Staunton, April 19 – Vladimir Putin’s efforts to exclude the people of the Russian Federation from voting on the heads of federal subjects may be backfiring because it is leading some citizens there to take to the streets to demand that their current regional rulers be ousted and gaining confidence in their power, a development that can hardly please the Kremlin.
Two such protests-as-substitutes-for-elections have just occurred, one in the Republic of Karelia and a second in Perm Territory. In Petrozavodsk, 150 Karelians took part in a follow-up meeting to demand the retirement or ouster of incumbent Karelian Republic head Aleksandr Khudilaynen.
Two weeks ago, Karelians assembled in front of the republic government headquarters to demand the release of two Yabloko activists and the departure of Khudilaynen. “The demands of the picketers have not changed,” a blogger said, but “what has changes is the attitude of the people: Unlike at the meeting two weeks ago, there were many more smiles and jokes.”
The reason is that Khudilaynen’s regime met one of their demands: Olga Zaletskaya and Aleksandr Kornilov have been released; and the demonstrators are “certain” that their activism and nothing else led to that outcome. But Khudilaynen is still in office and there are no elections. As a result, organizers say, “mass actions in the Karelian capital will continue.”
Sergey Popkov, an ecologist and civic activist, says that “all of us together will mark the May holidays and the Day of victory, and then we will continue our protest campaign. We still don’t know how the new republic law on meetings will work … but “the more the authorities attempt to prevent protests … the greater will be the resonance.”
He adds that from now on, “the activity of the protesters will be coordinated by a public committee ‘For the Retirement of the Current Governor’ that was set up a few days ago.” Its membership include “about ten people, including public figures and deputies, journalists and entrepreneurs.”
“Our goal is the conduct of free, independent and honest elections for the leader of the region. For us what is important is the holding of elections and not the specific candidates who will take part in them. It is important that residents of the republic take responsibility for the life in the region.” At the same time, he says, there are many possible challengers.
Meanwhile, a meeting of an estimated 220 to 400 people in Perm took place to complain about rising prices, unfilled promises from the government, and problems with industry there and to demand that the territory’s governor, Viktor Basargin, leave office.
Sergey Ukhov, one of the organizers of the meeting, says he and others taking part had complained to the police about a group of unidentified people who sought to disrupt the action by handing out placards containing “negative information about certain of the organizers of the action.”