Staunton, July 18 – A report that a Moscow TV producer has said his station isn’t covering Khabarovsk because it has no interest in covering “events somewhere at the edge of the earth” is apparently a fake (rex-net.livejournal.com/3501245.html). But it is very much the case that Kremlin-controlled media have ignored the massive demonstrations in the Far Eastern city.
However, in the face of state media’s failure to keep track of what is happening there, millions of Russians especially in other regions of the country as well as in Moscow are following events online, showing that today “the people have defeated propaganda” Kirill Martynov of Novaya gazeta says (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2020/07/18/86320-narod-pobedil-propagandu).
Today, some 50,000 people marched in Khabarovsk, the equivalent of a million in Moscow and the largest protest relative to population since perestroika times, the political editor of the Moscow outlet says. Despite that, however, the authorities aren’t covering it, a reflection of their fundamental miscalculation about the country.
The Kremlin thought and apparently still thinks that it won a great triumph on July 1 and that the consolidation of the people around the powers is an accomplished fact. Instead, Martynov says, what is clear is that “sympathies for the political opposition are growing” and will show themselves in the elections and in the streets.
The protests alone are a problem for the Kremlin, but a far greater one is that the actions there are gaining enormous attention from Russians in other regions. Residents of Vladivostok and other Far Eastern cities, for example, have even taken to the streets, something no one could have imagined even a short time ago. And Russians elsewhere may follow suit.
YouTube videos of the protests in Khabarovsk have attracted “millions of views and thousands of approving commentaries,” even as the Moscow official media act as if nothing is happening, an attitude that will only further undermine the influence of such outlets and cause even more people to turn to online sources for their news.
When demonstrations are small, the official media have a well-developed tactic: they present those involved as marginals; but when an entire city rises to object to central policies, the only thing such media outlets can do is to remain silent. They have no way to explain what is happening that does not undermine their positions and those of their masters still further.
The Khabarovsk protests now going on for a week “are overturning not only the myth” about the all-powerful propaganda state but also the equally fallacious myth that mass protests cannot occur without becoming “mass disorders.” People no longer believe what the state is telling them, and they are disciplined enough to protest without violence, Martynov says.
“Thanks to the Far Easterners, we know that the real source of ‘disorders’ are the actions of the force structures themselves, whose officers wield clubs against the heads and constitutional rights of participants in peaceful meetings.” When as in Khabarovsk, the authorities fulfill their responsibilities under the law, there aren’t many problems.
“From the point of view of political science,” the Moscow editor says, “the events in Khabarovsk are developing as a classical crisis of representation. People there feel sharply that their interests aren’t being defended by anyone and, after the arrest of the elected governor, they can hope only on themselves.”
Further, he says, “the disdainful silence of the state media, including its local outlets, only deepens the sense people have that they are not represented by those in power. It is difficult to say why the Kremlin has thought that it is possible to ignore citizens for years and nonetheless assemble them into an effective political machine.”
But in the wake of Khabarovsk and the online attention it is attracting from Russians everywhere, one can say one thing with certainty: “this machine has begun to break down.” And perhaps more important, the Russian people can see this even if their current rulers cannot.