Monday, May 31, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Russian Protests, Sanctioned and Not, Increase Dramatically in 2010, Interior Ministry Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 31 – The Russian interior ministry says that the number of protest actions, sanctioned and not, increased from 1269 in the first quarter of 2009 to 4900 in the same period this year, nearly by a factor of four, not counting election campaign meetings, and that the number of people taking part in these demonstrations this year was just under 1.8 million.
Mikhail Sukhodolsky, first deputy interior minister, noted that the number of unsanctioned demonstrations within this figure had increased more than twice over the same period but he stressed that the number of participants in them remained small – 6300 – and their location restricted largely to the two capitals, Samara oblast and Daghestan.
In commenting on these figures today, Mikhail Yakovlev of “Novaya versiya” says that Moscow officials have not yet completed their count of protests in the second quarter but that “according to unofficial reports, the number of protests not only has not fallen but even has grown significantly” (
The powers that be, Yakovlev continues, are responding with a combination of carrots and sticks. In the Mezhdurechensk miners case, Nina Ostanina, a KPRF deputy says, they are simultaneously using the OMON and threatening the strikers with criminal charges and dismissals and promising that some of the workers’ complaints will be addressed.
According to Yakovlev, this approach “justified itself” at least in this case, not only preventing the protest from becoming an uprising, as many were predicting, but even meaning that when demonstrators elsewhere came out in support of the miners, the miners themselves did not go into the streets and the OMON units which had been brought in were withdrawn.
That of course does not mean, the “Novaya versiya” journalist says, that “the question is resolved.”And he cites Svetlana Klimova, of the Academy of Sciences Institute of Sociology on that point. “The protest potential, if one understands those words to mean the number of people ready to go into the streets is quite high and approaches approximately 40 percent.”
“However,” the Moscow scholar continues, “the level of readiness to organize and take part in strikes is categorically low. It is much lower that it ought to be given the situation that workers now find themselves in” and appears to reflect their fears of what the powers that be, public and private, may be able to do to them if they strike.
Nonetheless, Yakovlev continues, the reasons for the rise in the number of protests is clear: “as a result of the crisis, the real incomes of the majority of Russians have markedly fallen.” And thus it is no surprise that despite these fears, the number of “unregistered strikes has increased more than 1.5 times in comparison with 2008.”
According to the Russian government’s statistical office, Rosstat, the crisis has eased in 2010, a claim that many commentators dispute and that many Russians do not yet feel, but “nevertheless,” the journalist says, “protest attitudes in society are growing at impressive tempos.”
Aleksey Mukhin, general director of the Moscow Center of Political Information, suggests that this is the result of the buildup of anger among people who did not protest earlier. “Those who reacted to economic instability immediately have already expressed their dissatisfaction.”
“Now,” he says, “there is a second wave which represents something more dangerous “because these people are approaching the issue of advancing their own economic and political demands in a more carefully thought out way,” a shift that can be seen from the change in composition of those taking part and their greater preparation before doing so.
The “second wave” demonstrators, Mukhin says, have drawn lessons from what has happened to protesters up to now and “in part they are able to ride the wave of popular anger.” That makes their actions more likely to attract support and thus “more dangerous” for the powers that be in the Kremlin.
Despite that, he continues, “there is no basis to suggest that this wave will be able to change the existing system of power as the leaders of the opposition hope.” The powers that be have learned to and are prepared both to use force and to sacrifice relatively junior officials to meet the anger of the crowds while making promises for the future.
So far, Moscow has not been willing to fire any governor because that would reflect back upon the people in the center who chose that individual, although that could change. Oksana Goncharenko, a researcher at the Moscow Center of Political Conjuncture, says that Kaliningrad’s Georgy Boos may be in trouble but Kemerovo’s Aman Tuleyev is not.
Boos has a problem, she suggests, because elections are scheduled in his oblast this fall, but Tuleyev is in “a more favorable position.” He was “recently reappointed and a rapid retirement would have an impact on the reputation of President Dmitry Medvedev,” who took that step.
Consequently, the contest between the protesters and the powers that be will continue, with the former growing in number and sophistication but the latter learning as well, developing new combinations of carrots and sticks that may not prevent many from demonstrating but that are likely for the time being to prevent the protests from shaking the foundations of the system.

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