Staunton, May 20 – Two understandings of democracy are clashing in Yekaterinburg and other Russian cities, the editors of Nezavisimaya gazeta say, one of which is based on the notion that those in office after elections or appointment should be able to do whatever they want and the other held by the middle class that the authorities should consult it on all questions.
That difference, more than anger about the possible construction of an Orthodox cathedral in a central park, explains both the energy of the protesters and the opposition of those in power to this popular challenge, the paper says in an editorial entitled “Not Against the Church but for the Voice of the Middle Class” (ng.ru/editorial/2019-05-19/2_7576_red.html).
Those in the streets believe that they have a right to be consulted on all questions all the time and not just during elections, the editors say; those in government offices think that once they have been elected or appointed, they have “received carte blanche for any actions within the term of their authorities and citizens must accept this as the order of things.”
“Such different ideas about the essence of political representation give rise to conflict situations,” the lead article continues. “Active citizens and social groups turn to forms of protest which the powers interpret as illegal.” But the citizens do so only because they believe that the consultations the authorities have arranged are fake.
According to the paper, “the federal authorities’ proposal to conduct a survey among the residents of the city about whether they need an enormous church in the square isn’t satisfying everyone. The protesters insist on a referendum,” but the powers that be don’t want to conduct one, fearing what it could lead to.
Their fears, Nezavisimaya gazeta journalist Darya Garmonenko writes in the same issue of the paper, are based on the fact that the protests in Yekaterinburg are beginning to be politicized, with various parties seeking to position themselves to take advantage of the energy of the demonstrators (ng.ru/politics/2019-05-19/3_7576_opposition.html).
While a survey could be conducted relatively quickly and under the control of the authorities, any referendum would take longer to hold and give more opportunities for the opposition. It is for that reason and not because of the greater cost of holding a referendum than conducting a poll that the powers that be in Yekaterinburg and Moscow are opposed to it.
But because many won’t accept the poll as definitive, the protests may continue, potentially proving an even greater challenge to the powers that be who will then have only two choices, using massive force to suppress the population or retreating before its demands. Either of these could produce a situation more revolutionary than the one the powers now face.