Staunton, May 23 – The Kremlin’s decision to disperse the Novogorod meeting of the Zemtsvo Congress reflects its belief that any organized opposition to itself is a threat and must be suppressed, Abbas Gallyamov and Darya Garmonenko say. The Land Congress because of the involvement of municipal deputies was the obvious target after the arrest of Aleksey Navalny.
Gallyamov, a former Putin speechwriter and now Moscow political commentator makes the case most strongly. He says that the Kremlin fears protests which are led and coordinated by someone far more than spontaneous demonstrations (rusmonitor.com/abbas-gallyamov-zaderzhanie-yulii-galyaminoj-svyazano-s-opaseniyami-vlasti-po-povodu-togo-chto-protest-v-rossii-vnov-budet-strukturirovan.html).
When any such individual and institution arises, the powers that be believe, they must eliminate such people and their structures so that any protest will be deprived of leadership. “From history, it is well known that a real revolution begins not when people go into the streets – that is simply a rising – but when the dissatisfied group themselves around some institution.”
Garmonenko, a journalist for Nezavisimaya gazeta, makes a similar point. She stresses the Land Congress and both its leadership from among municipal deputies and its demands that those who want the votes of Russians must agree to their terms looks like a direct threat to the Kremlin’s agenda (ng.ru/politics/2021-05-24/3_8155_alternative.html).
And a third commentator, Vadim Shtepa, editor of the Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal, extends this notion by suggesting that Russia today may be on the path of recapitulating tsarist-era experience and that after the Zemtsvo people of the Zemtsvo Congress may become an updated version of the more radical Narodnaya Volya (severreal.org/a/31271447.html).
“The organizers of the Zemtsvo Congress,” the regionalist writes, “tried to offer the authorities their own kind of ‘treaty’ – we are in no way radicals from ‘the extra-systemic opposition’ but ask only for a certain broadening of local self-administration … The problem is the current powers don’t need agreements with citizens.” They want them to remain “subjects.”
By trying to blame the pandemic for their actions, the powers that be showed that it has become little more than a political instrument and that its invocation has nothing to do with protecting the population. And it utterly failed to stop the Zemtsvo Congress from taking place, Shtepa says.
“Its delegates made their presentations and discussed them from their hotel rooms on Zoom. This may seem funny” but it is the fate of all those who want to speak freely in Putin’s Russia. What the authorities appear to have forgotten is that such bans on groups which want to cooperate leads to the formation of radical ones that have no such goal.
“By banning peaceful civil assemblies and trying the organizers of such groups in court,” Shtepa concludes, “the current Russian powers are opening the way” for exactly the same course of events which happened to their equally clueless tsarist predecessors.
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