Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Russian Protests Now Compared to 2011 Reflect a Shift from Hope to Despair, Inozemtsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 11 – The number of protest actions in Russia jumped by a third between the first and second quarters, from 284 to 378, according to a new survey by the Moscow Center for Economic and Political Reform (rosbalt.ru/russia/2017/07/10/1629526.html and newizv.ru/news/society/10-07-2017/v-rossii-na-33-vyroslo-chislo-protestnyh-vystupleniy).

            But Moscow economist Vladislav Inozemtsev says that the motivating force behind these protests is despair about the current situation and fears about the future rather than the hope that stood behind the wave of protests which swept through Russia in 2011-2012 (rbc.ru/opinions/politics/10/07/2017/596367469a7947faa6a2b604).

            “Six years ago,” he writes, “’the multi-polarity’ of the opposition pushed the authorities to make concessions. Today, however, the protest is monopolized and the chance of achieving any concessions is minimal.”

            That is because “the events of 2011 were ‘a protest of hope’” which “arose under conditions when positive trends were sharply being replaced by the reverse. This anger had a political quality, a clearly recognized cause and object, and almost didn’t depend on the economic situation.”

            According to Inozemtsev, economic growth in that year was 4.3 percent. Average pay had reached a record 800US dollars a month. And thus “the decision of Vladimir Putin to become president again and the obvious violations in the Duma elections drew into the streets thousands of people and the leaders of all opposition forces.”

            “The slogans were clear: the power here is ‘we’ and we don’t want Putin anymore.” Everyone was united on that.  Such protests were hardly unique. They happened in Ukraine in 2004 and again in 2013 because “when a dream arises with people an dit seems that they can achieve something, protest movements can be very effective.”

            But the anger of 2017 looks very different, Inozemtsev says.  It is “’the protest of despair’ – the chances for changing the direction of the movement do not exist, nor are there broad forces which would want it.”  Pay has fallen, relations with the West have deteriorated, and society is tired of the burdens of conflict.

            The case of protests against tearing down the khrushchoby in Moscow shows this: the powers that be can make a few promises to make concessions and that has turned out to be “sufficient” for the protests to fade away to nothing. Protests of despair “can be very effective” in societies with well-developed horizontal structures: Russia isn’t one of these.

            But this is only one of the distinctions between the demonstrations of 2011 and those of the present day, the Moscow commentator says. Among them are the following:

“Monopolization of protest.”  In 2011, many people came in to the streets and many leaders did to. But “today, the protest movement to a large degree has been the result of the activity of Aleksey Navalny and his comrades. In essence, this is a one-man play and is considered as such by the majority of participants of earlier protests.” In 2011, those who took part in the protests subordinated their differences to a common goal; now, that isn’t possible because the demonstrations are based on slogans rather than on a plan of action and there is an all too obvious willingness to compromise “for the sake of popularity.”

“The Composition of Those Taking Part.” There are more young people in demonstrations now because they have nothing to lose while older people do.  The special feature of the protesters of 2011 was that they consisted of people who “did not want to lose what they had achieved” and were thus far more motivated than are participants now. That means that the current demonstrations are far less likely to grow than were those in 2011.
“Likes instead of Actions.” The protests six years ago relied on the more conventional media and thus gained access to the middle class and the elite. The protsts now have bed on “the Internet, YouTube, information channels, posts and clips.”  That entails “a significant danger” because “the monologue of the computer replaces solidarity; likes and posts replace action.”
“The Reaction of Higher Ups.”  In 2011, the elite was split and reacted to what the people in the streets were saying.  “Now the Kremlin circle is united and there is no ‘protest’ between ‘liberals’ and ‘siloviki.’”  The powers that be are ready to crush any protest that seems to them to be threatening. 
As a result, Inozemtsev says, these two kinds of protests have different outcomes: “the first can bring the protesters to victory, but the second can’t.  However, the consequences of defeat both in the first and in the second are similar: the dissatisfied part of society is demoralized and seeks individual strategies to get out it.”
In the current context, this means that Russia’s future will feature not “a rapid revolution but a gradual degradation of power” and that campaigns about corruption or improving the state apparatus will “only prolong this process.  Thus, Russians should be looking “beyond the horizon of the Putin era in the mid-2020s” to think about what they should be doing.
And if they do this, Inozemtsev says, they will see that the demonstrators of 2011 will be more useful than those engaged in protest now.

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