Staunton, May 22 – Poll results showing that, after weeks of protests, 77 percent of Yekaterinburg residents oppose building a new cathedral in a central park and only seven percent back that idea have already led the mayor there to say that if any cathedral is erected, it will have to be put up in some other part of the city.
But Yekaterinburg is not the only place in Russia where the lesson that opposing the position of the overwhelming majority of the population is a mistake and can be dangerous. Over the past five years, protests against church construction have taken place in 28 cities and more are now likely (vedomosti.ru/politics/articles/2019/05/21/802088-protiv-stroitelstva-hramov and znak.com/2019-05-22/v_rossii_rastet_chislo_gorodov_gde_protestuyut_protiv_zastroyki_parkov
But the big question now is whether they can move quickly and effectively enough to avoid being ousted. Vera Chernysheva and Leonid Fedorov of the URA news agency argue that “the protests in Yekaterinburg will bring about a new wave of retirements of governors” as Moscow struggles to prevent more protests (ura.news/articles/1036278114).
Yevgeny Minchenko, a Moscow political consultant with whom the two spoke, says that what has happened in Yekaterinburg is likely to be repeated in other cities and that Moscow will want to ensure a more adequate response by installing new people in places where it already has doubts about incumbents.
And Konstantin Kalachev, another Moscow political analyst, says that “the situation in the Urals shows that local authorities must, even under conditions of a unitary state and a centralized system be able to solve problems without advice from above and take responsibility for their actions.”
Finding that balance is not going to be easy, and more governors are likely to lose their jobs as the Kremlin seeks to find a way forward in which small protests will not grow into major ones and thus threaten not just those in power in the regions but those in power at the center as well.