Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Armenian Events Disprove Kremlin Propaganda that Protests Lead to Chaos and Bloodshed, Krasheninnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 8 – Today, Nikol Pashinyan became the new prime minister of Armenia as a result of massive but non-violent demonstrations against Serzh Sargsyan, an event that is more disturbing to the Kremlin than any of his possible policy changes, according to Fyodor Krasheninnikov.

            That is because, the Russian analyst says, the Putin regime has long relied on “the propaganda myth” about the supposedly inevitable “connection between street protests,” on the one hand, “and blood and war,” on the other, a connection that serves to “legitimize” the government’s use of force against them (newtimes.ru/articles/detail/161862).

            The imagery of “bloody chaos in the streets is the main card of the vaunted anti-Maidan” forces in Moscow, Krasheninnikov says. Russians are regularly challenged by the authorities: do you want to go back to the wild 1990s or to something like what is going on in Ukraine?  Neither is an acceptable choice for Russians.

            “With the help of this pseudo-logic,” he continues, “street protest in Russia is criminalized and is presented by government propaganda (and by the organs of power which is much worse) not as the legal right of citizens to express their positions but as the preparation for murders, pogroms and civil war.”

            “And those who reject street protest … pour water on the very same mill: it is better not to try, not to provoke [the powers that be] and what would be still worse – blood, horrors, and civil war!” the analyst continues.  But of course both forget that blood happens only when one side uses force – and in the Russian case, that is always the regime and not the demonstrators.

            What has happened in Armenia undercuts such an argument – and what happened last Saturday in Russia shows that Russia is not Armenia, that the authorities use this argument precisely in order to “legitimize the use of force by the authorities” against the demonstrators who will be invariably presented as being to blame.

            This is especially the case in Moscow, Krasheninnikov says.  “In other cities of Russia, mass detentions of protesters remain the exception rather than the rule, but in Moscow, the authorities time after time demonstrate their unwillingness to compromise” – an indirect confirmation of their fear of those in the streets.

             What has happened in Armenia shows that street protests can be effective and need not be bloody at all. Those are lessons that the Kremlin will do everything it can to ensure that Russians do not learn. 

            Particularly instructive about Russian attitudes is the hostility many of the moderate opposition in Russia have displayed toward Nikol Pashinyan from the very beginning.  On the one hand, they have criticized him for authoritarianism and promoting a cult of personality.  And on the other, they have been appalled by his open declaration that he wanted to lead the country.

            Put in crudest terms, Krasheninnikov says, these Russian opposition figures were angry that he didn’t want to become a victim but wanted to take power and use it on behalf of the people who came into the streets as a result of his talent as an organizer and that as a result he could become “’a new Putin.’”

            That shows how little the Russian opposition, traumatized by Kremlin propaganda understands.  “It is naïve to suppose,” the Russian commentator says, that [what happened in Armenia] could have taken place without close coordination and an obvious leader of the entire movement.”

            And it is wrong to think that anyone who comes to power by leading the population into the streets will become another authoritarian like Putin. “Putin came to power not through meetings and leadership of the opposition but through behind the scenes negotiations within the elite.”

            Thus, it is “precisely those who want to negotiate and reach agreement with all whom one should fear much more than those who are capable of organizing all-national protest actions and not run after compromises with the powers that be” and who are ready to go into the streets again and again until they reach their goal.

           To be sure, the Russian authorities especially under Putin are quite prepared to be more bloody in their repression of street protests than was Serzh Sargsyan.  But only those who are prepared to take that risk have any chance of succeeding in replacing Putin and restoring democracy in the Russian Federation.

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