On Eve Of Major Rally, Russia’s Protest Movement Risks A Schism
As the New Year vacation closes and presidential election nears, Russia’s attention is turning to the planned anti-Putin demonstration on Feb. 4. But with protesters spanning the spectrum from extreme left to Neo-Nazis, some wonder if opposition unity is
MOSCOW – Across Russia's political spectrum, from the radical left to the extreme right, a coalition has formed called the Citizen's Movement. Aiming to establish a "people's government" and a "change in the political regime," the popular movement coalesced after contested Parliamentary elections in December, with an eye toward the March ballot where Vladimir Putin hopes to return to the presidency.
But beyond a shared desire to take on the current powers-that-be, there are growing signs that the previous spirit of unity may be splintering. Or to put it more bluntly: liberal reformists worry that they could wind up with Neo-Nazis for bedfellows.
The first wake-up call for many in the pro-democracy camp was the protest on Dec. 24, in which several hard-core nationalist groups participated. Several prominent nationalist leaders spoke at the demonstrations, with one telling the crowd that the current wave of protests would not have been possible if the nationalists hadn't demonstrated in December 2010 in response to a botched investigation of a soccer fan's death at the hands of a migrant from the North Caucasus. That earlier protest had a distinctly anti-immigrant atmosphere.
During the protests last month, the nationalist leaders also called for the abolition of the law against extremism, which has been used to imprison Neo-Nazi gang leaders. And then there was nationalist blogger Aleksei Navalny's strange threat to the Kremlin that: "we could take over, but we won't." Didn't people protest on the street precisely to take over the Kremlin?
But at the time, people were willing to overlook these details. The most important thing turned out to be the feeling of unity that arose among thousands of disenchanted people. But later, once the magic of the moment dissipated, social networks lit up with discussion of how unacceptable joint actions with the nationalists are.
At the beginning of January, the Facebook group, "Russia without Hitler" (a play on the protestors' slogan ‘Russia without Putin), started a discussion regarding the ‘anti-fascist" opposition groups and their role in the upcoming demonstration. One of the group's organizers, Konstantin Borovoi, declared: "For me, it is unacceptable to take part in a protest side-by-side with nationalists." But a consensus on what path to take, even among people who agree politically, was elusive.
Picking your slogans
The well-known blogger Aleksei Devotchenko, for example, has suggested that the liberal reformists create their own group within the larger opposition forces, and march under their own, democratic and anti-fascist, slogans.
Leaders on the political left have come up with a similar initiative: their Facebook group page touts a separate "leftist section" that will march with slogans that are more focused on social and welfare issues.
At the same time, the leaders of the Solidarity movement Ivan Tyutrin and Mikhail Schneider (who both insisted that they were not speaking on behalf of the whole organization), said that they did not support the idea of different sections in the march, precisely because it would lead to reports of schisms in the opposition. Both leaders of Solidarity said that they spoke up in support of protesting with the nationalists because the nationalists had just as much right to take part in the protests as anyone else. In their opinion, as long as the nationalists are helping with the mass protests, they are working toward the common goal. There will be time to rein them in later.
But what if the nationalists show up on February 4th with fascist slogans and banners? "We are doing everything we can to make sure that does not happen," Schneider said.
One possibility that several of the protest leaders have considered is to participate in the joint actions with the nationalists, but to prevent them from speaking at the event.
On January 17, a planning meeting for the February 4 protest was unable to settle on a speakers list. However, the three representatives of nationalist groups present at the meeting signed the organizers' platform, which included language specifying "equal rights for all citizens of our country, regardless of race, nationality, sex or religion."
Afterward, many liberals said that they could not ignore this positive step from the nationalists, and that as long as the nationalists signed the platform statement, they would have a much harder time disassociating them from the movement.
"Working with the nationalists is not very pleasant, of course," one liberal protester said. "But right now we have the same goal - changing the political system in this country. Once we reach that goal, our paths will diverge."
Minority and majority
Some are convinced that the nationalist groups do not have the public support to change the course of the democratic development in Russia. On the other hand, though, a survey done about one year ago, just after the nationalist protests in December 2010, showed that 58 percent of Russians agreed with the phrase "Russia for Russians. Perhaps the opposition is confusing wishful thinking with reality.
The head of the human rights organization Memorial, Oleg Orlov, said that he is not worried that nationalists could one day win at the polls, but rather that their participation in the opposition protests has legitimized them. "They are sitting at the same table as opposition leaders and leading the discussion," he said. But regardless, Orlov plans to go to the protest on February 4. "They are in the minority. They do not have an influence on the situation. And it is very important to support this protest, which represents all of society."
But journalist and blogger Andrei Loshak worries that the nationalists "have a plan."
"They want to take over the crowd of ‘liberal suckers', as they call us, so that they can ride the energy of the protest movement into power," Loshak says. "But if they do get into power, then our current regime is going to seem like a paradise, because at least the current regime doesn't hate anyone. The nationalists live off of hating people who are different. And that is endlessly dangerous."
Read the original article in Russian
Photo - max trudo