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Where the Russian Opposition is Going Wrong

Today’s presidential election in Russia is doomed to raise another confrontation between the government and political opposition. The Ru-net (slang for the ‘Russian’ language segment of the Internet) has been bursting with invitations for street-protests and demonstrations against the re-election of Vladimir Putin.

The very emergence of mass political activism after the parliamentary elections in December, 2011 was a surprise for experts in Russia and abroad, and also Russian politicians, leaders of the opposition and wider population. After years of sporadic and typically insignificant protests, thousands of people went to the streets and the protests on December 10th 2011 became ‘the largest political event since the fall of the USSR’.

But, this was only the beginning. On Christmas eve in 2011, over 100,000 protestors joined peaceful protests against an election fraud in Moscow and St Petersburg. This protest was followed up by another mass demonstration on 4th of February, and despite temperatures that plunged to -25C.

This weekend, the sun is shining and the weather is significantly warmer, but the opposition is ready to stand against another six years of Putin’s presidency.

These protests demonstrate the existence of strong dissatisfaction and almost disgust with the Putin-Medvedev leadership. Both figures, but Putin significantly more than Medvedev, have been mocked, ridiculed and laughed at throughout the Ru-net. YouTube’s mocking videos travel with a speed of a click which posts and re-posts them again and again throughout various social media from the most popular Russian imitations of facebook (i.e. Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki.ru) to Twitter. According to analysts like Markku Lonkila, the growing popularity of the Internet and social media is a fundamental factor in the new political activism.

Social media serves not only as the main instrument of mobilisation, but belonging to a social network community reflects another important characteristic of the emerging protest community. Public opinion surveys reveal a social and economic homogeneity of this group. ‘Those who gathered on February 4th in Moscow were generally men (71%), younger than 45 years old (71%), with high level of education (56%), with average (56%) or higher than average levels of financial income (27%)’.

Some experts believe that this social composition and the involvement of the well-off intelligentsia demonstrates an awakening of the Russian people. Oppositional leaders such as popular blogger Aleksei Navalny, an ex-journalist of NTV-Independent Television, Leonid Parfenov and odious TV presenter Kseniia Sobchak write and sing in their posts, speeches and videos that often mock United Russia as a  ‘party of swindlers and thieves’.

These figures often claim to speak for ‘the people’. However, the social composition of the protest community and its heavy concentration in the two largest and most wealthy cities of the country undermines this claim. Most ordinary Russians do not live in these places and do not enjoy the same levels of access to the ‘fruits of civilisation’, including education, relatively high income and booming consumer culture.

While large numbers of ordinary Russians may well be dissatisfied with the authorities, this is mostly because of raising prices on essential products, inflation and unemployment. Yet these more basic needs of the Russian provinces do not concern the new opposition, which does not make any attempt to win the hearts and minds of the less privileged. I believe that the arrogance and haughtiness of the new opposition significantly limits its potential to overthrow the political regime and prevent the re-election of Putin.

 

Nataliya Danilova

School of Politics and International Relations

Published inEuropean Politics

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