Staunton, November 18 – The social and economic situation in Russia continues to deteriorate and the level of pessimism about the future is now at the highest level in eight years, but this has not translated into mass protests of any kind because the government has raised the price of taking part in such protests and Russians are behaving rationally in not doing so.
Mikhail Karyagin, a Russian political scientist, argues out that the various “negative” stimuli Russians have experienced in recent months would have led them to protest had it not been for the ways in which Moscow has systematically raised the price of engaging in protest (actualcomment.ru/golodnye-bunty-privedut-li-ekonomicheskie-problemy-k-protestam-1811141135.html).
“The negative stimuli” Russians have experienced “should have provoked a certain response,” he says. But the explanation for why they haven’t done so more vigorously and dramatically is that they see the instruments available to them as fewer and more expensive just as the regime hopes they would.
Indeed, of all the outlets people in most countries have to protest to the government about their situation, Russians have only one that is more or less just as available now as it was a year or two ago – and that is voting. But voting by its nature is an episodic event, and if the regime schedules unpopular actions, many Russians may forget that by the time of the next election day.
Russian anger was expressed in the September elections, and it is possible it will last until another round of regional elections next summer or even until 2021 when there will be a vote on the Duma members, Karyagin says. There are few signs things are going to get better, and so that is at least possible.
As for other protest channels, he continues, “one must admit that in recent times, they have become ever fewer. Changes in the rules for holding meetings, mass arrests of participants, serious fines, and sometimes real jail sentences have significantly increased the cost of this instrument for citizens.”
That reality was shown at the time of pension reform. Polls showed that 90 percent of Russians were against the plan to raise retirement ages, “but only a few thousand went into the streets.” For most, this was a rational choice rather than something determined by culture – and the Kremlin was counting on that.
Using the Internet for protests has also become more expensive given the cases brought against an increasing number of people for posts, reposts and likes. And using the regular media is almost impossible: most is tightly controlled, and the small part which isn’t isn’t accessible to many.
“One of the most free spheres” of public life in which protest is possible, the political scientist says, is art. The powers that be do on occasion ban performances or exhibits, but they find it more difficult to control this segment than others. Consequently, “political figures are becoming ever more numerous in creative activities.”
The big question now, however, Karyagin says, is whether Russian popular anger will grow faster than the regime increases the price for protests. If it does, Russians like anyone else will go into the streets. If it doesn’t, then the current pattern of sullen but unexpressed anger will likely continue for some time.
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