A Defining Factor of Protest in Russia — Average Age There Twice That in Arab Spring Countries

December 23, 2015

Staunton, December 22 – “For mass repressions [in Russia], there are neither mechanisms, not resources, nor desire,” Yekaterina Schulmann says; but there may not need to be, according to Aleksandr Baunov, because “the average age of the population is about 40,” while “in all the countries of the ‘Arab Spring’ it is about 20.”

“In youth, people revolt,” the Moscow Carnegie Center editor says, “but 40-year-olds sit quietly, grumble and drink beer,” to which the Russian political scientist and commentator replies that demography will define the forms protest take and make it more likely that in the year ahead, they will stay within the law rather than violate it.

Schulman says that protests will not involve force but be legalistic in much the same way they were at the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012. They will be “a protest against violations of the law, rather than involve violations of the law, and will demand that the Kremlin and the government observe the Russian constitution.

Those are just some of the intriguing observations and exchanges that took place during a discussion organized by Gazeta among these two writers and political scientist Georgy Bovt and regional specialist Natalya Zubarevich.

Schulmann argues that despite all the events of 2015, the past year “was from the point of view of trends a year in which nothing special happened.” It was defined by the increasing depth of the crisis in the economy and by the adaptation of the population to that crisis. 2016 in contrast may be a year in which the political consequences of that are likely to appear.

Research suggests, she continues, that “the time lag between the worsening of the economic situation and political consequences is from nine to twelve months. Naturally, this time is conditional,” but it is certainly suggestive and points to a more restive year ahead for Russia.

The Moscow analyst says that there are likely to be more targeted protests like that of the long haul truckers and that they will not link up. That will give the authorities the chance to isolate them, to repress them or to buy them off, but the Kremlin’s chief strategy is likely to be to try to drive the problem down the political latter to the ministries or regions.

That will lead to a more varied, mosaic-like response, with some governors acting harshly and others making concessions, Schulmann says.

At the same time, tensions within the elites will grow as they fight over access to an increasingly small pie. Such struggles will take place in the form of the battle against corruption, the main form of intra-elite competition and indeed politics in Russia today. “Instead of open political competition,” she points out, Russia has “inter-agency and intra-agency competition.”

“There are no reasons to suppose that this will somehow suddenly change in 2016.”

Zubarevich says that pushing things down to the regions will not necessarily lead some regions to copy or cooperate with others. Russia has no horizontal ties. Indeed, she says, “the only place from which the all-national is translated is Moscow.” What happens elsewhere in short stays where it is.

The regional specialist adds that Moscow has the resources necessary to buy off most if not all protests and may do so. Only if they came altogether would that possibility be foreclosed, especially if as seems like the authorities are prepared to use repressive measures as well, something that will discourage protest.

And Zubarevich concludes that “an individual who swears in the kitchen that they have again taken away his overtime is dissatisfied, but he will not go out to protest” for that reason alone.

Schulmann says that she expects that despite the arrests of protesters, there will be a growth in the number of popular actions which today appear “imitative and formal.” That is because she argues “people over 40 do not want to be revolutionaries but at the same time they want a more sensible state policy that takes their interests into account.”

Among the types of activities she sees growing are involvement in election monitoring and public hearings, examples of how Russians “will attempt to use those few legal instruments which they have.” But that should not be discounted because even those who participate in what may appear to be a Potemkin village see their expectations and hence demands rise.