Staunton, June 12 – Since the 2011-2012 protests, Moscow has tightened the rules against demonstrations, but the share of Russians who believe that protests are likely in their regions has gone up from 30 percent then to 35 percent now, according to a new VTsIOM survey.
Valery Fedorov, head of that polling agency, says that there are two reasons for this change. On the one hand, if Russians feel that things are bad, they are more likely to say that protests will occur. And on the other, if they have experience with or have seen reports about protests, they are more likely to say the same (kommersant.ru/doc/3317165
Thus, he told Kommersant for an article published today, if there hadn’t been any “anti-Putin protests” recently, “if there hadn’t been [those of] March 26, then people would have said that there ‘aren’t and won’t be’” any now. And that in turn suggests, although Fedorov doesn’t say so in so many words, that protests will tend to feed off each other and grow over time.
Moscow political analyst Mikhail Vinogradov agrees. He told Kommersant’s Maksim Ivanov that most protests remain focused on local issues and don’t gain energy from others in most cases. (He points to the long-haul truckers strike as evidence.) Others say the same. Sergey Malakhov, a political technologist, says emotional attachment to an issue plays a key role.
But there is another factor at work as well: widespread variations in local rules governing meetings. In some places, getting official permission for a meeting is almost impossible. Kabardino-Balkaria, Udmurtia and Sverdlovsk Oblast are the worst offenders in this regard, and stand out even against the Russia-wide toughening of federal laws since 2004.
Each wave of tightening the laws has come in response to the demonstrations, Ivanov says. The most recent case of this was the decision of the Duma to equate automobile processions with demonstrations last year, a direct reply to the long-haul truckers strike. Now, drivers have to park on the side of the road rather than have rolling protests.
Another key factor in whether Russians will protest or assume that protests will occur is whether they have a sense that such actions will have positive outcomes. While demonstrations in Russia have not had a lot of success, they have had some especially in regions outside of Moscow.
In Voronezh oblast, Ivanov notes, “residents of the Gvazd village after meetings achieved the dissolution of the local council which had backed the construction of a trash processing plant” those living there didn’t want. After a new round of elections to fill the vacated seats, “not a single United Russia candidate was elected.”