Hong Kong Protests Call into Question Russian Assumptions about Authoritarian Modernization, Melnikov Says

October 6, 2014
Protesters in Hong Kong September 2014

Staunton, October 3 – Members of the Russian elite are transfixed by the protest movement in Hong Kong because it undermines their widespread belief that “economic growth is possible under conditions of political authoritarianism” and that consequently, Russia does not “need any political changes,” according to Aleksey Melnikov.

Such attitudes, the Russian commentator says, are “closely connected with nostalgia for the USSR and provide the foundation for the view in Moscow that the Chinese government has acted correctly from the time that it crushed the Tiananmen demonstrators in 1989 and that Russia should follow the same policy.

At the same time, he says, at least some in Moscow are watching what is happening in Hong Kong now “with secret satisfaction” because it is evidence that “not only the Russian bosses have problems with the people but the Chinese do as well.” But any satisfaction they have is undermined by something much more fundamental.

These events show, Melnikov says, that “authoritarian stability” is threatened not only by the diversity of the Chinese population, a diversity that recalls the fact that Russia is not as monolithic as Moscow would like to believe, but also by the striving of people everywhere, under the impact of globalization, for democracy and freedom.

Consequently, even if it might seem strange “at first glance,” Melnikov concludes, “the events in Hong Kong, the peaceful striving of people for democracy, in our global world have no less importance for Russia than they do for China” – and that is a fear that for all their bombast, the Kremlin and its allies cannot shake.