Friday, May 31, 2019

Could a Perm Demonstration Be a Turning Point in Russian Protests?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 31 – Almost all protests in Russia in recent times have been about a single issue – whether a church will be built, a border changed or trash from Moscow dumped far from the capital – a pattern that some have suggested limits the ability of the demonstrators to link up and pose a broader challenge to the powers that be.

            That makes what happened in Perm on Wednesday and even more the near hysterical reaction of a pro-Kremlin commentator to it especially interesting because both the one and the other suggest that there may be real movement away from single-issue protests to broader ones, in which Russians angry about one thing would protest alongside those angry about others.

            On May 29, a unsanctioned protest of the Assembly of Angry Perm Residents took place. Ostensibly, the meeting was intended to tell officials that the population was unhappy with their failure to address a wide variety of problems, including debts, subsidies, trash collection and school closings.

            That might have passed largely unnoticed save for a commentary by Regnum’s Anton Isakov who attacked the meeting precisely because of its broad agenda of complaints. Such an agenda, he argues, shows that the organizers were not trying to solve any problem but rather to stir up trouble and undermine the regime (
            Because such people have no interest in working to improve things but only in increasing the number of protests, he continues, they constantly change the subject of their protests or as now complain about many things at once in the hopes of getting more people into the streets and setting the stage for a Maidan.

            Isakov further suggests that the organizers were in league with American diplomats and other outsiders who also have no interest in solving problems but rather in creating them in the hopes that they will be able to challenge the powers that be and possibly even force them from office. Thus, “the meeting of ‘angry Perm residents’ is the latest repetition of a future Maidan.”

            The commentator’s words certainly indicate how Moscow views the situation, with a combination of contempt and fear. But they also point to something else: Russians who have one set of problems with the current situation are in fact beginning to link up with others who also have a different set.

            To the extent that this is repeated elsewhere – and there is no reason to think in the current climate it won’t be – such a combination will almost inevitably present the Kremlin with a more serious challenge than any of the single-issue protests it had been forced to deal with in recent months. 

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