Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Unlike Many, Russian Protesters Still Carry Flag of Repressive Government They Oppose, Shtepa Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 15 – Many protesters in former Soviet republics and in the autonomies of the Russian Federation carry flags that underscore their opposition to the powers that be. The Belarusian opposition relies on the white-red-white flag to oppose Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s Soviet-style one (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/08/belarusian-white-red-white-flag-has.html).

            Other non-Russian protesters like the Circassians, the Chechens and the Ingermanlanders do the same, an indication their growing radicalization and the importance of flags as a mobilizing tool in demonstrations (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/07/reflecting-growing-radicalism-in.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/04/marking-day-of-circassian-flag-online.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/08/chechen-activists-marching-from.html).

            But Russian protesters to this day mostly do not carry a flag underscoring their differences with the regime and that could serve to mobilize more people to their causes. (A few do carry regionalist and republic flags, but these are exceptions that prove the rule rather than any indication of a trend.)  

            In a commentary for Eesti Paevaleht, Vadim Shtepa, the editor of the Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal, argues that Russian protesters should consider making a change as their numbers increase (epl.delfi.ee/artikkel/92555739/vadim-stepa-kellena-sa-end-tunned-kui-sind-nupeldab-rahvusvarvides-kumminui, in Russian at region.expert/new_symbols/).

            When the Russian tricolor was first carried by opponents of the Soviet regime in the Democratic Union of Valeriya Novodvorskaya, the regionalist argues, it represented “a decisive exit from the limits of Soviet symbolism and a sign of the coming of a new era” in Russia. And after the demise of the USSR, it became the flag of the Russian Federation.

            “However,” Shtepa continues, “the revived Russian tricolor unfortunately gradually lost is liberating meaning, which most clearly of all was manifested in the August 1991 events.” Later, “’New Russia’ began to conduct under this flag colonial wars in Chechnya, Georgia and Ukraine.” And as a result, it recovered its “initial imperial meaning.”

            Do Russians today have an alternative? There is no single flag on offer that appears likely to fill this role. But regional flags “which represent a civic protest against the Kremlin empire” could do so.  Non-Russian republics have used their flags to oppose the empire, and some Russian regions, like Khabarovsk, have flown the kray flag to call for free elections.

            “It would be extremely significant if protesters in Moscow and St. Petersburg also would raise the flags of their cities” or the flags of regions with which they are associated such as the flag of Intermanland which already “is popular among Petersburg regionalists,” Shtepa continues.

            Navalny and his team “are fighting against corruption, but it is important to recognize that under conditions of an empire, this battle is senseless,” the regionalist writer argues. “Empire means hierarchy,” and that opens the way to corruption far more massive than in other systems.

            If the Navalny movement doesn’t find new flags, Shtepa argues, “absurd” situations will arise when those protesting the imperial Russian government will be carrying exactly the same banner than their oppressors fly. Only by making a change in this regard can the Russian protest movement hope to expand its ranks and win.

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