Who shall wake the "sleeping" electorate?


“Contrary to apocalyptic predictions, the Russian March was a non-event,” says Novye Izvestia columnist Valery Vyzhutovich. “The official ban on marches using extremist slogans, stern warnings from the authorities, and extensive preventive measures taken by the police did their job: they prevented a demonstration of the kind of ‘unity’ that’s one step away from pogroms.”

Novye Izvestia quotes Lev Ponomarev, leader of the For Human Rights movement, who maintains that the authorities have rehabilitated themselves in the eyes of the public: “They have prevented a neo-Nazi march.” But Ponomarev also notes that “all this was done rather crudely.”

The Kommersant newspaper reports that in Moscow on November 4, “the authorities took unprecedented security measures: a helicopter on patrol over the city and almost 10,000 police officers on the ground.” According to various sources, between 500 and 1,150 people were arrested (on the pretext of “crossing the street in an unauthorized place”). According to the Gazeta newspaper’s sources, cell-phones were jammed.

It’s interesting to note that before People’s Unity Day, in an interview with Izvestia, political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky advised the security and law enforcement agencies to prevent the Russian March by recalling their agents from nationalist organizations: “Half these people are agents of one law enforcement agency or another. That’s normal. The law enforcement agencies – the Interior Ministry, the Federal Security Service (FSB) – have to establish agent networks in order to counter crime. But if their agents start marching in the streets, we should probably oppose that. And in the relevant agencies, somebody ought to phone their agents and simply call them off.”

Nevertheless, the People’s Will party and (as People’s Will leader Sergei Baburin said) “a number of brother-movements” did hold a rally at the Leo Tolstoy statue in Moscow. Apparently, Baburin’s term “brother-movements” referred to the Slavic Union and the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI). DPNI leader Alexander Belov stood next to Baburin on the platform, but Baburin didn’t let him speak. According to the sources of the Kavkazskii Uzel website, Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the presidential administration, had given Baburin a stern warning about the DPNI: if Belov was allowed to speak at the rally, “the People’s Will party would cease to exist.”

We can only guess at the People’s Will party’s future now. As Novye Izvestia reports, Belov did manage to speak anyway – after the rally officially ended. He jumped up onto a truck and “shared his opinion of the People’s Will party’s actions, demonstrating his command of profanities.” Belov also “announced the establishment of a movement called Russian March and promised to assemble a million people for this event next year.”

The event ended, as promised, with the Russian March: from Devichie Field to the nearest metro station, through a cordon of police officers and OMON riot police.

According to the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper, “in Moscow and the regions alike, People’s Unity Day passed without any serious disturbances.” The only exception was St. Petersburg, where 200 activists from the DPNI, Slavic Union, and other radical organizations marched along Nevsky Prospect. This march ended in a brawl with anti-fascists. Nezavisimaya Gazeta says: “Eventually, police had to break up the fighting with the help of tear-gas and batons.”

Nationalists outnumbered anti-fascists in Moscow. An alternative rally on Bolotnaya Square drew only a thousand people. Civil Assistance Committee chairwoman Svetlana Gannushkina told Vremya Novostei: “The basic idea behind this rally was responsibility: we should not only condemn neo-fascism and neo-Nazism, but also take responsibility for our young neo-fascists.” With regret, Gannushkina noted that “the negative part of Russian citizens is more active than the positive part.”

Union of Right Forces leader Nikita Belykh, who spoke at the alternative rally, told Novye Izvestia that practically all parties which had signed the Anti-Fascist Pact last February were invited to attend. However, according to Belykh, no one turned up from United Russia, Agrarian Russia, or Just Russia. Belykh added: “I see this as somewhat revealing. They appear to believe that if an event is not organized by United Russia, it’s inappropriate for them to participate in it.”

As Gazeta reports, the alternative rally accused the authorities of facilitating the growth of nationalism and neo-fascism. Red Youth Vanguard leader Sergei Udaltsov said that the authorities “are flirting with these issues for their own mercenary purposes, forgetting that the fascist genie won’t go back into the bottle once it escapes.”

Moscow municipal legislature member Sergei Mitrokhin (Yabloko party) pointed out that instead of totally banning marches and rallies, which only “creates confusion and tension,” the authorities should simply impose penalties for neo-Nazi statements. Mitrokhin told Gazeta: “If the authorities ban something, they should take measures against unlawful actions. The neo-Nazi leaders who organized a similar march last year weren’t punished. These groups see the weakness of the authorities as a sign that they can act more blatantly and aggressively.”

As Vremya Novostei reports, despite the fairly peaceful situation on November 4, by no means all observers are inclined to say that the Russian March was a failure for the nationalists. Emil Paine, head of the Xenophobia and Extremism Research and Prevention Center (Sociology Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences), says that the term “failure” applies to “the costly television ads, using well-known actors, which were supposed to portray People’s Unity Day as a picture of political stability in Russia.” According to Paine, “despite the bans imposed by the authorities, hundreds of people in the regions attended unsanctioned or semi-sanctioned rallies using nationalist slogans,” and this indicates that “a united nationwide network of Russian nationalism has been established.”

Alexander Verkhovsky, director of the Sova Information and Analysis Center, told Vremya Novostei: “The DPNI showed its sympathizers and the general public that it is capable of holding its rallies, even under pressure.” Verkhovsky describes DPNI leader Belov as a a successful leader, “apparently trying to become a center for xenophobic sentiments” and “skillfully expressing the hopes of those 52% of citizens who support the ‘Russia for Russians’ idea” (according to the VTsIOM polling agency).

It turns out that xenophobia indicators are particularly high among adolescents. According to Novye Izvestia, at least 20% of Moscow school students between the 5th and 11th grades (aged 12-18) describe themselves as nationalist sympathizers or outright skinheads. According to a study of tolerance among Russian school students, done by the Education System Development Institute, 73% of students dislike migrants in their cities.

“According to Moscow Human Rights Bureau (MHRB) monitoring, radical nationalist activity is on the rise,” says Vedomosti, citing MHRB data on nationalist assaults: over a hundred assaults were recorded across Russia in the first five months of 2006, leading to 17 deaths. The most dramatic nationalist crimes in Moscow this year have been the Cherkizovo market bombing (12 dead) and a stabbing attack in a synagogue.

As analyst Dmitri Bykov notes in Kompaniya magazine, “we are now paying the price for the influx of PR consultants from the business world into politics and ideology. They decided (or did those who hired them decide?) that establishing a philosophy for a new state is just as easy as identifying a target consumer group for marketing a new product.” Bykov goes on to say: “They started using the same approach to ideology, bombarding the market with empty slogans and meaningless theses. They started establishing parties in the same way that business alliances are formed. They defined anyone with any genuine convictions as radicals. And instead of a field growing different but equally valuable grains, we’ve ended up with a wilderness overgrown with weeds and nettles.”

The Moscow municipal government has been the first to decide to do something about this wilderness. According to the Vedomosti newspaper, the Moscow government has announced that it’s working on a program aimed at countering nationalism: psychologists will promote tolerance in online forums frequented by xenophobes, and schools will identify and rehabilitate nationalist students.

But such measures are unlikely to make the idea of tolerance popular among young people. Yevgeny Kuznetsov, managing director of Imageland, told Vedomosti that these measures are about a decade too late. In fighting nationalism, the authorities are treating the symptoms rather than the disease; after all, asocial ideas stem from young people’s uncertainty about what tomorrow will bring.

“Meanwhile, pollsters are already sounding the alarm,” says Novye Izvestia. “A process of radical change in public attitudes takes two generations. We already have one generation raised in the spirit of xenophobia.”

Leonid Sedov, senior research fellow at the Levada Center polling agency, told Novye Izvestia: “If current trends persist, Russia can expect major national upheavals as soon as thirty years from now. Most of the adult population is steeped in intolerance and xenophobia. Children are now joining them. In a multiethnic state, unfortunately, all this could pose a threat of Russia’s collapse.”

Upcoming elections could be another reason for the ban on the Russian March and the Moscow city government’s new initiatives.

According to Valery Vyzutovich (Novye Izvestia), the motives for the ban on the Russian March “should be sought in the field of ideology, not law enforcement. The authorities have realized that they’re failing to establish a state monopoly on healthy (moderate) nationalism – because a rival has emerged. The nationalism of the streets. Ultra-radical nationalism, completely unmanageable. Its attractive slogans and uncontrolled activity could collect enough votes in the next parliamentary election to affect both of the Kremlin’s parties, old and new.”

In an interview with Kommersant-Vlast magazine, Dmitri Oreshkin, head of the Mercator Group, discusses the likelihood of revolution in Russia and the assumption that national-socialist ideas could attract a significant part of the electorate – people who don’t vote at present. Oreshkin notes that October’s regional elections aren’t an entirely accurate indicator of public sentiments. Turnout in these elections was only 35-40%. “We’re looking at a selective group here,” says Oreshkin. “That third of voters is made up of the elderly, who are three times more likely to vote than young people and two times more likely to vote than middle-aged people. And don’t forget to adjust for administrative resources: 10-15% of turnout and votes is due to the efforts of regional leaders.” According to Oreshkin, the Kremlin will get its desired results in the Duma election of 2007 only if the “sleeping” 65% of voters remain asleep. This “sleeping” electorate is “the source of an unarticulated threat to the stability of government.”

A few days after this interview was published, it was announced that the United Russia faction has submitted some amendments which would produced a fundamental change in electoral legislation. For example, the minimal voter turnout threshold may be abolished. Thus, in theory, members of the Kremlin party (or parties) could be the only voters, voting for themselves. And the election would still be valid.

After comparing the Soviet order to a slave-owning society, Oreshkin described Russia’s current state as feudalism, with one monarch and 88 feudal lords. He notes that “preconditions for a new revolution – a bourgeois revolution – are now ripening.” Although the 20-25% of voters who support pro-Western values might vote for Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces, it’s more likely that most of the votes would go to some sort of new pro-democracy party. But the non-liberal “sleeping majority” upholds a “pale pink” value system. In Oreshkin’s view, waking up these voters would produce a protest vote, probably reflecting the extensive field of national-socialist rhetoric. Oreshkin doesn’t rule out the possibility of a “Furehr” emerging in Russia, very suddenly – but only if there are free elections. “But since the authorities are preparing a managed elections scenario, there won’t be any such surprises. Instead, we’ll see a number of minor nationalist forces all fighting each other – like the DPNI. The authorities aren’t averse to claiming part of the statist image functions for themselves.” But if events should fail to follow the Kremlin’s script, says Oreshkin, we’ll probably see a counter-revolutionary coup supported by the security and law enforcement agencies: “Some of the top brass already regard Putin as weak. Any foreign policy failures or liberal steps in domestic policy will be seen as confirming his weakeness. So if there is a coup, it will be an anti-Putin coup. But this is an extreme scenario, of course.”

Today, November 9, the whole world is marking Countering Fascism and Anti-Semitism Day. As Novye Izvestia reports, on this day in 1938, Germany experienced the events known as Kristallnacht or the Night of Broken Windows. Over 30,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps. This date is regarded as marking the start of the Holocaust. Unfortunately, Russia has started commemorating this date only recently, and Russian citizens know much less about November 9 than about People’s Unity Day or the Russian March.

The Russian March organizers won’t let their event be forgotten. As Kommersant reports, the Russian March organizing committee announced on November 7 that it will hold another major nationalist event in Moscow. The nationalists plan to celebrate the anniversary of Stalin’s birth on December 21 by rallying thousands of people for a festive march along Tverskaya Street. They will insist on getting official permission from the Moscow municipal government: “We want to reclaim our rights, which were grossly violated by the police on November 4.” But if the city authorities deny permission again, the organizers promise that the event will take place anyway.

Vasili Oleinik, deputy head of the security directorate at the Moscow city government, told Kommersant that once a permit application is received, “the decision will depend on the nature of the event.” When asked what will happen if the nationalists decide to go ahead with an unsanctioned event, Oleinik said: “The same as usual.”

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