Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Moscow and Regions Adopt Different Protest Strategies, Kagarlitsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 4 – Russians always talk about the divide between Moscow and the rest of the country, but according to sociologist Boris Kagarlitsky, most of them fail to understand either just how deep this split has become and how it is likely to be a primary factor in Russian political life in the coming months.

            In a wide-ranging interview with Kazan’s “Business Gazeta,” the sociologist says that all too often analysts, despite nodding to this Moscow-provinces divide, extrapolate from what they see in the Russian capital to the country as a whole and thus fail to understand what is going on – and even more what is likely to take place (

            Observers see in Moscow that members of the middle class do not consider themselves part of anything or trust anybody. That is true of the middle class of the country as a whole but the situation in the regions is not what it is in Moscow. “The capital’s middle class emotionally [is sliding] ever more into depression;” those in the regions somewhat less so.

            In both places, he continues, members of this group “will not vote for anyone, but however strange it may seem, they will not protest either. And what is most interesting is … [that as a result] the middle class will marginalize itself, psychologically and emotionally but not socially.”

            Russians are dissuaded from taking part in protests not only by what they see in Ukraine but also by the fact that Russian society today has greater access to information: it is “open informationally, in contrast to the USSR.” In Soviet times, people often thought the regime was lying about the West; now, they can read what people in the West are saying.

            As a result, he says in expressing agreement with his interviewer, Russians in the middle class are afraid that any protests they engage in will be exploited by outsiders. They will only decide to protest when they feel there is no other way out. That will reduce the importance of the middle class at the beginning of any rising.

            “An effective protest [in Russia],” Kagarlitsky continues, “will not be the style of the Maidan. It will be a mass political expression through the channels of loyal reporting of information which will then become converted into demands.  That is, first we will use these channels to report to the powers that be and then demand that they act.”

            In this process, he says, the situation in the provinces and the one in Moscow are “radically” different.  The Russian middle class in Moscow and St. Petersburg is more inclined to grow depressed rather than to act even in this way, while those in the provinces “will begin to be drawn to these channels” of communication and thus begin to respond to the powers that be.

            There is a good reason for this: “the regional middle class is much more closely tied to the bureaucracy. In Kazan, there are universities, theaters, a city with all the institutions that exist in the capitals. But the distance between the lower and middle links of the bureaucracy and intelligentsia and small business is much smaller and emotionally and socially the integration of these groups is higher.”

            The middle class in the capitals “will sit, cry and get angry about live on Facebook, but in the regions people will get involved in channels that give a chance for a feedback loop and they will quickly understand one thing: they are potential leaders because they have the experience, knowledge and social status and in some cases psychological qualities which will allow them to quickly move forward.”

            Consider the recent case of truck drives in Yekaterinburg, he continues. There, the drivers wanted to form a union but didn’t know how. They first turned to the KPRF, but the KPRF advised them to ask university instructors who investigate trade union movements.  “In this way, the instructors became involved in this activity.”

            “If the provincial middle class begins to ‘succumb’ to the bloc of issues arising from the demands of ‘the proletarians’ and lower bureaucracy,” Kagarlitsky concludes, what is likely to emerge in Russia in the near future is a real divide and conflict between “the patriotic provinces,” on the one hand, and “liberal-comprador Moscow,” on the other.

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