Staunton, Nov. 7 – Active protest attitudes are on the wane, Sergey Belanovsky says; but Russian reaction to the census shows that “passive” ones are growing, spreading into the deep people who are supposedly the biggest supporters of the regime and acquiring dangerous and highly emotional forms.
Reports coming in from census takers, the Moscow sociologist says, show that “about a third” of those the enumerators try to contact are refusing to take part and even “meeting the census takers in an extremely unfriendly manner” (newizv.ru/comment/sergey-belanovskiy/06-11-2021/urok-perepisi-v-obschestve-rastet-emotsionalnyy-negativizm).
Russians are telling the census takers that they can take their forms back to Putin, in effect, Belanovsky says, engaging in “mass sabotage” and providing a clear glimpse into their attitudes to the current Russian political system and not just their concerns about the census or about coronavirus vaccines.
Perhaps most worrisome to the Kremlin, the sociologist continues, is that Russians are identifying as the target of their anger Putin and not just some unnamed “they” as is typical. The question for today and the future is whether this “emotional protest” has the potential to grow into “active” forms.
It is difficult to answer this question, he says; but there are signs that it may be happening. On the one hand, there have been some interesting efforts by people to organize their own lives in microrayons after they have concluded that there is little or no hope that the authorities will respond to appeals.
And on the other, given the economic problems Russia now faces, it is entirely possible that people may soon have to wait in line for food. Given their past experience, they are already complaining about that possibility, the first step, Belanovsky suggests, in the direction of protests that could prove dangerous for the powers that be.
There is an obvious, interesting and potentially explosive “analogy,” he says. “The significant bread lines of 1917 were an emotional reaction to a local problem which could have been solved in two or three days … But things exploded in ways no one expected,” as “emotional tension in society had reached such a point that these sparks were enough.”
Such a pattern, Belanovsky reminds, lay behind subsequent events in Novocherkassk in 1962, Aleksandrov in 1961, and several other cities. “They remained local because powerful forces were thrown against them.” It is entirely possible that such things could be repeated. Right now, there is calm; but that doesn’t mean it will last.
“Putin likes to say that Russia has exhausted its limit for revolutions,” the sociologist remarks. “Perhaps that is true.” But it is interesting that he keeps saying this, and that pattern may reflect his understanding of what is in the heads of many Russians. However, he isn’t taking the kind of steps that could head this off.
What is needed is the creation of institutions within which people can meet officials even if the entire thing is staged as were the Zubatov unions. Those could help resolve “the competition between rational and emotional processes.” If they don’t exist, then the emotional are likely to get the upper hand, something that force alone will not be able to block forever.