Russia Party in particular not only by the cutbacks in medical services her ministry oversaw but also and perhaps especially by her repeated declarations on regional television about “the successes of medicine” in the oblast under her watch.
While Mikhail Chesalin, the head of the regional section of the Patriots of Russia Party, said he was pleased that Lyuikova was gone, he told the media that “the picketers cannot be completely satisfied” until regional officials ensure that their other demands are met, implicitly suggesting that his group will seek to hold them responsible as well.
A Grani.ru commentary posted online today suggests that Kaliningrad Governor Boos could be the next to lose his position “as a result of the protests,” given that the regional leader has appeared unable to cope with growing protests there in which participants are also calling for Putin’s ouster (grani.ru/Politics/Russia/Regions/m.175726.html).
Things may come to a head quickly, with a series of Moscow officials travelling to Kaliningrad to consider what should be done and protest organizers, including Justice Movement leader Konstantin Doroshok, planning to stage another and larger rally in the oblast capital on March 20.
The anti-government protesters want to hold the demonstration in the center of the city, but the powers that be there have refused, offering instead, the airport or a stadium, suggestions that protest leaders say are “unjust” and that come on top of declarations by the leaders of Moscow parties in the Duma for their members not to take part in such “extra-systemic” acts.
Such organization efforts and appeals from Moscow party leaders have not worked all that well in recent days, and consequently, although there is every indication that Moscow and Kaliningrad will continue to count on them, a clash between the demonstrators and the powers that be cannot be excluded (www.ng.ru/regions/2010-03-10/100_kaliningrad.html).
And such clashes, if they take place, or their absence if Moscow cracks down or sacrifices more officials in Kaliningrad will just like the voluntary “retirement” of Lyuikova cast a far larger shadow on Russia’s political future, not only in the regions where elections are in the offing but in Moscow where the configuration of power could dramatically change.