Saturday, July 13, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Regions Now ‘Center of Gravity’ of Russian Protests, Commentators and Politicians Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 13 – The events in Pugachev and elsewhere show that the “center of gravity” of Russian dissatisfaction with the Putin regime has shifted from Moscow to oblast centers and small cities and from political issues to economic ones, according to a growing number of Russian commentators and politicians.

            In a “Svobodnaya pressa” article yesterday, Andrey Polunin asked four of them – Mikhail Dmitriyev of the Center for Strategic Proposals, Valery Rashkin, a KPRF Duma deputy, Oleg Sheyn of the Labor Party, and Geydar Dzhemal of the Left Front -- for their assessment of the significance of Pugachev (

            Dmitriyev says that the Pugachev protests show that “the ‘center of gravity’ of dissatisfaction has shifted to the oblast centers and small cities” and that the motivations behind the protests are now primarily economic rather than political, although “ever more people are addressing their complaints not to the local authorities but to the president.”

            Rashkin for his part suggests that “the events in Pugachev are the logical result of the nationality policy being carried out by the government and the president,” a policy that has created a situation in which a million gastarbeiters come into the country every year while 1.4 million Russian citizens are leaving it.”

            “If this continues in the future,” the KPRF deputy adds, "ethnic Russians will form less than 50 percent of the population. This will already be another state, with different traditions. [And] that fact alone is forcing citizens to resist.”

            Moreover, Rashkin says, “external migration is being reinforced by internal flows.”  Together with the economic crisis and the degradation of education over the last20 years, “small peoples and nationalities are being thrown back 200 to 300 years into a clan system when the national elite gets rich and exploits the main mass of representatives of its ‘own’ nationality.”

            That “tendency” in turn strengthens and is strengthened by “the all-Russian oligarchic trend,” Rashkin says.

            Internal migration, he continues, means that “citizens of non-Russian nationality” move into areas that are “primarily ethnic Russian” and bring with them “feudal relationships and a different culture.”  These migrant groups are typically quite tightly organized and get help “from their national elites.”

            Moreover, they often “occupy elite trading points, markets and cafes,” making them an obvious target of popular anger among Russians when times are hard. And because they are often protected by local siloviki and the administration, that anger quickly turns from the ethnic groups to the authorities.

            As a result, what some people want to see as a clash between the indigenous Russian population and immigrants in fact is often between groups both of whose members are Russian citizens and then between the majority of the citizenry and the government itself, Rashkin says.  That is “an objective reality” and one now on view in Pugachev.

            Oleg Sheyn argues that Pugachev is not an ethnic clash but between “locals” of whatever nationality and outsiders, again of various nationalities – “Russians, Tatars, Bashkirs, and Azerbaijanis” --whose members are viewed by the locals as “incapable of living together” with the dominant community.

            Pugachev is just one link in a chain of spreading conflicts of this type, conflicts that are likely to multiply this fall when new taxes will be imposed, Sheyn says. And like the others, he suggests that these conflicts will occur in the first instance not in the capital but rather in the regions.

            “In Moscow, the authorities have hardly put down protests,” Sheyn says; but in the regions, “it is impossible to act by harsh political methods” given that the police there have the same problems that their fellow citizens have and thus are going to be far less willing to suppress people who feel the same way they do.

            The real question is to what extent such protests from below will be able to link up with some political movement.  If they do, the former Duma member says, that would create a potentially “revolutionary” situation; if they don’t, then they may peter out, however strong they may be in any particular case.

            Finally, Dzhemal points out that “the Chechens who have migrated into Russia’s rural areas are pro-federal Chechens who are closely bound up with the authorities. More than that, today, they are one of the symbols of the current powers that be.” And that aspect of the Pugachev demonstrations needs to be taken into account.

            If the current crisis deepens, he continues, then “one will encounter cities like Pugachev at every step. Initially, this will be only a problem for the local authorities. But with the appearance of an opposition party, the situation will fundamentally change and possibly pass out from under the Kremlin’s control.

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