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

    Syrian Torture Victim Recounts Horrors

    'You make them think you have surrendered' says Jalal Nofal, a doctor who was jailed and survived repeated interrogations in Syria

    Mandela’s Millions Paid to Heirs, But Who Gets His Country Home?

    Saga around $3 million estate of country's first democratic president is far from over as Winnie Mandela’s fight for home overshadows payouts

    Guess Which Beach is 'Best in the US'?

    Hawaii’s Hanauma Bay tops an annual "top 10" list compiled by a coastal scientist, also known as Doctor Beach

    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.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora