Monday, May 14, 2018

50 Times as Many Russians Know about a Meeting than Take Part in It, Ex-Navalny Aide Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 14 – Leonid Volkov, the former chief of staff to Aleksey Navalny, says that organizing meetings is more important in reaching the Russian population than are efforts to spread ideas via the Internet because 50 times as many Russians learn about a protest and its key slogans than take part in it.

            That is why the Kremlin is so afraid of meetings and will do whatever it can to prevent them because they represent an even better way to break the center’s information blockade than do political messages on the Internet which in general reach only the few who are already committed, he continues (

            Many opposed to the Putin regime are overly impressed with the fact that “more than 70 percent” of all Russians now use it and believe that this can be a way to mobilize people against the regime. But fewer than ten percent use the web to get political news, Volkov says. “For the rest, the Internet is about games.”

            Moreover, the Kremlin has already succeeded in blocking advertising by the opposition on VKontakte and Odnoklassniki, two popular Russian portals. The only place it has not yet succeeded in this regard is Google/YouTube. “Therefore,” he says, “the main front of the Kremlin’s struggle against the Internet in 2018 … will be the front of struggle” against them.

            At present, Volkov continues, only several tens of thousands of people use the political possibilities of Facebook and Telegram. These are important people but most of them are members of the already committed and using these channels will do little to bring the opposition’s message to a broader audience and win support.

            “The remaining independent and semi-independent media also work only on this audience of several million people and there are no mechanisms available for broadening this audience.”  Indeed, official pressure of various kinds may lead it to decrease in size in the coming months.

            There is little chance that the opposition can organize and distribute for very long an independent newspaper: it is too expensive, and the regime has too many ways to disrupt its activity, according to the activist. Any money the opposition does have is better spent on producing videos that tell its story. They have worked on occasion and can once again.

            But Volkov argues, “major meetings are the only thing which works in the offline world, besides newspapers and broadsides.” That is because when a demonstration happens, it gets coverage online, in local media, and by word of mouth even if the central media ignore it entirely as is usually the case.

            Indeed, he concludes, “50 times more people know about a meeting than take part in it. And that is also the reason which meetings are no unwelcome to the Kremlin and why it puts so much pressure on those who seek to organize them.” Nevertheless, meetings represent the most important tool the opposition has to break the Kremlin’s information blockade.

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