Saturday, May 25, 2019

Tolerating Social Protests Helps Keep Them from Becoming Political, ‘Nezavisimaya gazeta’ Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 24 – Poll results showing that 74 percent of Yekaterinburg residents opposed having their city park given over to the Orthodox Church for a cathedral show that city leaders either didn’t know what the people wanted or caused more of them to come out against the idea by their own actions, the editors of Nezavisimaya gazeta say.

            In either case, the paper says in a lead article today, this shows the importance of liberalizing laws and regulations governing social protests because they uniquely provide information on what the people are thinking and are in fact the norm of a healthy society rather than a threat (

            “Public demonstrations against decisions of the authorities occur throughout the world,” the editors say. “People may not like the building of a church or mosque, a trade center or elite housing, a trash dump, a highway or a factory that contaminates the environment. Their force isn’t an act of force-majeure. It is the life of a health social organism.”

            Unfortunately, this has been lost sight of in Russia today, the editors continue, because the powers that be are obsessed with the risk that social protests will grow into political ones and become a threat to their positions.  Indeed, the Kremlin has made blocking that possibility a major item in its ratings of governors.

            “The border between social and political protests, and the interests of citizens, the authorities, and the opposition is subtle,” the paper concedes. “Social protest becomes political when citizens do not simply make demands but begin to think that they can fulfill them by replacing those in power.”

            Those in power see that as a constant threat whether it is or not. “The opposition of course has an interest in having demands for the replacement of the powers that be become as quickly as possible the leitmotif of any protest.” As for the citizenry, it wants the problems solved regardless of whether the powers that be are changed or not.

            What is dangerous, the editors suggest, is that officials who act repressively against social protests may be playing a major role in transforming them into political ones. In Yekaterinburg, those opposed to the construction of the church went into the streets even when they knew that there was a risk they’d be arrested.

             What that means, the lead article says, is that the regional leaders and the federal center need to recognize that a more permissive approach to social pressure is the best means of preventing protests from growing over from the social to the political, exactly what those in power say they are concerned about.

            Indeed, Nezavisimaya gazeta says, the authorities should recognize that listening to the population in the first place will keep them from taking actions that will spark even social protests.  That is the real message of the 74 percent “no” vote in the Yekaterinburg survey this week. 

            That may be a tough call for many in power to make. A new Public Opinion Foundation poll shows that in the regions, more than half of all residents (56 percent) are dissatisfied with conditions, the highest level in four years (

            The poll found that popular discontent was lowest in Moscow and the North Caucasus Federal District and highest in the Far Eastern, Southern, and Volga Federal districts.  And it further concluded that “regional problems are one of the chief drivers of the growth of protest attitudes among Russians.”

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