Sunday, January 21, 2024

Bashkir Protests Shift from Environmental Issues to Ever More Radical Political Ones

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Jan. 17 – In an echo of the way protests developed in the Baltic countries 40 years ago, people Bashkortostan who earlier took to the streets to fight for environmental issues are now doing so to demonstrate against political repression and even to seek independence for their Middle Volga republic.

            As many as 10,000 people took to the streets in Baymak to protest the four-year prison sentence handed down against environmental activist Fail Alsynov. The police attacked the crowd with tear gas and rubber bullets and detained dozens of the protesters. But instead of dispersing, the Bashkirs continued their demonstration.

            Indeed, reports suggest, the protesters became even more political and radical, with some denouncing the police and the republic government as fascist and calling for the independence of Bashkortostan. (For a useful chronology of what has happened, see mozhemobyasnit/16913 reposted at

            As usual, Moscow outlets, both government-controlled and independent, devoted relatively little coverage to these events, both because of the difficulties involved in covering anything far from Moscow and because of official fears that Bashkortostan now, like the Balts almost half a century ago, may be the start of something far more serious.

Ruslan Gabbasov, the exiled leader of the Bashkir National Movement, called on the protesters to expand their actions to the entire republic. Ruslan Valiyev, former Ekho Moskvy v Ufe editor, said that was already happening and that the shortcomings of the actions of the authorities made it ever more likely

But perhaps the most thoughtful initial comment came from Abbas Gallyamov, a former Putin speechwriter who earlier worked in Bashkortostan. He suggests that there may be a few more demonstrations in the coming days but that the authorities will crush them. That will create conditions that many will assume represent the restoration of stability and peace.

In fact, however, Gallyamov continues, these protests which began as environmental ones and then focused on the leadership of the republic are rapidly “acquiring an ever more anti-Moscow and anti-Putin character. As such, they have the potential to become ethno-national and separatist, just like those that destroyed the USSR.”

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