Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Protests in Regions have Moscow Feeling ‘Ground is Shifting under Its Feet,’ Russian Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, March 3 – Popular protests in Kaliningrad, Pikalevo, Baikalsk and other cities have left the powers that be in Moscow feeling that “the ground is shifting under [their] feet,” generating fear in some quarters and hope in others that the current political arrangements in Russia will be transformed, according to a leading Russian political scientist.
In an interview posted on the “Osobaya bukva” portal today, Aleksandr Kynyev argues that the spread of protests across the Russian Federation reflects in no small degree the extreme dissatisfaction of many in the regions with the policies of the outsiders Moscow has installed as governors (,
And because “the powers that be fear any protest” – indeed, they have “no greater fear” than people going into the streets, he says, Moscow inevitably reacts almost immediately, but with the protests growing so rapidly, those in power are now divided over what should be done to prevent these protests from becoming a threat to their positions and even their system.
“The milieu around them is changing,” he says, “and many have the sense that it is changing very quickly.” Such a sense exists among experts, among journalists and “among bureaucrats” and political figures. And because they are uncertain how to respond, they have not worked out a “common” approach.
Indeed, he continues, “the feeling that the earth is shifting out from under their feet and that the world around them is not what is was yesterday” is increasingly widespread. The “absolutely inadequate decisions” after “the scandal between ‘Just Russia’ and ‘United Russia’ demonstrate that.
But there is a great deal more evidence, Kynyev continues, that “the world in which we are living today and the country in which we are living today is not exactly what they were yesterday,” a feeling that public protests have heightened and one that in turn is generating uncertainty and fear among the powers that be..
“What will be the situation tomorrow?” the Moscow political scientist asks rhetorically, before insisting that he thinks that “life is so constructed that the future is not always predictable. If it were always possible to say what the future would be, then there would be no history.” And that unpredictability inevitably magnifies the threat those in power feel in the face of protests.
“Were the world ruled by political technologists, there would never be any revolutions,” Kynyev says, because for them a meeting is something to be organized for their own purposes rather than the result of the coming together of people who for whatever reason are upset and want change.
Not surprisingly, he argues, the Russian powers that be react more harshly to demonstrations in Moscow rather than to any, even much larger ones, that take place in the regions because of fears that meetings in the capital could throw up the kind of leaders who might be able to challenge the incumbents.
The recent demonstrations in Kaliningrad hit Moscow especially hard, Kynyev says, because the powers that be “did not expect [their] size.” Indeed, he continues, “the shock of Kaliningrad is precisely that it was not planned in advance. They did not think that there would be so many people.”
As the current powers that be have done elsewhere, they are trying “on the one hand to work harshly against the organizers,” while “on the other hand, [those responsible in Moscow and Kaliningrad itself] are very much afraid of this activity” because it has been so “sudden, unplanned and spontaneous.”
Many are now asking when such massive demonstrations will take place in the Russian capital, but Kynyev says that he does not expect “we shall see major actions” in the Russian capital “because Moscow is a special case,” not only because of high employment but also because of its symbolic meaning for the elites and the population as a whole.
Nonetheless, he argues, the spread of demonstrations could mean that “this wave of [popular] dissatisfaction” could lead to “a change of the rules of the game and to the democratization of the system … Not simply modernization when [the powers that be] buy a new locomotive but when they really begin to change the rules of the game.”
Kynyev concludes that this will happen “because there is no other path.” But he says that neither he nor anyone else can say when this might happen. But while he insists that this is the only way forward, he in fact concludes by acknowledging that Russia’s course of development might, at least for some time to come, follow a different course.
“If there are not real changes of the rules of the game, then this will end with degradation and destruction,” he says. But if these signals will be heard, then there is a chance for a certain genuine modernization. Because without it, [what is taking place in his country now point to] the end.”

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