Staunton, November 17 – Two things about the Shiyes anti-trash protests frighten Moscow, Anton Krivenyuk of Sovershenno Sekretno says. On the one hand, it is a genuinely popular action without leaders or political technologists. And on the other, its social base of supporters consists of “hundreds of thousands of people.”
The first means that the authorities in the Russian capital decapitate the movement because it doesn’t have “a head” that they can take off and put in prison and that any actions against the encampment at Shiyes will immediately and powerfully echo across the entire country (sovsekretno.ru/articles/obedinivshiesya/).
Now that the situation appears to be heading to crisis with many expecting Moscow will use force against them (activatica.org/blogs/view/id/8521/title/shies-18-noyabrya-ozhidaet-popytku-silovogo-razgona-lagerya) and asking for support if that happens (rusmonitor.com/shies-prosit-pomoshhi-18-noyabrya-vlasti-khotyat-predprinyat-popytku-razgona.html), Krivenyuk’s words are indicative of what may happen next.
“The protest campaign,” he writes, “is very numerous into which thousands of the most varied people have been drawn. The fact that it isn’t organized and does not have clear leaders and a defined hierarchy, however, has its minuses. It isn’t possible to control everything, and various incidents constantly arise, creating an atmosphere of ‘mutually organized provocations.’”
The protests have become ever more radicalized, and some of the arrivals are quite prepared to engage in the violence that those who started them abhor. Most protesters recognize that any violence on their part plays into the hands of their opponents but they are not always in a position to prevent it, Krivenyuk says.
“The growing international popularity of Shiyes is a signal that is good for the participants but bad for Moscow. The protest is becoming a long-term social phenomenon, the first in present-day Russia for the last 20 years.” And because it has lasted so long already – more than a year – it has given rise to its own legends, songs, and symbols.
The Shiyes protesters now even have their own informal hymn, one based on words written by a former local school teacher and now a pensioner, Valentina Shchegodeva. Its refrain is that “Our authorities have betrayed us. Let us stand up together against Moscow!”
All this reflects an important reality, Krivenyuk argues. In Shiyes and the North, “unlike in almost all the central regions of the country, there is an established civil society. Here people themselves are restoring their ruined churches, reviving traditions, teaching their children, and living in an active way.”
Until Shiyes, this activity as mostly displayed in educational and cultural ways. But now the North is getting involved in politics, an area where its differences with Moscow are legion. “Moscow’s policies over the course of all these decades have been directed at the destruction of life in this enormous region.” And now Northerners are fighting back.
They “do not intend to curl up” and die. Reflecting their entrepreneurial spirit and relatively good incomes, “they are demanding from the state infrastructure and at least a minimum attention to the preservation of life there in ways they consider necessary.” There has been some improvement recently, but that has sparked a revolution of rising expectations.
The center’s plan for a dump where Moscow’s trash could be sent was the last straw for many in the region, Krivenyuk says. The North has now awoken and it won’t soon go back to sleep. “Conflict is becoming part of the social and cultural identity of the local population,” something that seriously threatens the center.
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