Vienna, March 1 – Even as protests in his region continue, Kaliningrad Governor Georgy Boos has met with the leader of the January 31 mass meeting, called for more such consultations, and announced plans to create new deputy heads of the region’s administration in an attempt to reduce social tension and prevent the demonstrations there from getting out of hand.
In an article in today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” Aleksandr Ryabushev reports that Georgy Boos had met with Konstantin Doroshok, the leader of the Justice Union and organizer of the January 31 protest meeting and announced plans to create the post of deputy head of government for internal policy (www.ng.ru/regions/2010-03-01/1_boos.html).
The incumbent of that position will be responsible for maintaining contacts with the media, social organizations and parties, a step that some protests may see as an important concession but one that some in that non-contiguous part of Russia say is only intended to make Boos appear responsive.
The Kaliningrad governor said that he and Doroshok had discussed in a private meeting 16 “problems of an exclusively economic nature,” adding that he had invited the Justice Union leader, who he indicated had presented specific ideas on how to solve the region’s economic problems, to become a member of the governor’s political consultative council
If Doroshok was pleased to be invited, other leaders of the Kaliningrad opposition were angry because they were not. One, oblast Duma deputy Solomon Ginzburg, said that such private meetings won’t do much to solve local problems but they might make Boos look good in the Kremlin.
However that may be, Boos also set up three other new deputy administration heads – one for the realization of major investment projects, a second for the development of culture and education, and a third for health and social policy, although he did not announce who would fill these positions or exactly what they would do.
Vladimir Abramov, a political analyst in Kaliningrad political analyst, told the Moscow journalist that Boos was clearly trying to reduce “social tension and demonstrate his willingness to engage in dialogue with the opposition,” something that Abramov suggested was “good policy,” although he expressed concern that Boos’ initiatives might be undercut by subordinates.
Friday’s session did not prevent a new round of demonstrations in that region, which some have called “the fourth Baltic republic” and which its residents proudly refer to as being “at the center of Europe. Indeed, yesterday’s demonstration in Chernyakhovsk advanced not only economic demands but political ones as well (echo.msk.ru/blog/sergeymuritz/660312-echo/).
Given the high unemployment and decaying infrastructure in Kaliningrad, it is not surprising that most demands at this meeting too focused on how people are to live and what work they may be able to hope for. But they also included political planks such as the removal of the district government leader and a reduction in the size of the government apparatus.
And at least a few taking part in the meeting, estimated at a total of from 1500 to 2,000, called for the return to pre-Putin system of the election of governors and mayors rather than their appointment from above, a demand Moscow is unlikely to meet but one that suggests at least some protesters are becoming more political (www.nr2.ru/272307.html).
By making even the limited concessions he has, Boos may have won over some of the demonstrators in his region, but because he made those concessions only under pressure, it is entirely likely that other Kaliningraders and Russians further afield will view his response as an indication that they should redouble their efforts in order to get more.
Moreover, if it should turn out to be the case that Boos’ promises and administrative reforms do not lead to real changes in the lives of people there, then a larger number of people are likely to join the demonstrators and what was a small challenge to the authorities there could grow into a major political crisis on the western border of the Russian Federation.