Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Regions Often Support Moscow Protests but Muscovites Seldom Support Regional Ones

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 4 – The divide between Moscow and the rest of the country is shown in many ways including not unimportantly in protests where regions often come out in support of protests in Moscow but Muscovite demonstrators seldom come out in support of regional ones, Tatyana Vintsevskaya says (

            Russians in Astrakhan, Volgograd, Kazan, Novosibirsk, St. Petersburg, Tver and even Magadan came out in support of the Moscow protests against officials who have blocked the chance of opposition figures to run for the city council, but the protesters in the capital haven’t returned the favor, the regionalist notes.

            “Muscovites who are demanding free election have been supported by residents of Kazan, but in Moscow, it seems there has not been a single meeting in support of republic self-administration in Tatarstan where the state language, Tatar, today is being pushed out of public life and education,” Vintsevskaya continues.

            Does this mean that Moscow residents today “support the Kremlin’s policy of imperial unification?” she asks rhetorically. It would certainly seem so especially compared to the situation in January 1991 when half a million people came into the streets of Moscow in support of independence for Lithuania.

            And there have not been any serious Moscow protests in support of the citizens of Ingushetia even though they are demanding the same thing that the Moscow residents are, the fulfillment of constitutional norms regarding elections and thus deserve equal support, according to the regionalist writer.

            There is at present no coordination of protests between Moscow and the regions, Vintsevskaya argues, because “the residents of the capital automatically consider themselves ‘the coordinators’” of any such project rather than the partners of people in the regions and republics.  Only if that changes will there be an all-Russian protest of the kind Muscovites like to talk about. 

            “In fact,” she says, current efforts to produce an all-Russian structure have proved to be little more than attempts to “create an imperial ‘opposition vertical’ analogous to ‘the power vertical’” of the state.   

            The problem Vintsevskaya points to is part of a much larger problem of the differences between protests in the capital and protests in the regions, Moscow’s greater fears about the former than the latter, and the difficulties the two face in coming together. Aleksandr Valiyev of Radio Svoboda surveys several experts about these issues (

            Kirill Dyundik, a Krasnoyarsk political technologist, says the biggest problem is the number of active people in Moscow as against the regions. Not only is Moscow bigger but it has attracted many of the most active people from the regions, leaving them without potential organizers and protesters.

            Moreover, he says, regional protests focus more on immediate issues like housing and trash rather than on political questions, although that is beginning to change. Not surprisingly, the Kremlin is more afraid of protests in Moscow than those in the regions, although he asks what might happen if every region sent a shaman to the capital?

            Ilya Grashenko, head of the Ceenter for the Development of Regional Policy, says that the difference is even greater. Moscow protests by definition are federal, while those in the regions are local and about survival. The former worries the Kremlin more than the latter, but the two kinds of protest must come together.

            Konstantin Kalachev, a Moscow political analyst, says that “we live on the territory of one country, Russia, but within it there are in essence three different states which represent completely different groups of people. Moscow has moved further than the others. There are more people, they are more independent from the state, and are more concerned about rights and freedoms. In the regions, there are other problems.”

            The greatest fear of the authorities is that sometime “the economic crisis may grow into a social crisis and a social crisis become a political one. That the two waves will come together. But not every social crisis becomes a political one. For that to happen there must be people who can translate economic and social demands into the language of politics.”

            By acting so harshly against the Moscow protests and ignoring the ones in the regions, the Kremlin is doing what it can to discourage anyone in the opposition from moving in that direction.  The regime has had some success, Kalachev says, because there are still a large number of people who have something to lose and don’t want to lose it.

            Vladivslav Belyakov, a Vladivostok political consultant, says that a unification of protests in Moscow and the regions is highly unlikely. The agendas of people in the two places are too different, with the first focusing on political demands and the second in almost all cases focusing on simple survival.

            And Aleksandr Konovalov, an historian at Kemerovo State University, says that the social base of protests in the two places is very different, with the middle class dominating the protests in Moscow and workers those in many regions. He suggests one should view this through the conception of geographer Natalya Zubarevich about ‘the four Russias.’”

“The political behavior of the residents of millionaire cities is different from that of Muscovites and from the behavior of residents of cities of 500,000 and smaller cities, not to speak about rural areas.”  The latter are focusing on survival, and the leaders of the former don’t see major benefits from supporting the regional protests.

            Konovalov continues: “In the regions, protests originate above all from difficult conditions of life, economic, ecological and social. And protest is politicized only when  the powers that be for a long time ignore the complaints of residents,” although he suggests this is changing as more young people are becoming involved.

            Up to now, however, people in the regions do not view opposition leaders in Moscow as speaking for them. Aleksey Navalny, for instance, is not seen in the regions as a leader of protests for them.  But if someone from Moscow or elsewhere does begin to articulate an all-Russian agenda, they will be ready to follow him or her, Konovalov concludes.

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