Tuesday, October 20, 2020

100th Day of Protests in Khabarovsk Prompts Moscow to Mull Tightening Laws on Gatherings

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 18 – Today, the protests in Khabarovsk passed a remarkable milestone: they have taken place for 100 straight days. As a result, many say, they can no longer be ignored. But it is increasingly likely that Moscow is less inclined to compromise with them than to adopt new laws restricting the rights of Russians to protest.

            Because the protests have gone on so long – Russian politicians say they cannot remember any in the past which have passed this milestone (svpressa.ru/society/article/278870/) --  and because they have since adopted far broader demands for political change in Russia, many argue that the Kremlin must pay attention to them (sibreal.org/a/30898052.html).

            There is no doubt that is true, but the attention the center is most likely to give may not be what the demonstrators have in mind. Not only did the powers that be use force against the protesters several days ago, but increasingly Moscow politicians are blaming the longevity of the protests on what they see as outside agitators and seeking tougher laws about protests.

            As has long been true in Russia, the powers that be cannot accept the idea that ordinary people can do anything. Instead, they assume that there is some hidden hand which organizes them via “outside agitators” and that the best response to any protest is to go after such people and their backers rather than address the issues the protesters raise.

            That is how many at the center are viewing the Khabarovsk protests, especially given how long they have continued. Ernest Makarenko, a Moscow political activist, says that the people in that Russian Far Eastern city could not possibly continue so long if they weren’t backed from the outside (capost.media/news/politika/aktsii-v-podderzhku-furgala-mogut-stat-prichinoy-uzhestocheniya-zakona-o-mitingakh/).

            He suggests that what is going on is a Western-sponsored attempt at a Maidan within Russia and that in response, the Russian government should adopt new and tougher legislation to prevent and, if necessary, suppress the activities of such shadowy groups and of those Russians these groups have led astray.

            On this, the 100th day of the protests, that outcome seems the more likely. But such a display of contempt for the Russian people as free actors could well backfire, leading even more residents of that country to conclude that the government is not on their side and causing more of them to demand change via the ballot box or in the streets. 

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