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A New Wave of Protest Movements in Russia
August 9, 2019 17:38

Protests in Russia have changed radically. “Meduza”  give explanations why   people are no longer afraid of police and arrests,  and don’t need  any organizers.

Russian citizens demand free elections to the City Duma for three weeks in a row. The mayor’s office has banned opposition rallies; the security forces are dispersing them more harshly than ever - but this does not stop thousands of people from participating in uncoordinated actions. Rallies for the admission of independent candidates to the Moscow City Duma were preceded by pickets and a march in support of "Meduza" correspondent Ivan Golunov, as well as fierce resistance in Yekaterinburg to the construction of an Orthodox church in one of the city squares. Obviously, in 2019, the protest movement in Russia reached a new level. 

1. Any problem can become a reason for a political protest.

Anti-corruption rallies on March 26, 2017 can be called the beginning of a new wave of protests, when from 36 to 88 thousand people came to the streets of 97 cities. The reason was the film-investigation "Don’t call him Dimon" about the secret wealth of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, filmed by the Anti-Corruption Fund of Alexei Navalny. It was one of the largest protests, which took place without the consent of the authorities.

The participants did not demand anything concrete from the authorities. Citizens came to the streets with the most vague anti-corruption slogans, and the real reason for their dissatisfaction was the general outrage at the abuses of the authorities.

Another significant milestone - rallies in Kemerovo after a fire in the shopping center "Winter Cherry". They immediately got a political tint: the main demand of the townspeople was not even the punishment of the specific perpetrators, but the resignation of the governor of Kuzbass, Aman Tuleyev, who had ruled the region for over 20 years. 

In the spring of 2019, in Arkhangelsk, there were protests against the construction of a landfill in Shies, where demands for the resignation of Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin were voiced. In May - a confrontation between the authorities of Yekaterinburg and opponents of the construction of an Orthodox church in one of the squares. The arrest of "Meduza" investigation department correspondent Ivan Golunov in a falsified drug case brought several thousands people to an uncoordinated rally in  Moscow on June 12, even after all charges were dropped from the journalist.

Finally, elections to the Moscow City Duma have never become such a significant event before. Rather traditional actions of the authorities to prevent independent candidates from registering provoked massive discontent. 

2. Unsanctioned protests are held   more often and become better-attended.

Just a few years ago, unsanctioned protests   attracted several hundred people at most,  but now we are talking about thousands, and sometimes tens of thousands - and actions can be held simultaneously in many cities of Russia. 

On March 26, 2017 ("Don’t call him Dimon"), as well as July 27 and August 3, 2019 (Moscow City Duma), several times more people came to the streets of Moscow   despite the threat of a serious fine and administrative arrest. There are no exact estimates of the number of participants in unsanctioned actions, but in each of these cases it was more than  10 thousand people.

In Yekaterinburg, the largest rally against the construction of the church was attended by three to six thousand people. In Kemerovo, up to five thousand citizens participated in a spontaneous rally against Tuleyev.

The increase in the number of detainees under Article 20.2 in 2017-2018 also indicates that unsanctioned protests   are attracting an increasing number of participants, and repressive measures have ceased to work as expected.

3. Protests have new leaders, young and more radical.

The current protests are not monopolized by anyone - and there is no force that claims to become their beneficiary. Numerous regional protests are organized by local activists, whose political views don’t matter. In Moscow, actions began to be initiated by people who are not involved in politics professionally: for example, Novaya Gazeta journalist, municipal deputy Ilya Azar   or actress Yana Troyanova (participated in the organization of the “Mother’s March”).

Apparently, there is no place for the old leaders because the demand for new faces is great. The Moscow City Duma protests  brought to the forefront the politicians who were previously in the shadows: Lyubov Sobol, Konstantin Yankauskas, Elena Rusakova, Julia Galyamina, as well as one of the leaders of the Libertarian party Mikhail Svetov. It is no coincidence in this sense that the 17-year-old Olga Misik, who was reading the Constitution in front of the riot police, instantly became famous, and a public campaign was launched immediately in support of a student of the Higher School of Economics, an unregistered candidate Yegor Zhukov  (he’s a video blogger with 100 thousands of followers).

The presence of new faces in the activist scene, the heightened role activists have begun to play in public life, and the rise of lesser-known politicians to more important roles have historical precedent in Russia. However, what makes this generation different is that it is less willing to compromise, and its representatives consciously reject leadership roles that would enable them to control protests single-handedly. 

4.  Individual protest marches have lost the need for leaders.

Before the rally on July 27, key opposition leaders, as well as the most prominent independent candidates, Alexei Navalny, Ilya Yashin, Dmitry Gudkov, Konstantin Yankauskas, Yulia Galyamina, Ivan Zhdanov, Vladimir Milov and others, were preventively detained in Moscow. But this did not stop the protest movement.

Obviously, people identify themselves not with political leaders, but with act of protest itself. They are more oriented on the number of  RSVPSs for the event  on social networks than on the presence of certain politicians in the crowd.

5.  Protest actions   have taken on totalizing tactics.

Traditional political events have a rather clear-cut scenario - this is either a program of speeches at the rally, or the route of the procession, or both. Even uncoordinated actions, as a rule, have a certain localization, which determines the course of events.

In Moscow in 2019, authorities do not agree on protest actions, security forces arrest their leaders, and thereby do everything to make the protest as unpredictable as possible. The participants have to act spontaneously and according to the situation. On the one hand, this reduces the coherence of protesters. On the other hand, it complicates the security forces the task of dispersing them.

The rally could start as a movement and turn into a procession, and it, in turn, would stop and become a manifestation. This resembles the Dutch tactics of total football, when the whole team defends at the right time, and attacks at the certain time. Sometimes participants displaced by security forces are arbitrarily divided into smaller groups that act independently of the rest. 

Because of the tough actions of the authorities, the protesters are forced to behave in a new way: the power is broadly distributed among them, making recent marches in Russia harder to stop.


Author: Anna Dorozhkina

Tags: Society     

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