Staunton, April 21 – A protest in Vladikavkaz against counter-coronavirus measures that was led by a pandemic-denier and that attracted several hundred people before being dispersed with arrests by the police is likely to be “the model for other regions of Russia,” according to political commentator Maksim Zharov.
The most striking thing about it is that the head of the region, Vyacheslav Bitarov, appeared before the protesters and attempted to calm them by saying he wasn’t responsible for the restrictions. But his words were met with calls for his resignation (politobzor.net/214400-mitingi-protiv-samoizolyacii-v-severnoy-osetii-model-dlya-drugih-regionov.html).
Zharov says that this is not a local event but rather “’the first swallow’ of protest action by the population regarding the coronavirus epidemic.” Most Russians don’t understand why they are being required to stay at home and forgo work and income when others are allowed to go about their business.
It is thus “no accident” protesters in Vladikavkaz demanded the republic head explain why a company his family owns continues to operate when the places where they are employed have not been. According to Zharov, this politicization of the new protests is likely in “politically active regions where there are serious problems between the powers and the people.”
Because this protest was the first in what promises to be a long line of such demonstrations, reactions by the commentariat and officials were perhaps overstated. One Muscovite writer described the event as “almost a revolt” (echo.msk.ru/blog/brainman85/2628880-echo/) and the Kremlin denounced it as illegal (vestikavkaza.ru/news/kreml-aktsiya-protesta-protiv-rezhima-samoizolyatsii-vo-vladikavkaze-byla-nezakonnoy.html).
What needs to be remembered is that North Ossetia has often been more politically active than other federal subjects. It was among the first to declare itself sovereign in the so-called “parade of sovereignties” in 1990 and so its precedential value may be more limited than some think (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2016/08/could-parade-of-sovereignties-have.html).