Staunton, February 15 – Many explain the growth of protest activity in Siberia by pointing to a distinctive Siberian “character” or the greater distance from Moscow, but Yury Pustovoit argues that it reflects instead the greater number of Siberian cities in which there are multiple power centers and where elites have worked out their own rules of the game.
The sociologist at the Siberian division of the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service conducted focus groups in Novokuznets and two districts of Novosibirsk and concluded that where a single power vertical was in place, there were fewer protests than where it wasn’t and there exist multiple centers of power (newizv.ru/article/general/15-02-2021/sotsiologi-ob-yasnili-rost-protestov-v-sibirskih-gorodah).
In Siberian cities where there is only a single center of power, the governor or mayor controls all aspects of life and the siloviki are prepared to act at his direction without regard to the reaction of other elites and the population, Pustovoit says.
But “in the majority of Siberian cities, a ‘polyarchy’ or more appropriately ‘a competitive oligarchic power’ rules,” and where various elites cooperate in making the rules, the siloviki are less prepared to be used by one group than to work with all, protests are less often suppressed, and the population feels much freer to take to the streets to demonstrate.
According to the sociologist, as resources have become fewer and are projected to decline still further, the participants in the urban coalitions of elites are being forced to “review their level of loyalty to the federal and regional center” and thus open the way for still more protests in these Siberian cities than before.
In sum, Pustovoit concludes, “the conflict between those who live in the territories and those who extract profit from them will manifest itself in the growth of territorial and ecological protests” in cities which already have urban coalitions among elites will see more protests while those with a single center of power will be the site of more intra-elite conflicts.
In Novokuznets, an example of a city in which the mayor controls both the political and economic structures, there have been few protests because the siloviki operate on the mayor’s order and the role of other elite groups is minimal. So important is the mayor that when he is replaced so too are many of these other elites.
There, Pustovoit says, “the electoral process is completely controlled and the result of voting does not have anything in common with the views of the population.” Businesses are represented in all key agencies, but they are there on a quota basis and at the decision of the mayor rather than having any self-standing power.
Such places have not had many protests and are unlikely to, the sociologist suggests; but tensions between the all-powerful mayor and the other elites, especially in the economy, are growing.
Pustovoit also examined two districts in Novosibirsk, one like Novokuznets and a second diametrically opposite. In the city as a whole, he found, “a polycentric structure has taken shape without a clearly expressed center of integration or control. Here there is no ‘master;’ instead, there are several groups with comparable resources capable of blocking” moves by others.
These thus compete with one another, and “the force structures typically stress their separation from politics.” As a result, “the legislative organs are a public space for the representation of interests of various business structures, and parties with shifting amounts of success take part in elections.”
When there is a change at the top of the political structures, those at the top of others remain in place rather than being ousted. And as a result, they can continue to play by the rules of the game that have developed. They may lose their political positions but “they preserve their social and economic status,” the sociologist found.
That diversity within the elites and the ability of many groups to outlast a change in the top political job as a result of decisions in Moscow opens the way for more protest activity, by keeping the siloviki from becoming the enforcers of the new man and by increasing the incentives of these other elites to use popular attitudes to advance their interests.