Staunton, September 14 – Perhaps more than any other contemporary world leader, Vladimir Putin believes time works in his favor whether it be the West’s response to his acts of aggression or protests by Russians against his policies. If he waits long enough, he is convinced, the West will fold and the media will cease to cover the protesters rendering them impotent.
Unfortunately, all too often, the Kremlin leader is correct in his assumption. Five years after Putin invaded and illegally annexed part of Ukraine, ever more Western leaders are not only calling for a return to “business as usual” but actually taking steps that will allow Putin to keep his ill-gotten gains with little ultimate penalty.
And now, after a much shorter periods, the more independent news outlets in Russia are joining the state-controlled ones in not reporting about key protests be it Albert Razin’s self-immolation to call attention to Moscow’s repression of non-Russians or demonstrators against Putin’s plans for garbage dumps in the Far North.
Without coverage, it is hard for Russian protesters to continue their actions; and unlike during the Cold War, they often cannot count on the Western media to tell their stories and broadcast them back to the population. That undermines their ability to have an impact and in turn reduces the willingness of many to take part in such demonstrations.
Earlier this summer, many media outlets actively covered the anti-dump protesters at Shiyes and other sites in the Russian North. But now such coverage has become far more sparse, and many Russians even are asking “what is Shiyes?” exactly the response the Kremlin hopes for (cf. windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/08/once-again-time-is-working-against.html).
The paucity of recent coverage of these protests makes articles like Irina Sinyukhova’s 3500-word first person account of what is happening in Shiyes now especially important because they show that the protesters are increasingly committed to holding on and that even outlets like Regnum are now again talking about that (regnum.ru/news/society/2719190.html).
Sinyukhova says that “Shiyes now is a really dangerous place, the site of actions between money and conscience. On one side of the barricades are private guard forces and the police who have clubs and the right of the strong, [and] on the other are civic activists. Conscience has no weapons; it has only the people.”
But at present, neither side has won a final victory: those who want to create a dump for Moscow trash in the far north have been forced to engage in various subterfuges in order to continue, while those who are opposed have to face occasional beatings, massive fines – more than two million rubles (30,000 US dollars), and the difficulties of living in an encampment.
The 500 plus residents of the encampment came first from the immediate neighborhood, the journalist says; but now come from all over and are quickly acquiring a new identity as a result. They call themselves Shiyesnutyye – the people of Shiyes – they fly their own flags, and they are increasingly creating their urban institutioons to support their efforts.
The residents take care of one another, they have the support of people in Arkhangelsk and elsewhere, and they have imposed a dry law. Tomorrow, they are scheduled to declare unilaterally the formation of “a commune,” an act that will certainly lead many to recall the Northern Commune in Karelia in the wake of the 1917 revolution.
Demonstrators in Moscow may simply go home after the speeches end, but those in Shiyes are different. When Sinyukhova asked one of the Shiyes people what they would do if they suddenly saw a trash dump outside their window, the latter responded: “We would die, but it is better to do so now under the wheels of excavators” than from the trash then.