NEWS ANALYSIS: Russian opposition is looking for a new direction
Demonstrations may quieten down, but the opposition movement will not disappear
By Jussi Niemeläinen in Moscow
The political opposition in Russia is continuing its protestations against the result of the recent presidential election. Today, Saturday, a large demonstration is about to take place in downtown Moscow.
All the same, many of the organisers, too, believe that the number of participants will remain lower than in the previous demonstrations that began after the parliamentary election in December.
"The opposition movement has reached its next phase. The first, romantic and euphoric phase has come to a close”, says novelist and opposition activist Grigory Shalvovich Chkhartishvili, who uses the pen name Boris Akunin.
White armbands are no longer enough, he points out.
This became evident already on Monday of last week, when the first demonstration took place against the result of the previous day’s election.
Around 20,000 showed up in Moscow, and the atmosphere was more serious than before.
Officially, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin received 64 per cent of the votes. According to the Central Election Commission, only in Moscow did his share of votes remain below the 50% mark.
The election was not fair and not even honest in many locations. Nevertheless, even many of Putin’s opponents admitted that even without any dishonesty and dirty tricks, Putin would still have won on the first round of the election.
The Monday demonstrators knew that Putin does not have to care overly much about their demands.
The activities of the opposition have to be changed purposefully, and the new phase is not going to be an easy one.
The original idea of the demonstrations that began in December was to call for free elections, but they soon turned into anti-Putin gatherings.
Perhaps joining in the choir demanding Putin’s resignation does not interest people any more. This may lead to lowered attendance figures.
Finding a new policy line is difficult, because the opposition movement is very disjointed and fragmented. The hard-line opposition wants to get tough, while others prefer a more moderate action plan.
But even if the opposition movement becomes less boisterous, it will not disappear.
“The politicised middle class is constantly growing” , says researcher Pavel Salin from the Centre for Current Politics.
The well-heeled consumers were initially satisfied when they could choose their supermarkets.
That was a big change. After that they were able to make choices, for example, between electricity utilities and telephone companies.
Now the desire to have a say has reached the national level, Salin explains. The middle class wants to choose its decision-makers.
“And within three years this group will constitute half of the population.“
The demand for political representation is this winter’s novelty, and in the future this demand may increase in importance. So far, demonstrators have only concentrated on local and concrete issues.
Furthermore, a new network has been formed between the organisers of demonstrations in various cities.
As a reaction, those in power have started to talk about making it easier to register with a party and thereby run for an office.
This is a necessary step, for the present spectrum of political parties is in desperate need of revamping. The system is hopelessly outdated.
There are no right-wing parties or parties that would represent the burgeoning middle class. The chairmen of the Communists and the Liberal Democrats have held their positions for a long time.
Furthermore, rumours regarding the modernisation of the country’s largest political party, the centre-right United Russia, have increased.
But it seems that if there is going to be a change, it will be a “controlled” one.
Even in the future, those in power will not allow the registration of parties that might pose a “threat” to them.
On the surface it will look good if opposition people - such as Boris Nemtsov (Deputy Prime Minister of Russia from 1997 to 1998) - can get their parties registered. After all, this type of veterans’ popularity is relatively small and harmelss in scale.
Such registrations would also disintegrate to some extent the opposition ranks.
Some feel that the registering is ultimately a sign of submission to the system dictated from above by the Kremlin.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 10.3.2012
Previously in HS International Edition:
EU Foreign Minister hopes for investigation into claims of election fraud in Russia (7.3.2012)
NEWS ANALYSIS: Niinistö and Putin need to find common ground (6.3.2012)
"Boris Akunin" (Wikipedia)
Boris Nemtsov (Wikipedia)
JUSSI NIEMELÄINEN / Helsingin Sanomat