Russian opposition abandons street protests

Experts say, protest activity is obviously on the wane.     Source: RIA Novosti

Experts say, protest activity is obviously on the wane. Source: RIA Novosti

The protest movement in Russia is dwindling and growing old.

The march in support of political convicts, which took place in Moscow on Oct. 27, gathered 5,000–7,000 people — a remarkable setback compared to what happened a year ago. Experts note that the protest movement in Russia is undergoing a reformatting phase: It is split, with leftist movements and nationalists separated.

The Moscow authorities gave their OK to the march at the last moment, said organizers of the procession. According to them, they had to declare to authorities that, even without official consent, people would come out to the march.

By 2 p.m. (the time appointed for participants to arrive), only about 500 people had gathered in the center of Moscow, notes Moskovsky Komsomolets. After an hour, when the column was to move forward, the number reached about 5,000.

Besides traditional participants, there were a few unusual characters: Two Buddhist monks were seen among the oppositionists. “We represent the religious order Lotus Sutra; this variety of Buddhism originated in Japan. There are only 10 of us in Moscow, and more than 100 in the world. We supported all protests since the war in Chechnya,” said Felix Shvedovsky in passing, while banging on a tambourine and chanting a prayer. The Buddhists prayed for justice and tranquility to reign in the country.

The demonstration took place without incident. Slogans were yelled for the first 10 minutes, and then the crowd was practically silent.

The deputy editor-in-chief of Echo of the Moscow radio station, Vladimir Varfolomeyev, noted in Twitter that 5,000 people was great luck: The previous meetings held under such slogans did not gather more than 2,000 participants.

Ilya Konstantinov, the deputy director of the Institute of Civil Society and Local Government who attended the event, said there were slightly more people, about 7,000–8,000.

According to the expert, protest activity is obviously on the wane, and this can be attributed to several factors. “First, people are weary of protests in general, because they come out with actions and requirements, but cannot achieve their goals. Therefore, fatigue and disappointment is but a natural response,” says Konstantinov.

“Secondly, the opposition broke up. For example, there were absolutely no leftist-minded participants, even though they always represented quite a sizeable part. The nationalists didn’t come either.”

Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a sociologist and specialist in studying elites, also notes not just a slump but also structural changes in protest movement. “The protest movement has somewhat dwindled and grown old of late. Earlier, the average age of participants was 35, and now it is 40. The novelty of political expression is gone — there's no more poignancy. Meanwhile, the frequency of all sorts of events has increased, and their numbers declined,” says the sociologist.

“A rather dangerous core has been formed among the remaining protesters. This is a group of young people who want to act aggressively using extreme methods. Pacifists have abandoned the streets.”

Yevgeny Minchenko, director of the International Institute of Political Expert Evaluation, estimates that, presently, 100,000 people are ready to go out; however, a significant occasion would be necessary.

“Moscow mayor elections could have hypothetically provided such an occasion, but they were organized in such a way that it was difficult to protest. Besides, it was important to show Alexei Navalny that he cannot only call people out to the streets, but also lead them from there empty-handed,” the political scientist explains.

Kryshtanovskaya agrees with him. In her opinion, political convicts are not the most significant cause. She notes that, now, on social networks, there are a lot of radical youth who believe that Russians can unite only under extremist slogans, and they urge action outside the legal field.

Konstantinov also notes the reformatting of protest movement, but does not know what new form it will assume. “Questions that were raised in the winter of 2011-2012 didn’t find the answers. Therefore, protests will surely continue, but most likely under other slogans and with other leaders,” the expert says.

“The demand for development of democratic institutes remains in the society, and the ruling party doesn’t give adequate answers.” 

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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