Staunton, January 27 – Moscow media have focused on the large number of young people who took party in the Navalny protests and on the fact that more than 40 percent of the demonstrators at least in Moscow were taking part in such a political action for the first time in their lives.
But Lev Gudkov, head of the Levada Center polling agency says, that Russians aged 25 to 25 are the dominant age cohort in recent protests, a reflection of the fact that they are the ones whose youthful passions have come into most immediate conflict with the realities of life in Putin’s Russia (echo.msk.ru/programs/figure/2780272-echo/).
It is that age group, he stressed, in which “is accumulating the greatest social irritation and discontent, including with the current powers that be.” Younger people may be more idealistic and older people more realistic about what is possible, but members of this cohort reflect the difficult transition Russians have to make as they age.
In other comments, Gudkov says that it is difficult to say how many participants in the protests last Saturday were there because they wanted to support Navalny and how many were there to show their anger at the authorities more generally. Most don’t really know what Navalny’s program is beyond fighting corruption, honest elections and regime change.
The crowds were not revolutionary ones, the sociologist says. “Russia is tired of revolutions … and no one want to go along that path. Consequently, Navalny has chosen a comparatively legal path” of protesting and using elections. “It seems to me,” Gudkov continues, “that is a little fantastic, considering the existing regime.”
Given this, he says, “the actions of the authorities are idiotic, stupid and ugly.” The powers that be think repression will drive people back into the box, but in fact and especially with the younger age groups which don’t remember Soviet times, repression of the kind the regime has been showing only further angers and alienates Russians today.
To be sure, the powers that be do make some superficial concessions on occasion, but one should remember Soviet science fiction writer Stanislav Lem’s observation that “if a cannibal learns to use a knife and fork,” one can hardly call that “progress.” The fundamental problem remains.
Nonetheless, most Russians still accept the Kremlin narrative about the protesters as agents of the West. Indeed, “our surveys show that in general the conservative majority is not declining.” Instead, what Russia is now seeing is a polarization of society between it and those who are prepared to go into the streets.
Gudkov says that too much should not be made of the number of views of Navalny’s film about Putin’s palace. The real number is half or a third of the total claimed because most people watch it in spurts rather than all at once, and many do so out of simple curiosity rather than because they are angry or become so.
Tragically, in Russia today, “the powers have no recipes besides beating and intensifying repression,” and there are no signs that this is about to change. Indeed, if anything, Gudkov suggests, the Kremlin is likely to become even more repressive as it faces more protests against itself, a vicious circle with counter-productive results for those in power.
In conclusion, the sociologist says that it is very important to recognize that while there has been “a desacralization of the personal bearer of this power,” there has not been a desacralization of power as such. And until there is, the sequence Russia has been going through is unlikely to change.
And he adds that in Russia today, “people do not see forces which could change this situation.” As a result, they “adapt to the repressive state” because that is the only thing they can do that is rational as far as they are concerned.