Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Protests in Russia’s Provinces Very Different from Those in Moscow, Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 25 – People in Russia’s farflung regions are increasingly prepared to go into the streets to protest, surveys show, even as those in Moscow appear to be less so, but the two groups also and more importantly diverge in their goals and slogans, with the former focusing on social issues and the latter on political ones.

                Larisa Pautova, project director at the Public Opinion Foundation, says that “those living in the regions are focused on their own local problems” such as communal services, bad roads, low pay, unemployment, and the high cost of housing. “Unlike Muscovites and Petersburgers, the overwhelming part of the population of other regions [with few exceptions] is not interested in politics (svpressa.ru/society/article/62386/).

            Among the most dissatisfied Russian regions, she says, are Primorsky kray and Irkutsk, Tomsk, Omsk, Smolensk, Bryansk, and Saratov oblasts.And among those with the greatest potential to join this group is Karelia,whose residents are furiousat the authorities for allowing the decay of basic services.

            What is striking is that list does not include any of the non-Russian regions where there have been protests about Moscow’s language policies and unitarist approach, protests that also have different slogans than those at the center and thus ones that also fail to attract much attention in the central media unless they involve Islam or are violent.

            A major factor that determines how much protest activity there is, Pautova continues, is the number of those whose incomes depend on the government.  Where there are many such people, the share “willing to express their unhappiness” is lower “because of the fear of losing their jobs.  It also depends on the weather, with more protests in the colder months.

            In the regions, she adds, “a large part of the population” blames governors rather than the federal authorities, a pattern that also means that slogans that express their outrage have a more local feel than those of the protesters in the Russian capital. And anyone who tries to organize demonstrations on Moscow-type themes generally fails.

            While many of the protests in the provinces have an “anti-Moscow” undertone, what some call “’the new Russian separatism’ is developing not in the [non-Russian] republics but in regions in which the ethnic Russians predominate.” That both limits their energy but also opens the way for broader inter-regional cooperation among those who are unhappy with conditions.

            The “creative class” was the first to go into the streets in the regions as in Moscow. The protests were something “interesting” and “new.”  But when the demonstrations stopped, “an enormous quantity of unresolved problems remained. And what was important for people then remained just what it had been.”  In short, protests became less “interesting” to many.

            While some people ascribe the declining number of protests in recent months to Moscow’s increasingly repressive policies, Pautova says, this trend in fact reflects a certain boredom with meetings, a sense among those who had taken part that protests do not have the desired effect.

            Among the population in the regions, pensioners are “most frequently” prepared to complain, even though “they are very loyal to the president and prime minister. Many of them support the communists but a still higher fraction back the authorities.” And because they now feel “a strong hand,” they are less likely to take part in demonstrations.

            Young people “as before,” Pautova continues, are “inert.” They “don’t want to participate in such actions” because they are studying or enjoying themselves. “The internet and parents help them; they don’t have families.” Conseuently, they are “adapted to this life” and do not feel the need to protest.

            Instead, Pautova argues, “the most active group of protesters” in the regions in particular are those of middle age, people who bear many of the burdens of society and who simultaneously have the most to lose. No one can predict when their protests will expand. “Tomorrow some significant event could occur and an explosion take place.”

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