Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Russians Protest More but Still Seldom Politically – and Regime Ignores Them, New Study Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 7 – The Moscow Center for Economic and Political Reforms says that the number of protests in the Russian Federation has risen dramatically since the first quarter but that most are narrowly focused on specific issues or labor disputes and that, as a result, the authorities have generally ignored them.

            In the first quarter, the center says, there were 284 protest actions; in the second, 378; and in the third, 445. Seventy percent of these were about social and economic problems or labor problems. Only 30 percent had a broader political agenda (epr.su/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Протестная-активность-россиян-в-III-квартале-2017-года.pdf).

            Arkady Kuznetsov of the Profile portal says in summarizing the report’s finding, “if in the first and second quarters, the most high-profile were protests of the long-haul truckers against the Plato system and the actions of farmers against the seizure of land by agro-businesses,, in the third quart, the most widespread became the protests by deceived debtors” (profile.ru/obsch/item/121355-nizy-ne-khotyat).

            The number of political protests has been much smaller: 96 in the first quarter, 148 in the second, and 106 in the third.  Ever more protests are about age arrears which have been growing rapidly over the course of the first nine months of 2017.

            In response to these challenges, Kuznetsov says the report shows, “the authorities have most often used destructive tactics in social-labor conflicts: ignoring them, opposing them, refusing to engage in dialogue or permitting one only in the format of ‘boss and subordinate.’”  The only exceptions are when the protests are political.

            What this shows, he says, is that “in Russia up until now has not been developed a system of preventing and constructive resolution of social conflicts. Therefore, protest and the sharpening of conflict as before remains almost the only effective means of demands that the rights of workers be respected.”

            Kuznetsov continues: The report shows that “social-economic protests rarely have become political: their participants most often demand the fulfillment of specific demands but do not move toward the formation of broader political slogans.  But that may change: chronic narrowly focused protests left without an answer tend to become political.

            “The Center predicts that a high level of protest activity is continuing in the social-economic sphere because the authorities haven’t solved the problems of the protesters.  Besides, there may continue a growth in coordination of protest actions in various regions as with the long-haul truckers.”

            A major chokepoint blocking the politicization of protests is the lack in Russia of the kind of institutions that could channel it: effective political parties, social organizations, and trade unions.

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