Staunton, May 28 – Protests against the construction of a cathedral in the center of Yekaterinburg may very well resume in the near future because it appears that the civil and religious authorities have no intention of keeping promises not to build the church there, Yekaterinburg commentator Fyodor Krasheninnikov says.
In fact, he suggests, those who thought they had won a final victory are likely to be even more enraged when they discover that they achieved only a “tactical” one, designed to get them off the streets and their story out of the media while officials and church hierarchs do what they want (openmedia.io/exclusive/pochemu-protesty-v-ekaterinburge-mogut-vozobnovitsya/).
“The Yekaterinburg history of the struggle of citizens for the preservation of the square reflects many of the problems of present-day Russia,” Krasheninnikov continues; “but above all, it shows the unbelievably low authority of the regional and municipal authorities and their complete inability to interact with society.”
This conflict, which began nine years ago, was entirely within the legal competence of the municipal powers that be if they in fact had the power to act. But the system has evolved to the point where the city is only “a relatively unimportant sub-office in the gubernatorial chancellery.” The city couldn’t decide on its own, and citizens have protested three times.
Finally, however, when the authorities tore down the wall and promised not to build there, it looked like the citizens had won. But “the more time that has passed since the fence came down, the stronger is the sense that the authorities this time around to do not intend” to give up on their plans to build the church in the central park.
Vladimir Putin’s intervention in which he called for the authorities to take stock of the opinion of the population can be read in many ways, Krasheninnikov continues, especially given that “when Putin speaks about honest elections to the Duma, it is obvious to all officials which party must win.” The same thing is true in this case.
City and regional officials have continued to meet with citizens and make promises, but it is important to recognize that the authorities have not taken “any legally significant decisions” that are enforceable. Instead, they appear to be playing for time, hoping that the protesters will finally give up, allowing officials to do what they have always wanted.
“Why is this happening?” the commentator asks rhetorically. There are only two possibilities: Either the authorities simply haven’t figured out a method for ending the problem juridically, or “on the other hand, they are cynically playing for time in order to return to their former positions” and ignore the people and their own promises.
Moreover, he says, there is another problem in this situation: There is no individual in the city sufficiently authoritative or respected who could “’sell’ a compromise, that is, come up with something that would satisfy at one and the same time the authorities, the church, and the dissatisfied people.”
There is no one of this kind among the authorities, and there is no one among the opposition either because those who could emerge as such leaders “understand all too well that out of representatives of the protesters it is too easy to be transformed into an organizer of mass disorders with all the ensuring consequences.”
(Such feelings are no doubt being reinforced by the fact that in recent days, the FSB has been calling in many of those who took part in the protests against the building of the cathedral for “informal conversations” which send precisely that message to those who have been in the streets (credo.press/224702/).)
The protesters went home after the wall the authorities had put up was taken down, and for a time it looked like they had won. The governor declared that the square was no longer on the list of places where the church might be built. But “soon Vice Governor Sergey Vidonko said that the square all the same must be included in the list of places to be discussed.”
The church hierarchy has made it clear that it wants the church to be built precisely where the protesters don’t want it and has “actively interfered” in the discussions about a poll or the locations which might be included in any list of options. As a result, officials have been meeting with the citizenry but not issuing the kind of formal decision that would end the uncertainty.
And any poll that is conducted by the authorities must end with their victory, everyone understands; and any one that involves the church must avoid its defeat lest people begin to ask whether Russia is really an Orthodox country, as Russians also understand, according to Krasheninnikov.
Because that is the case, he says, “despite the optimistic reports about the successes of civil dialogue in Yekaterinburg, the situation with regard to the square and the church has not been resolved. Orthodox society and a number of influential officials consider themselves to be on the losing side and seek revenge at any price.”
And city residents “ever more sharply feel that officials aren’t attempting to find a way out of the situation but simply playing for time and seek a means to deceive them and will soon return to building their project in the city square.” Consequently, it is entirely possible that they will soon go into the streets once again -- but perhaps with more anger than before.