Staunton, June 24 – Many commentators have focused on the decline since January 2021 in the percentage of Russians who say they are ready to protest, but the share who are ready to do so still remains much higher than was the case in the last three years, Lev Gudkov of the Levada Center says.
The reason in large measure is the fear that the Russian government has instilled in many because of its repressions. These repressions reflect “the erosion of the legitimacy which justified the authority” of the regime. They are not yet massive. But they are sufficient to intimidate people and keep them from protesting (sobesednik.ru/obshchestvo/20210621-lev-gudkov-u-nas-net-ni-massovyx-bespor).
Dissatisfaction among Russians remains “diffuse” because the regime has decapitated protest organizations. But the Kremlin is afraid of that dissatisfaction in large part because it fears that Belarusian-style protests could take place in Russia. Those protests “frightened the powers and led them to intensify the harshness, scope and character of repression.”
It is this fear and not the upcoming elections which are driving the push to ever more draconian moves against the population. As Gudkov notes, the powers that be have other technologies they can use in elections to ensure that the popular will is not reflected or at least reported in them.
Gudkov says “it is difficult to say” whether Russia faces a Belarusian course of development. “Must depends on the strength of the resistance of society and on how it responds to this because society has opportunities and resources for resistance. The Internet for example, still remains a relatively free space for … coordination of action.”
For something significant to happen, the sociologist says, society will have to organize itself “because organization represents in itself a public force. By itself, dissatisfaction and anger bear a diffuse character and are not dangerous” to the powers that be, however much the powers may fear them.
What does matter, he says, is that “protest attitudes are now spreading into the provinces and from the capitals and megalopolises to mid-sized cities.” In these places, there are even fewer organizations than in the big cities, and the regime is doing everything it can to intimidate people into not taking the steps needed to organize them.
Gudkov says that in his view, the upcoming Duma elections “will change nothing,” because “people are not showing any interest in these elections.” Only those dependent on the regime will take part, as it intends, and many who are indifferent or hostile will stay home. There may be some isolated protests, as in Khabarovsk, but not in Russia as a whole.
Many who are angry are so upset that they won’t vote, and that means the regime will get a victory it doesn’t deserve just as it did with the constitutional amendments. Far more people were opposed to them than voted against them, he says, and the difference had less to do with falsification than with a widespread sense that voting makes no difference.
Such attitudes, Gudkov says, are widespread and today constitute “a major social problem.” Unless this changes, the regime won’t be under much pressure from within the system or outside, although there are mid-level officials and businessmen who recognize that things can’t long go on the way they are now.