The Right to Protest – Russian Awakening?

English: Moscow, the Kremlin. The Senate.

Moscow Kremlin - Senate

So for the past few days we’ve been witnessing the largest demonstrations in Russia since the 90s, after accusations of electoral fraud being held in some states. What does this mean, and why is it happening? I’m also hoping to highlight some areas which us in the West may not understand and could find foreign which are relevant to the current rallies. Let’s start with the substantiated criticisms from both sides on democracy.

Amnesty International’s Friederike Behr was quoted in March, saying that “There is no real opposition ahead of the election. There is no real electoral campaign battle.” This is true, Russia does not have a strong enough opposition to the incumbent party. In a flourishing democracy, there must be ‘contestation for consensus’. In Russia minority interests are overlooked in favour of what Mill would call “a tyranny of the majority.” A stronger opposition would also work to hold the government to account and establish greater legitimacy. In recent years, the administration has become more complacent which is harmful to their ambition. In short, their initial popularity will become their undoing.

  • Putin’s issue is that foreigners are giving donations to Russian political parties, which he believes damages the political process although the prevalence of this is unknown.
  • Mikhail Gorbachev called for re-runs of the elections – the Telegraph attributed this to the suspiciously high pro-incumbent ratings in both Chechnya and a Moscow psychiatric hospital.
  • Lastly, http://time2know.co.uk/ is a good source from the influential Russian opposition blogger Alexei Navalny. Lots of links from Russian newspapers and TV channels are shown which give opinions on the elections. Note: the site is actually in English, presumably because everyone speaks that anyway.

What do these protests mean? It might be too early to tell, but from recent examples could go down several routes.

  1. The election will be re-run. Independent foreign polls show that the leading party would maintain dominance, but could probably lose ground to the Communist party. However, this would establish greater legitimacy for the current government.
  2. The allegations of fraudulent elections will create such a backlash that the Communist party becomes the leading party – Putin and Medvedev would then become the opposition. However, this seems unlikely as there would have to be a swing of over 30%. More likely in this scenario of a backlash is that Putin’s party would join a coalition with either the Liberal Democratic Party or A Just Russia Party –  either of which would increase the government’s vote by approximately 30%.
  3. The government will instigate an independent commission on the vote. Those found guilty will receive punitive sentences. This last one is probably the most likely. Putin has expressed support for this approach over the last few days, and it would make him appear tough and pro-democratic.

Will the movement turn into a mass rally, or even a ‘Civil War’ as Fox News has reportedly said. In my mind, this will be temporary. Whatever happens, will happen over the next few months and the protests won’t have enough time to develop into a movement for change like the Occupy Wall Street. There is a tactical lack of violence by the government. We’ve seen in the past year a worldwide Occupy Wall Street movement and the Arab Spring. In both instances, the situation was exacerbated by police or army brutality. As per usual, the government is forming a pragmatic approach – being conciliatory and compromising.

Further Reading