Monday, February 15, 2021

A Bellwether for the Future? First Officially Permitted Protest Occurs in Kazan

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 14 – The protests of Russians around the country that the powers that be have refused to authorize and tried to stop not surprisingly again today attracted more attention, but one in Kazan which occurred after organizers got permission from local officials may be a model for how even Moscow will approach protests in the coming months.

            For the first time since the onset of the pandemic and indeed for the first time since Moscow election protests in August 2019, officials in Kazan approved the application of extra-systemic parties to hold a protest today at which 200 people would denounce the current wave of repression (, and           

More than a thousand showed up to take part (, but local police blocked all but the approved 200 from entering the square. Seven of those who wanted to take part were arrested. The protest itself lasted two hours and then dispersed quietly (

What is most striking about all this is how little media attention it attracted; and for that reason, if for no other, it may strike some in the Kremlin that permitting protests and then limiting their size is a better choice for the powers that be than trying to band them altogether, particularly as Russia moves into the Duma elections.

But there are two other lessons from the Kazan experience that may point in another direction. On the one hand, the application for approval came from several opposition groups rather than one; and so any move to approve more protests could help the opposition unite in order to secure protests.

And on the other, the fact that Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan and a major center in the Urals, took this step, especially in the wake of the many unauthorized pro-Navalny protests earlier at least raises the specter that just as police in different places have responded differently to the protests, so too regional officials may begin to do so as well.

If that happens, it could mean that protests beyond the ring road will assume an even greater significance than they have had since the end of Soviet times. 

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