Risk, Repression, and Response in Russia

Tens of thousands of Russians took to the streets in Moscow, calling for the ouster of President Vladimir Putin, and demanding new elections.

This is just days after President Putin raised the costs of protesting by announcing fines of up to $9,000 (more than the average annual income) for participation in a street demonstration.

The Russian people defied Putin’s expectations (and mine!) that increased costs and risks would deter most people from taking to the streets.  Risking both brutal police repression and financial hardship, large numbers of Muscovites nonetheless saw their grievances as so severe and their situation so desperate that protest made a kind of sense.  And when there is so much risk, the message is even stronger and more powerful.

When only a few people turn out, it’s harder to convince others to join, but when thousands take to the streets, arrests and repression seem more difficult, perhaps less likely, and the prospects for change seem a little better.  Success at mobilization builds upon success.  When more people turn out, it’s easier to get more people to turn out.

And we’re not near the end of this story.

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About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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5 Responses to Risk, Repression, and Response in Russia

  1. When the Russian Bear Awakes, He Will Find He is Still in His Den Dreaming

    My grandmother was a proud Russian. She taught me much of my ancestry and the history of those who have stolen countless futures away from the people of Russia.

    First it was the hereditary family of the Rulers and then it was the Communists. Now Czar Putin feels he has inherited the cherished Russian Faberge egg for his own mantel.

    And so Czar Putin sits in his bunker, throwing out accolades with one hand and threats of nuclear annihilation with the other. Just today in “The Globe and Mail” he said he would have no problem of placing Europe under the treat of nuclear Armageddon, if America goes ahead with its missile defense shield of Eastern Europe.

    Yet another telling glimpse of the man who hides behind his oil of Olay mask.

    I will relate to you a great piece of story telling that my grandmother told to me once. She said that the greatest threat to Russia will be China. And make no mistake, that day will come when the Chinese feel the resources that sit in that great land of Mother Russia, belong to them.

    And here is my addendum to my Grandmother’s thought, “I am pretty sure your useless threats against Europe will mean nothing and will be lost to memory, as you try to find a way to stop that army of 10 million men loyal to China from ringing Moscow with artillery.”

    But then maybe that won’t happen. Maybe Russia will become a democracy. Maybe it will even become a Primary Democratic state. Maybe those who lead today will see that Russian prosperity exists in a future of global cooperation, and not in a rekindled past filled with old paranoid policies of isolation and control.

    Of course this all depends on the Russian Bear deciding to leave his den and forgo this dream like state, for a reality that can only be seen with one’s eyes wide open.

    Copyright 2007 J.R.Werbics

    This letter was emailed to the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin June 3, 2007.

    In the following weeks after this letter was sent, if you should Google my name, you would see my name associated with numerous Russian pornography sites.

    So yes protest, but be warned there can be consequences.

    J.R. Werbics is a Canadian writer and philosopher

  2. Ben Lind says:

    Make no mistake, the cost of protesting in Russia has escalated, but it’s important to consider the role of state authorization in planning demonstrations. The recent Russian law passed applies only to protests which have not been approved by the Russian state. (Bear in mind that many cities in the US and elsewhere also require some paperwork and municipal [or state] approval in order to hold a large demonstration.) Some have also argued that the timing of the law’s passage was a preemptive deterrent against the 12 June protest.

    However, the demonstration in Moscow on 12 June was indeed state-approved and it followed a series of negotiations. One concession in this negotiation process was the route–the opposition initially sought to end the march at the Kremlin, but this destination wasn’t permitted. The march was instead routed to a destination about 3 kilometers away from the Kremlin.

    Beyond the authorizing a demonstration permit allowing up to 50,000 attendants, the Russian state did indeed anticipate such a turn out and sought to quash it. The day before a number prominent opposition leaders were detained for questioning at gunpoint by masked agents from the Investigative Committee. The questioning ceased as soon as the demonstration concluded. See:

    http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2012/06/search-and-destroy-navalny-sobchak.html

    The issue of what is and is not a demonstration (political or otherwise) entails some degree of subjectivity on behalf of the state and law enforcement agencies, though. For instance, in February, some Siberian residents created a display in which toys held signs with political messages. It was debated whether such a display constituted a protest, even in the absence of living persons.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/feb/15/toys-protest-not-citizens-russia

    • Ben Lind says:

      Point of correction: The tremendous hike in fees applies only to unsanctioned forms of protest. Other aspects of the recent legislation, which I believe include bans on masks, likely apply to sanctioned protests as well.

      I suspect the consequences of the law will lead to fewer and bigger protests spearheaded by more professionalized movement actors, including leaders from most Russian political parties, exempting United Russia (the majority party).

      • Thanks very much for these additions and corrections, Ben. I appreciate the word from someone who’s actually there. Your idea that the new policy package will lead to more and bigger protests is really interesting. Let’s see if it happens!

  3. Ben Lind says:

    You’re welcome, the movement’s been quite fascinating. The subject has frequently come in class and I’ve been following it as closely as I can in the English press. Regarding this specific protest, I’m actually in the process of scraping Twitter tweets created within one kilometer from the event during its course.

    I believe I’ve read that this demonstration will be the last of its kind from the opposition until either September or October due to summer holiday.

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