Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Khabarovsk-Style Protests Likely in Other Russian Regions, Shtepa Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 27 – Khabarovsk has many unique features and that is why a major regionalist protest has broken out and continues there, Vadim Shtepa says; but other Russian regions share enough in common with it that similar protests are likely to break out elsewhere in the coming months. 

            Many Moscow officials had assumed that they would never have to face mass protests in the Russian Far East because the center could play up a supposed threat from China to keep people inline even as people within the ring road pump out resources from the region and give little back, the editor of Region.Expert says (

            But the residents of Khabarovsk, while no admirers of the Chinese political system, can see with their own eyes that the Chinese system has delivered for its people just across the border economically and so the default ideological campaign Moscow assumed it could use no longer works, as the massive and continuing protests in the region show.

            As a fall back, Shtepa says, Moscow officials have fallen back to the position that the Khabarovsk protests aren’t like any other. They are political and about having the right to choose their own leader, not about ecology as in Arkhangelsk, languages in the non-Russian republics, or arrangements of urban spaces as in St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg.

            They thus assume that as big a problem as Khabarovsk may be, it is a one-off and won’t be repeated elsewhere. But that too is a mistake, the regionalist writer says, because all the issues in all the regions are about controlling their own lives and having a say in who their leaders are. Consequently, protests like in Khabarovsk can happen anywhere and are likely to.

            Moscow officials also see Khabarovsk as sui generis because people there are carrying the flag of their own region rather than the Russian tri-color, unlike in Arkhangelsk where they still carry the flag of the Russian Federation. But even that belief is wrong: people in Khabarovsk did not start with their regional flag but ever more often carry it.

            The same pattern of politicization of protests can occur elsewhere under the right conditions, and so more Khabarovsks are entirely possible, each of them flying their own regional flags and with their own regional political agendas which at the end of the day rest on the idea that the residents of this or that region must have the right to choose their leaders.

            And that prospect, one that was triggered in Khabarovsk by the Kremlin’s heavy-handed removal of a popular governor, can become a reality as a result of some unexpected Moscow actions whose consequences the center doesn’t understand because it doesn’t understand the people over whom it rules for the time being.

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