Sunday, June 28, 2020

Russians Push for Reopening, Fearful Moscow will Make Pandemic Restrictions Permanent, Agora Lawyer Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 26 – In many countries people are pushing for ending restrictions so that they can get out of their homes and the economy can begin to recover.  Russians are driven by those feelings as well but they are also pushing for reopening after the pandemic because they fear the powers that be will keep them in place for a long time to come, Aleksey Glukhov says.

            The lawyer for the international human rights defense group Agora says that Russians are particularly concerned about that danger because “undoubtedly, the authorities have used the coronavirus as the occasion for reducing political rights and freedoms” and will be reluctant to loosen up even when the pandemic eases (

            The pandemic has “played into the hands” of the Kremlin, Glukhov continues. “Beyond doubt, they always have dreamed of limiting rights and freedoms, but when this could be done under the cover of the pandemic, then the powers felt themselves absolutely innocent and said that this was a forced measure.”

            That can be seen in their selective application of the restrictions, banning individual pickets and closing further court hearings but allowing mass parades to occur. But they have infuriated people with these restrictions and they are unlikely to be able to prevent protests to the extent that many now assume.

            “The majority of protest actions occur not in a format agreed to by the powers, and no one is any longer frightened by these 30-day arrests, large fines and so on. One can regulate protest by bans of various kinds, but this long ago ceased to be effective.” The authorities fear protests, and they are now ready to take even more draconian actions.

            Other Russian observers agree. Ivan Pavlov, head of the Command 29 human rights group, says that no one should be confused by the slight easing of restrictions in recent days. That is all about setting the stage for the parade and the vote on the proposed constitutional amendments not a response to the easing of the coronavirus threat.

            He says he “does not exclude” that “somewhere about the second half of July, we will encounter the re-imposition of restrictions.” And he says that it is entirely possible that “we will have to live with such restrictions for a long time even after the epidemic.”

            Fyodor Krasheninnikov, a political analyst, says that the authorities impose restrictions not according to some plan but because imposing restrictions is the only response they have when confronted by opposition or even ordinary problems.  He too believes that the restrictions will return as soon as the referendum is over.

            And Boris Kagarlitsky, head of the Moscow Institute for Globalization and Social Movements, argues that what is happening  now is simply an interval in a trend that began in 1993 in which the powers that be have sought to take away from Russians as many rights and freedoms as possible.

            They used the coronavirus to impose more, and they will try to keep in place as many of the coronavirus restrictions as they can for as long as possible. But the coronavirus may play a trick on them. Now it seems to everyone that it is “the ally of the powers that be.”  But that may change: it could become “the ally of freedom.”

            That is because people are tired of the restrictions and have every reason to demand that these and others be lifted, Kagarlitsky says.  “Society will be forced even for purely emotional reasons to see a broadening of its rights” – exactly the reverse of what the powers that be in the Kremlin hope for.

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