Sunday, January 20, 2019

Russian Political Opposition, Russian Popular Protests Seldom Coalesce

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 19 – The agendas of those typically identified as the Russian opposition and those of Russians angry enough to go into the streets seldom intersect, thus depriving the protesters of leadership and depriving the political opposition of the energy that the protesters could provide.

            That suits the Kremlin just fine because it means that the opposition figures, as much attention as they may get in the media and the West, lack the base that would allow them to mount a real challenge to the regime and that the protesters, as numerous as they are, remain divided rather than united against those in Moscow responsible for their problems.

            But there is another consequence of this divide, one that makes it more difficult for the two groups to come together because it defines how each views the other. The opposition tends to view protesters as too narrowly focused and as unpolitical, while the protesters see the opposition as “political” rather than concerned about the here and now.

            Such views reinforce the sense of many Russians that they are quite prepared to protest on environmental issues or housing but do not want to get into the dangerous business of politics, which as a result of the approach adopted by the opposition, which ties all issues to power from the outset, reduces their ability to achieve their goals.

            These reflections are prompted by an article, “The Black Sky of the Urals” that its author Anton Starkov has subtitled “Ecological protests reach Chelyabinsk. The opposition attempted to head them” and that in fact highlights just how far apart the two groups are and how difficult it is for them to find common ground (

            It is easy to get lost in a situation in which the two groups seem to exist in parallel universes almost as far apart as those between the Russian population and the Russian powers that be; but that would be a mistake because otherwise one of the most fundamental problems Russia faces won’t be overcome or even understood.

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