Monday, May 20, 2019

Yekaterinburg Protests Resemble 1905 Revolution, Historian Says; Provocations Likely Ahead

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 19 – An unchanging characteristic of Russian life is the tendency to compare any new event to an earlier one and predict what will happen now on the basis of what happened then.  That is occurring in Yekaterinburg where an historian says the ones now resemble those of 1905 and that the authorities will likely respond again with provocations.

            Many of those taking part in today’s demonstrations, Yevgeny Burdenkov of the Museum of the History of Yekaterinburg says, are already comparing Vladimir Putin’s promise to poll residents about the construction of the cathedral in the central square with Nicholas II’s October 1905 manifesto promising a Duma and civic freedoms (

            After the manifesto was proclaimed, the historian recalls, students went into the square to celebrate. The tsarist police allowed them to do so, knowing that it was likely that only students would do so. And then their allies, the black hundreds were turned loose on the students and many were beaten.

            That radicalized rather than calmed the situation, Burdenkov says, because “provocations are always useful only to the most radical sides of a conflict.” Those who want a resolution are simply left out of the calculations of such people.

            “If something similar were to occur now,” he continues, “this would be a catastrophe worse than even in those years.  Then in many respects, the value of human life was lower and the seriousness of clashes was thus higher.” There is one respect in which the situation would not be as bad: far fewer Yekaterinburg residents now have guns than did a century ago.

            Another major similarity between 1905 and now, Burdenkov says, is that both actions were spontaneous, reflecting the views of society rather than the work of a few leaders.  But after the people went into the streets, political leaders then and now sought to exploit the demonstrations for their own purposes, with greater or less effect.

            But the biggest difference between the two years is that “in October-November 1905 there were in general no forces in the city which could resist the protesters. In our time, such a situation, of course, is impossible … [Moreover,] people have become less aggressive – education in this respect has given us a great deal.”

            “City residents now are less subject to manipulation and to various provocations,” Burdenkov continues. In contrast to 1905, Yekaterinburg residents today “understand that someone who throws a bottle at the police is not their supporter but an ordinary provocateur” working against them.

            The difficulty now is that many of those taking part are young people who do not reflect on what they are doing besides insisting that they “want what they want” and that many among the powers that be want discipline rather than agreement. That sets the stage for more clashes and increases the risk of provocations being tried even if they will not always work.

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