Staunton, May 11 – All across Russia this past weekend, Russians in large numbers ignored the threats of the authorities that the latter would enforce the self-isolation regime, actions which individually and collectively undermine the authority of the state and represent another reasons why the regime had to back down, Dmitry Kolezev says.
Russians are not wearing masks and are congregating in large groups in public, the Znak commentator says, showing that they are no longer afraid of the threats of the government to enforce its orders. And having violated these and seen that they can get away with that, Russians are likely to be more prepared to violate others (znak.com/2020-05-11/neudavshiysya_karantin_ugroza_dlya_avtoriteta_rossiyskoy_vlasti).
“Any power is based at least in part on the myth that it is capable of forcing citizens to do what they don’t want to do,” be in pay taxes or show up when called for a draft or, as in this case, remaining at home when so ordered to combat a pandemic, Kolezev argues. No state can rely on the police alone: there simply aren’t enough of them for that.
In reality, “the powers rest not so much on force as on the fear that they have the force to compel obedience.” The Russian authorities frequently “exploit this fear” because “not having the political or economic possibility of organizing mass repression, the government frightens citizens by targeted repression.”
The media, “including the opposition and independent kind willy nilly helps support the myth about the cruel and almost all-powerful authorities.” As a result, a single widely publicized criminal cases can keep the masses in line as long as they believe that the powers can become more broadly repressive.
When people don’t, as when Indians followed Mahatma Gandhi in his campaign of civil disobedience, the situation changes. At first, the powers simply arrest violators; but when they become too numerous for the jails to hold, the regime has no choice but to change the laws people are objecting to.
“Today, in cities across Russia, we see the very same mass disobedience,” Kolezev says. “This is different than Gandhi’s movement: it has no leader, no ideology and isn’t even intentional. People simply are going into the streets because of the May weather, the lack of money and tiredness of being cooped up have turned out to be stronger than fear of the virus and the powers.”
“If this is a matter of indifference to the virus,” he continues, “it creates long-term problems for those in power.” People are ceasing to be afraid: they “can see this their own eyes that the supposedly all-powerful state is in fact weak and cannot ensure that its rules will be obeyed.” They are learning to disobey in a system which lacks a strong legal culture.
“The authority of the powers, the opinion that it can influence our lives, is melting away. The government cannot increase police measures: for this it needs more resources, but the main thing is that this would threaten a social explosion.” As a result, there is a real possibility that disobedience will “become a habit” as people see that “the king in fact is naked.”
A government can have other resources in its relationship with its citizens besides fear, “for example, trust. In countries with developed democratic institutions, where the left of trust of citizens in the powers is higher, the regime of self-isolation has been easier to enforce, although even there, of course, police measures are used.”
But “in Russia,” Kolezev points out, “the trust of society in the powers is not great, and fear alone has turned out to be insufficient.”