Dissecting Moscow’s street protests: Why were there so many youth?

A protester with trainers on his neck, which has become a symbol of corruption, is detained in Moscow on March 26, 2017.

A protester with trainers on his neck, which has become a symbol of corruption, is detained in Moscow on March 26, 2017.

Government officials are alarmed that nearly 20 percent of the Moscow protestors who spilled onto the streets on March 26 were under the age of 20, and so now they’re considering measures to more effectively get their message across and lessen the appeal of opposition forces.

Around 200 young people under 15 years old, and about 1,500 between the ages of 15 and 20, joined the March 26 protests in Moscow, said a participant in a closed-door conference of regional educational ministers held in St. Petersburg, Gazeta.ru reported.

State officials, however, were told not to conduct "preventive interviews" with young protestors out of concern that it might have an even more negative effect on them.

"The advice given was that any feedback sessions would only act as a catalyst for young people to side with the opposition," continued the anonymous source. "Young people didn't come out to support a particular candidate - they marched under the slogan of anti-corruption. And aren't we also against corruption?"

"At the same time, we discussed that it was necessary to look ahead and to warn students against taking part in unlawful demonstrations. It’s important to get this message across," said the source, citing the guidelines issued at the conference.

Also, the conclusion was reached that the authorities lack sufficient channels of communication on the Internet. Members of the opposition take advantage of this and lead young people astray by promising legal aid after rallies, and by claiming the rallies have been authorized.

The St. Petersburg conference also discussed that "tactically" it was necessary to protect youth against immediate threats, and "strategically" it was necessary to formulate a "values-based offer."

Getting the message across

Another source attending the conference, who also wished not to be identified, confirmed that these ideas were discussed, but did not specify who proposed them. The first source believes that the authorities must work more closely with trendsetters on the Internet, including popular video bloggers: "We need to get our message across."

Andrei Yemelyanov, the Education Ministry’s press secretary, confirmed that the conference had taken place and that the protests were discussed, but he neither confirmed nor denied what had been said, noting that it was held behind closed doors.

"There was no discussion of any punishments and neither can there be. Children have to be protected from being drawn into these protests. As for punishments – that’s far from our minds," said Yemelyanov, emphasizing that the ministry was "categorically opposed to schoolchildren being drawn into protests with a decidedly political subtext."

Finally, Yemelyanov pointed out that forcing school-age children to join public associations and to take part in campaign events and political protests is banned under Russian law.

First published in Russian by Gazeta.ru.

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