Thursday, January 9, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Putin’s New National Conservatism Resonates in Russian Regions

Paul Goble

Staunton, January 9 – Support in the city of Moscow for Vladimir Putin’s new conservative message has always seemed “insincere,” according to a Russian commentator. But in ethnic Russian regions, that message has been warmly echoed by the actions of national conservative groups.

In an essay on the Svobodnaya pressa portal yesterday, Vladislav Maltsev suggests that all too often attitudes in Moscow are assumed be typical of the country as a whole, largely because the central media and even the blogosphere usually ignores what is happening in predominantly ethnic Russian regions beyond the ring road (

On December 28, he notes, a group of local national patriots, holding torches and carrying pictures of two Russian soldiers killed in Chechnya, marched through Voronezh with a banner declaring that “Russian Heroes of the Chechen War, You are Not Forgotten!” just as they had done in March 2013.

According to Maltsev, “similar attitudes exist in other regions [of Russia] but for some reason such actions are taking place only in the capital of the Black Earth region, although you wouldn’t call that place especially close to the battles in the North Caucasus.”

The occasion for the latest march, he suggests, was Chechen head Ramzan Kadyrov’s decision to erect a memorial to those who fought against Russia in the 19th century, an action that led to a fight in the Russian Duma between Aleksey Zhuravlev and Adam Delimkhanov but also to anger among Russian nationalists across the country.

That anger is seldom reported in the Russian media or blogosphere, Maltsev continues.  “The last time” these outlets focused on the region was in June 2013 when there were clashes between local people and geologists prospecting for nickel, clashes that many in the capital wrote off as backward or worse.

But the complaints behind that action and subsequent ones, he says, reflect “a revolt of citizens oppressed by capital [and] a revival of traditionalists against ideas coming from the West,” feelings that fit at least in part with Putin’s new conservatism and the ideas of the National Bolsheviks and AKM movement that most people had assumed had disappeared.

“Russian conservatives in recent times have discussed more than once the marches of the supporters of traditional family values in France and Serbia,” Maltsev points out. “Something similar” to those marches has “taken place on the initiative ‘from below’ in Russia as well, again in Voronezh.”

There on November 4, 1200 people took part in a “March of the Family” organized by “local Protestants” but open to “all who wanted to participate.”  Earlier in the year, there were demonstrations there against sexual minorities and in the memory of Russian soldiers who fought in Chechnya.

This combination has allowed Voronezh to brand itself as “’the stronghold of moral and traditional values,’” Maltsev says, but that Russian city is hardly the only place where such ideas have broad support.

He cites a 2012 report by the Moscow Center for Strategic Research which suggested that protests in the Russian Federation were likely to shift from Moscow to the provinces. And he argues that the events during 2013 in Pugachev, Arzamas and even Biryulevo confirm that prediction.

Including Biryulevo on that list may seem strange because it is district in Moscow. But as Stanislav Apetyan noted correctly, Maltsev said, Biryulevo “is not really Moscow ... it is in fact isolated from the rest of the city and more recalls a settlement of an urban type somewhere in Ryazan oblast.”

Judging from all this, the Svobodnaya pressa writer says, protests in 2014 especially those in Russian regions outside of Moscow are likely to have an increasingly “national-conservative tone.” If Putin continues this line, he could garner ever more support from that quarter.

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