Staunton, February 11 -- The Navalny organization’s decision to shift at least for a time from mass public protests to smaller but perhaps even more numerous demonstrations in the courtyards of Russian apartment blocks is not a unique Russian innovation. Instead, it has its roots in what Belarusian protesters have been doing since last fall.
In Belarusian cities, MBK journalist Arina Kochemarova says, this shift has led to the emergence of whole areas devoted to protests and to the first flowering of what many people there hope will result in the formation of local self-administration, yet another way they hope to undermine Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s regime (mbk-news.appspot.com/suzhet/protesty-ushli-vo-dvory/).
In these Belarusian courtyards, she points out, places that people have christened “places of change,” people fly the white-red-white Belarusian flag, organize concerns and flashmobs, and in many cases get to know their neighbors better than they ever have in the past, something that by itself promotes solidarity against the government.
Yegor Martinovich, editor of Belarus’ Nasha niva newspaper, says that Belarusians made the shift because of the rising tide of repression and arrests of those taking part in major demonstrations. Fewer people are taking part in the courtyard protests, but at the same time, he suggests, courtyard meetings are forming a sense of solidarity for the future.
Courtyard protests are not only harder for the authorities to counter, but they also can take a variety of formats ranging from flashmobs to the emergence of genuinely independent community organization. “Civil society has begun to flourish everywhere which in general is a good thing. People have begun to unite,” the editor says.
The biggest problem with this shift, Martinovich says, is that the media pays a great deal more attention to one big demonstration than it does to many smaller ones, even if the smaller ones collectively include more people and have a greater impact. Moreover, Lukashenka is learning how to react, cutting off communal services where there are white-red-white flags.
Now, this Belarusian tactic is coming to Russia, intensifying fears among the authorities that the Navalny movement could develop the way in which the Belarusian one has. Russian officials have already made clear that they will crack down hard early on lest the shift from the streets to the courtyards takes off.