Staunton, July 3 – Politics begins, as Carl Schmitt reminds, when someone identifies those against which one is fighting, Pavel Luzin says; and in that process of definition, visual symbols, like the flags and banners protesters use, are critically important as a natural development of opposition to the Kremlin.
As one flag displaces another or a new flag enters the scene, the regionalist writer argues, this process will be “a tectonic shift” in the country and “a symbolic act of separation by citizens from the Russian powers that be and from Moscow as such which up to now has imposed its symbols on people” (region.expert/flags/).
In 2011-2012, protesters against dishonest elections generally carried the Russian tricolor in order to assert the universality of citizenship and to insist that “’we are the power here,’ that in the end Russia also is a republic and its flag is our flag and not the flag of the Kremlin.” But now, Russian tricolors are carried in protests or in government-organized events “not so often.”
On the one hand, Luzin points out, the government generally prefers to have banners showing not the tricolor alone but rather a banner with the state coat of arms, a banner that in fact is the presidential standard rather than the flag of the Russian Federation.
And on the other, in many places including Ingushetia and the Komi Republic, demonstrators prefer to carry their own flags. In Ingushetia, people carried both because there the Ingush saw Moscow as a possible mediator; in Komi, the republic flag predominated because they view Moscow as the cause of the problem, the disposal of Moscow’s trash.
This lack of complete clarity, Luzin continues, reflects the fact that “Russian citizens often simply do not yet equate their political position with either the tricolor or with their own regional flags.” That does not mean that they do not feel one or the other of these identities but rather than they don’t link those feelings with a flag.
In part, he says, that pattern has emerged because the Russian authorities have promoted the flag in sporting events in ways that alienate rather than attract many people. “Flags at sports stadiums in fact reflect not so much the unity of citizens among themselves around these vents as their unity with the powers that be.” As a result, these flags may be politically compromised.
Only as people answer for themselves the questions implied by the assertion that “we are the power here” will not change. People must first know who “we” are, then “what our ‘power’ is, and finally what these answers imply as far as what we are to do. “As soon as these answers appear, they inevitably will be expressed in symbolic language – and in the flags people carry.