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The Russian engage not only in protests

Published on May 14, 2012 by: in: Politics

According to the majority of observers, the Russian no longer consent to the social contract offered by Vladimir Putin. The citizens protest against the theory that “they will make a living thanks to political loyalty or passiveness”. What caused this change? What social activities, which have begun last Autumn, may result in? It is worth considering these issues.

Russia has undergone massive changes since Vladimir Putin came to power. The new president managed to normalize the situation in national politics and economy. The reforms, however, were in favor of those who cooperated with the KGB, such as Putin. The president and his followers seized power at first. They struggled to weaken the position of other influential people – businessmen and local elites. Then, when power was in the hands of Putin, the property of elites was brought under state control. Power converted into assets and capital. The Yukos case proves that.

Peculiar relationship between state and society was also established. The authorities offered normalization, welfare programmes and the improvement of material status in exchange for political loyalty or passiveness.

But the abovementioned approach has proven to be unsuccessful. Those who are wealthy, well-educated and aware of citizens’ rights do not accept ongoing reforms. The Russian strive to achieve something more.

In spite of major economic and social changes (which take place not only in Russia), the authorities have nothing new to offer. State Duma elections and presidential elections proved that. The ruling class presented previous goals and rhetoric. The same people came to power. Among the followers of Putin are his reliable collaborators. They are influential although some of them do not work as civil servants. The average citizen is not familiarized with the surnames of people who belong to the ruling class. It shows that the authorities have negative attitude towards the Russian.

But more and more citizens oppose such situation. It results from the access to the Internet (40% of the Russian use the Internet on everyday basis). The citizens add critical comments on the authorities. One may read numerous jokes about the ruling class. The Internet became a place where people exchange information and engage in various activities, such as the demonstration after elections. Protests helped opponents to understand that a great amount of people have similar opinion. They became united. Among the opponents there are well-educated people who achieved success. They, however, strive to achieve more. The protesters have already criticized the values present in Russian politics, the lawlessness of civil servants as well as the fact that there is little political and economic competition.

Now they must proceed. Opposition movements need to be official. The protesters have organized a number of unusual and creative happenings until recently. Nevertheless, such activities cannot last long. Long-term projects are essential. They would help the Russian to establish influential opposition.

photo: Maxim Trudolubov

There are many successful activists in Russia. A famous blogger and lawyer – Alexey Navalny – is one of the pioneers. The Russian regard him as the so-called idea bank. He founded the website rospil.info, which informs the citizens about the instances of corruption during public tenders. Navalny managed to persuade the Russian to finance his activity (the website is sponsored by the Internet users). He employed professional lawyers thanks to whom fraudulent transactions amounting to 40 billion RUB (about 1.3 billion USD) were foiled. Navalny also organized an action that aimed to monitor the presidential elections. Thousands of the citizens engaged in it. When it comes to more everyday problems, the activist called on the Russian to record information about the poor condition of roads which, according to Russian law, should be repaired by the local authorities within 37 days. And this often happens. The abovementioned action presents how social awareness evolves there – the citizens familiarize with Russian law (especially with bylaw) and demand the observance of it. Moreover, Navalny wants to establish the so-called Good Propaganda Machine. He attempts to gather volunteers who will spread self-contained information – an alternative to official propaganda – and talk with various people (e.g. neighbours or relatives) who watch public television. The propaganda comprises simple actions. The volunteers will have to post short and readable announcements on staircases or elevators. This will be a long-term action so it requires patience and persistence. But even such projects are likely to develop the political activity of the Russian.

One must remember that opposition movements require great experience. Nevertheless, it turns out that the protests have brought positive results recently. Local self-government elections prove that. In Moscow, it came as a surprise that 1/3 of mandates were given to candidates who do not cooperate with the authorities. The elections showed that the protesters are engaged in politics. They may achieve success. When it comes to the chairperson of the Moscow Council, independent councilors have already made an attempt to reject the applications of the candidates chosen by mayoralty. Such local events have a great influence on the Russian, who become aware that the national politics depend on them. Moreover, the authorities realized that the awareness of the citizens evolves. They must take oppositions movements into account and find more convincing arguments.

But opposition movements need to be governed by successful leaders. There is a few charismatic activists in Russia. The abovementioned Aleksey Navalny has already proven that he can achieve certain goals. What is more, Navalny is able to encourage people to protest and finance his activities. His decentralized initiatives have additional value – protesters act independently and nobody has to control or motivate them. Sergei Udaltsov, the leader of the Left Front movement, is another famous activist. Taking into consideration that the activist is uncompromising and radical, it would be hard to discuss politics with him. Udaltsov is known as a martyr because he has been arrested several times. Moreover, he often goes on a hunger-strike against the authorities. Vladimir Ryzkhov is different. He may be described as a moderate and reasonable oppositionist who has great experience in politics. Ryzkhov has been the member of the Russian Parliament for many years. He is also the leader of the Republican Party of the Russian Federation, which was proscribed in 2007.

27-year-old Maxim Katz – a councilor chosen in the local self-government elections in Moscow – is the youngest activist who has already achieved success in the media. He is likely to become the leader of a opposition movement one day. Katz is a professional poker player (he has made a fortune playing cards). The activist looks like a hipster and was brought up in Israel. “Some people advised me that I should change my surname, clothes, haircut and outlook in order to become a councilor. But it turned out to be completely unnecessary.”, Katz claimed during one of political rallies. He may motivate the Russian more than any political strategy.

It can be safely concluded that the Russian have recently engaged in local activities rather than street demonstrations. The mayor elections in Tolyatti and Yaroslavl as well as the political crisis connected with the mayor elections in Astrakhan prove that. The abovementioned events were accompanied by social activity (numerous citizens followed them) and media interest, both national and foreign. The local elections in October may also prove that the Russian are engaged in politics. What is more, the political arrangement which is dominated by the ruling party, i.e. the United Russia, may change then.

Translation: Aleksandra Kozłowska

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About Jadwiga Rogoza

Expert at the Russian department of the Centre for Eastern Europe. Her research subjects include Russian domestic policy: the system of power, relations between the ruling elite and other political centres, the situation in the regions of the Russian Federation.

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