Staunton, October 26 – The Kremlin, remembering that environmental activism in Estonia in the 1980s contributed to the rise of the independence movement there, is doing everything it can to prevent the Shiyes protests against Moscow trash from becoming protests against Moscow as such, Vadim Shtepa says.
One measure of the imperial center’s success so far this time around is that participants in the Shiyes protest encampment have refrained from displaying government-recognized regional flags and other symbols lest Moscow officials charge them with “separatism,” the regionalist writer says (severreal.org/a/30227920.html).
In addition to fear of prosecution, participants in the Shiyes “commune” appear to believe that only by avoiding the display of such regional symbols can they hope to become an all-Russia movement, Shtepa continues. But in avoiding tapping into the strength of regional and local feelings, the demonstrators have sacrificed what could have helped them win their cause.
A leader of the Shiyes protests from Arkhangelsk told the regionalist writer that he and others had avoided displaying the official flag of their oblast because “this would be immediately interpreted as a manifestation of separatist attitudes,” and it is important that the demonstrators not give the authorities the opportunity to bring such charges.
Such concerns are surprising for two reasons, Shtepa says. On the one hand, people in neighboring non-Russian republics – Karelia and Komi – show little fear of displaying regional flags. And on the other, “activists in many ‘Russian’ oblasts and krays also carry their flags on various occasions.”
“Regional flags are a visible symbol of the social and cultural consolidation of local residents,” the regionalist writer continues; “and in normal countries no one sees in them any ‘separatism.’” But in Russia, the center fears that any display of such flags, even those which are officially established is a sign of incipient “separatism.”
In the case of the Shiyes protesters, the Kremlin has an additional reason for its worries: it has been fighting efforts by Pomors to secure official recognition as a nationality; and it apparently assumes that the display of a federal subject flag may help power the growth of national identity among a people it dismisses as “a sub-ethnos of the Russian nation.”
But those taking part in the Shiyes protests need to remember the Estonian history as well and get over their fear of raising their flags. After all, the occasion for their protest is not just environmentally harmful trash but a political system based in Moscow that wants to send trash to their lands without their consent.