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

Conflicts Engulf Christians in Mideast

Research finds an increase in faith-based hostilities, and Christians are facing persecution in a growing number of countries in the region More

Chinese Americans: Don’t Call Us 'Model Minority'

Label points to collective achievement, but some say it triggers resentment, unrealistic expectations More

Iran Bolsters Phone, Internet Surveillance

Does increased monitoring suggest the government is nervous? 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.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Polish Ghetto

When the Nazi army moved into the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid