Staunton, January 30 – The Russian authorities have “learned how to marginalize the actions of the opposition without the use of force,” the editors of Nezavisimaya gazeta say; and unless Aleksey Navalny can come up with a slogan that will unite more of the opposition than does his call for a boycott, he and it will not play the role in Russian politics many expect.
That is the chief lesson of last Sunday’s protests, the editors say, protests which were small, if widespread, but few of whose participants were detained and those in most cases relatively quickly released. The paper doesn’t use the term, but its argument suggests the Kremlin now has a policy of “repressive tolerance” (ng.ru/editorial/2018-01-30/2_7161_red.html).
Unlike the protests last year, the crowds were relatively small and the police arrested very few participants, apparently because the authorities recognize that doing that is counterproductive. For the regime’s purposes, it is sufficient to surround the crowds with police and remind everyone that the protest isn’t permitted – and then most leave.
Only the leaders or organizers need to be detained; and one might conclude, the paper’s editors say, that “the logical next step” would be not even to detain Navalny and then “sanction protest actions.” But that logic is not the logic of the authorities. They have to detain the organizers lest they appear “weak and inconsistent” and keep protests out of the city center.
The authorities’ logic, the paper continues, is based on the proposition that “non-systemic opposition protests must look marginal” and non-systemic parties must garner only “a miserly percentage of the votes.” By all indications including the events of last Sunday, the Kremlin is succeeding.
“Six years ago, marches and meetings could be considered relatively effective actions of protest,” Nezavisimaya gazeta says. Navalny assumed he could repeat that time, but in order to do so, he would have to propose some “unexpected, challenging and popular agenda,” something he has not done. His promotion of a boycott doesn’t even unite the opposition.