Thursday, August 6, 2020

Conflicts in Cities Normal, Not Addressing Them Adequately Isn’t, Russian Urban Studies Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 3 – Although Russian officials are loath to admit it, conflicts are normal in cities because cities bring together people of various views and aspirations, Ivan Medvedev says. What is “abnormal” is when the situation is like in Russia where there are no means in place to allow such disputes to be resolved without people going into the streets.

            The continuing protests in Khabarovsk highlight this abnormality, and they will be repeated again and again in other Russian cities “until Russia begins to make use of contemporary practices for the resolution of urban conflicts, the Higher School of Economics scholar continues (

            European cities in recent decades have experienced a multitude of protests, ranging from small NIMBY actions to mass disorders; and in response, the European Union and its members have begun to develop expertise in dealing with such actions, something that has allowed them to keep protests from getting out of hand and threatening the political system as a whole.

            In Barcelona, where protests have been especially frequent, the city has established a special department for the peaceful resolution of conflicts. It is staffed by psychologists, negotiation and mediation experts, and others who make plans for and then get involved at an early stage of all conflicts.

            Similar structures have been created in Scotland, Germany, Ireland, and the Scandinavian countries, Medvedev continues.  In France, training to cope with urban conflicts has become an integral part of the curriculum of the École nationale d'administration, where the country’s leaders, including Francois Hollande and Emmanuel Macron were trained.

            Officials have not always been successful in dealing with challenges, but the existence of such special mediation structures has prevented the situations from getting even worse.  Russia needs to try something similar, organizing seminars for governors and urban leaders to provide them with the concepts and tools to address disputes in cities.

            Such seminars will provide guidance both on how to find compromises and how to respond when compromises are not possible – and to do both at the local or regional level so that all conflicts do not have to be addressed by the central authorities as is almost invariably the case in the Russian Federation.

            Khabarovsk is a classic example of this. The local and regional officials have been paralyzed, and Moscow has been forced to play a role that in principle it ought not to have to. Both the city governors and the population would benefit from preventing the issue from being kicked upstairs. So too would Moscow.

             The protests in Khabarovsk show, Medvedev argues, that Russia’s administrative system needs to be adapted for change and to move beyond the assumption that the only choices are doing nothing and allowing the protests to peter out or use force against them so as to restore order but not peace in that way.

            At present, Russian leaders show little interest in finding a middle way; but they will ultimately have to recognize, as officials in Europe have, that a middle way is better for all concerned. 

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