Monday, March 11, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Moscow-Centrism Russian Opposition’s ‘Main Mistake,’ Activist Says

Paul Goble
            Staunton, March 11 – The “main mistake” of the Russian opposition in the past has been its focus that on Moscow rather than on the regions, but clashes between demonstrators and the authorities in Russia’s regions are prompting them to redirect their attention, a shift that will generate “a wave of effective actions,” according to one activist.

            Writing for the site on Saturday, Igor Artyomov, head of the Russia Be Liberated by Our Forces movement and a member of the opposition’s coordinating council, notes that “the most impressive event” of the last weekend was a case of popular activism provoked by the authorities in Novokuznetsk (

            Because of the over-reaction of the authorities, he continues, many people who are in every way “very far from Russian nationalism and Orthodoxy” were drawn “into the ranks of the protesters” whose initial cause was opposition to the construction of a third mosque in that western Siberian city.

             Given that spring and a new protest season are coming, Artyomov continues, opposition leaders have expressed two points of view on how they should proceed.  According to the first, they will simply have to wait for “the next rise” in protest activity. But according to the second, they must bring into Moscow “supporters from other cities” and organize events there.

            The truth is somewhere in between: the opposition needs to recognize that “all our largest ‘street’ successes” have occurred unexpectedly when society is “’boiling’ but the authorities were not prepared, did not know in advance the place, time and format of our actions.” That combination should dictate the opposition’s strategy, Artyomov says.

            Moreover, opposition leaders need to recognize that change will come to Russia not by their will along but rather “when several factors come together … when society will beat htepeak of mass dissatisfaction, when the opposition will have a network and mobile structure throughout the entire country, and when the authorities will commit mistakes and land in a crisis.

            “When will that happen?” Artyomov asks.  “It is senseless to predict,” but the opposition needs “to be prepared.”  And to do that, it must overcome its “main mistake” of the past: its “Moscow-centrism” and recognize that while the final act of any political drama will be in the capital, the lead up to that can come from elsewhere.

            The activist suggests that the opposition start focusing on its potential allies “in all major cities of more than 100,000,” assemble activists in each, and carry out “joint regional actions” on any subject in order to develop the country-wide network he believes is necessary. At first, these actions can be local, but then, on the basis of them, broader events can take place.

            Variety is of the essence, Artyomov says.  “People are tired of one and the same message being delivered by ‘the liberals;’ they want to express themselves and they want to be heard.” Indeed, it may be useful to have “several” different messages being delivered at one and the same meeting to add interest and increase “horizontal” ties.

            And in looking beyond Moscow, he argues, activists should not forget the enormous value of posters and signs put on buildings. At first the authorities will take them down, but if there are enough “Vova, Go Home!’ signs and slogans put up, they won’t be able to and the opposition will gain new recruits.

            All of this, Artyomov concludes, “is of course not at end in itself.  These are “steps to the creation of a structure which will have the chance to free Russia in a peaceful and unforced manner. That such a liberation is necessary and inevitable is understood today by a large number of people” – and not just those in the Russian capital.

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