News / Europe

Scheduled Russian Protests Become Political Theater

James Brooke

For every protester in Moscow, there was one journalist and at least two riot policemen. But that did not stop police last weekend from arresting about 60 protesters in front of clicking camera shutters.

Like clockwork, opposition groups demanding freedom of assembly held demonstrations in about 10 cities across Russia on July 31. During the past year, on the last day of each month with 31 days, protesters have rallied, drawing attention to Article 31 of the Russian constitution, which proclaims the right to public assembly.

To artificially repress turnouts, city officials in Moscow and St. Petersburg routinely deny rally permits, then allow competing events on the squares chosen by demonstrators.

Last Saturday, the city held a noisy stock car and motorcycle rally at the planned demonstration site.

In addition to the din, the city surrounded the area with hundreds of riot police, sending a clear message to passersby of the price for attending an unsanctioned rally. Then, journalists were treated to the spectacle of riot police herding and dragging dozens of protesters into police buses - only 1.5 kilometers from the Kremlin.

Former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov believes the government is more afraid of a wildfire among the Russian people than the forest fires currently ravaging this drought-stricken nation.

Still angry about his arrest at Saturday's protest, he told VOA on Monday: "The government is scared of everything. They are scared of the opposition," he said. "Instead of putting out fires, they send riot police to the square."

Twenty years ago, Russia's leaders, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dimitri Medvedev, were young adults when street protests grew out of control and their world fell apart. In the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, communist governments seemingly carved in granite fractured overnight.

More recently, about five years ago, street demonstrations swirled into so-called color demonstrations, toppling pro-Kremlin governments in three former Soviet Republics - Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan.

A domestic politics analyst for the Carnegie Center in Moscow, Nikolai Petrov, believes the Kremlin worries a small hole in the authoritarian dike could lead to disaster.

In the background, Russia's economy went into reverse last year, shrinking by eight percent. At current recovery rates, in 2012 Russia is to re-attain its economic levels of 2008.

"There is growing potential for social unrest and as the crisis is continuing, it is more complicated for authorities to keep the image of them taking care of everything," said Petrov.

Looking at the election calendar, Russia's rulers know they must soon go to voters to win extensions of their hold on power. Parliamentary elections are to be held in December 2011, and presidential elections in March 2012. Opposition figures, largely politically marginalized, complain that Russia's electoral playing board is heavily tilted in favor of the ruling United Russia party.

Last week, President Medvedev signed a vaguely worded bill allowing preventive detention for people that police believe are going to commit crimes. Other bills under consideration by Russia's legislature, the Duma, would give the government greater powers over the Internet and would ban people with previous convictions - even minor ones such as traffic violations - from organizing political protests.

A recent poll by the Levada Center, an independent group, indicated that only one quarter of Russians have even heard of the Article 31 rallies.

Russian Academy of Sciences researcher Olga Krishtanovskaya studies Russia's political elites. She cited two reasons for tiny turnouts for opposition rallies.

First, Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev are "pretty popular."

Second, she says there is the fear factor - 'fear of the consequences, of being beaten."

With this carrot and stick strategy working fairly well, political analysts predict that August 31 will be a re-run of July 31. Journalists and riot policemen will outnumber protesters. Riot policemen will swoop in and break up the protest, trampling signs calling for freedom of assembly.

You May Like

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

Analysts say move by President Xi is an effort to win more party support, take step toward economic reforms, removing those who would stand in way of change More

South Africa Land Reforms Still Contentious 20 Years Later

Activists argue that the pace of land reform is slow and biased; legal experts question how some proposed reforms would be implemented More

In Vietnam, Religious Freedoms Violated, UN Finds

Beliefs reportedly prompt heavy surveillance, intimidation and travel restrictions More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid