Saturday, April 22, 2023

Will Regional Protests about Utility Bills Be Like 1917 Petrograd Bread Riots that Led to Revolution?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 19 – “As a rule,” Guzel Yusupova, a Russian sociologist and specialist on Russian regions at Carleton University, says, “all big revolutions … begin with small issues and events.” That was certainly true in 1917 when bread riots rapidly spread and led to first to the overthrow of the tsarist regime and then the victory of the Bolsheviks.

            The big question is whether the small and nominally non-political protests the Russian authorities are permitting could have the same trajectory given that the experience of taking part in protests over one issue can become the basis for subsequently taking part in larger protests with greater consequences.

            At present, Moscow Times journalist Leyla Latypova says, “the Russian authorities apparently feel secure enough to allow modest expressions of opposition and street protests still regularly take place across the country” (

            Such public actions are generally allowed to take place “as long as there is no criticism of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or the Kremlin,” the journalist says. But she adds that “some experts believe that their mere existence helps erode fear and nurture Russia’s battered civil society” and may have long term consequences.

“The more there is discontent and the more frequently people come out to demonstrate over small issues, the more experience they gain in how to protest and build horizontal networks,” Yusupova says, adding that people who come out “see that they are not alone and that there are many who are also dissatisfied.

And Yusupova makes an additional point. For the time being, she argues, “loyalty to the Kremlin is now expressed in how well the region supports the war … and not in how well it suppresses protests.” That of course could change if the protests grow or begin to involve more politically sensitive issues, a possibility some in the Kremlin must be alive to.

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