Staunton, December 8 – Over the past year and especially now on the anniversary of the major Moscow protests of a year ago, it has become a commonplace among residents of the capital both in the regime and among its opponents to contrast the supposedly passive Russia beyond the ring road with the active protest movement in the capital.
On the one hand, this view provides the regime with a certain self-confidence that it enjoys the support of the “silent majority” of Russians whatever the intelligentsia is doing in the capital. And on the other, it gives the protesters in Moscow a self-validating explanation as to why their demonstrations have not had the effects they had hoped.
But in fact, two commentators on the “Osobaya bukva” portal argue, protests have taken place in Russia’s provinces and republics, although in most cases they have been smaller and less frequent because unlike Moscow, these places began “from zero” rather than with a tradition of protest (www.specletter.com/politika/2012-12-06/provintsija-otoshla-ot-okolonolja.html).
According to Aleksey Titkov, a political scientist at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, “the Russian regions have not remained indifferent to the growth of protests attitudes in Moscow. [But they] did lose interest” when the Muscovites shifted away from the question of “dishonest Duma elections” to other and often broader issues of the reform of the state (www.specletter.com/obcshestvo/2012-12-06/vybory-zdes-kraeugolnyi-kamen-protesta.html).
“More or less massive protests took place across the country in December of last year,” Titkov writes,” but between February and May, they ceased “everywhere except in Moscow where the protests continued into the summer. And on the anniversary of the new protest wave, “protest activity is observed only in the capital.”
While the Moscow scholar does not acknowledge this, such assertions are true if and only if one counts as protests in the provinces only those that echo whatever demonstration leaders in the Russian capital are saying. When the latter were talking about dishonest elections, the former in the regions were demonstrating alongside them.
But when the Muscovites moved on, activists in the regions did not so much go silent as a whole but rather turned their efforts in other directions, something analysts and officials at the center generally have failed to acknowledge. And some of these protests have been both large and effective.
In the North Caucasus, protests by local people against limiting the drafting of Daghestanis into the Russian army were numerous and effective: Moscow backed down and upped the draft quota. And supporters of the “Chernovik” newspaper have gathered more than 100,000 signatures on a petition to the Kremlin, an achievement that many in Moscow might envy.
In the Middle Volga, there have been regular protests in all the republics against Moscow’s plans to make the study of non-Russian languages there completely voluntary, demonstrations that have grown in number and frequency over the last few weeks. And elsewhere, there have been demonstrations on ecological and educational issues.
To paraphrase Fyodor Tyutchev, one cannot measure the protest potential and activity of the Russian provinces with an ordinary “Muscow” ruler; one needs to apply a different one and to recognize that the people in the republics and oblasts have their own concerns and goals perhaps especially because they are not marching in lock step with those at the center.