Staunton, March 22 – In 2015, there were 409 protest actions in the Russian Federation, 40 percent more than a year earlier. But few of them received much attention in the central media largely because most occurred beyond the capital’s ring road and because they involved issues like city services rather than overtly political challenges to the powers that be.
And even when these demonstrations involved only a small portion of the workers or residents on whose behalf they were organized, the protests often brought benefits to the entire class of people involved with all workers at some plants getting back pay even though only a fraction of them went into the streets (forum-msk.org/material/politic/11586432.html).
These trends appear to be continuing now, with ever more people in the hard hit regions outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg choosing to demonstrate but being largely ignored by the central media because their demands are not political and/or because these events are far from the capitals (svpressa.ru/economy/article/144867/).
A case in point took place last weekend in the Karelian city of Olonets, where one out of every eight of its residents took part in protest against rising prices for municipal services. Rates are higher there than in most other places in the republic and beyond the ability of many to pay (7x7-journal.ru/item/78130 and thebarentsobserver.com/society/2016/03/social-protest-karelia).
Organizers attracted speakers from the Just Russia Party, Yabloko and the KPRF and approved a resolution to be posted online and send to officials. Dayra Ryappiyeva, one of the organizers, told the regional news service 7x7 that she and others are waiting to see “what comes out of it.”
Some might dismiss this meeting because of its small size, its distance from Moscow, and its focus on immediate issues rather than on an overtly political agenda. But such protests serve as a kind of political kindergarten for many, a training ground out of which real political movements may come.
That possibility is clearly recognized by many Russian officials, and that is why in general they have tried to meet the demands of the demonstrators at least part way and to provide assistance to the entire class on whose behalf the protesters have assembled. It should be recognized by analysts who typically focus all too closely on twitches in public opinion polls and all too rarely on the ways in which Russian popular activism is taking shape.