The Partisans of Suna The Russian Reader 26 Oct 2016
Residents of the small village of Suna in Karelia’s Kondopoga District, mainly pensioners, have rebelled against the authorities, loggers, and a mining company that plans to develop a sand and gravel quarry in the scenic pine wood alongside their village. The area resembles the front lines during a war. The loggers have brought in their equipment, but have been stopped in their tracks by the pensioners, who have set up camp there. The pensioners have been keeping a 24-hour vigil in the woods for four months. Local journalists have dubbed them the “partisans of Suna.” https://therussianreader.com/
Russian Artist Cuts Off Part of Ear in Act of Protest Moscow Times 19 Oct 2016
Russian artist Pyotr Pavlensky, known for his shocking protest stunts, cut off part of his earlobe in a protest titled "Segregation" at a Moscow psychiatric institution Sunday.
Pavlensky, who last year made headlines around the world for another protest in which he nailed his scrotum to the cobblestones of Red Square, was this time protesting against the use of forensic psychiatry for politically motivated purposes. https://themoscowtimes.com/news/russian-artist-cuts-off-part-of-ear-in-act-of-protest-40546
Angry Farmers Stage Tractor March on Moscow Moscow Times 22 August 2016
Several hundred farmers from southern Russia complained of intense police harassment Monday as they entered the second day of a drive towards Moscow they are staging to raise awareness about the problem of local corruption. https://themoscowtimes.com/.../angry-farmers-stage-tractor-march-on- moscow-55067
Hundreds protest against newly adopted cyber surveillance laws in Moscow Russia Today 9 August 2016
Hundreds of people have joined a rally against a newly passed anti-terrorist package of bills introducing deeper state control over electronic communications resulting in potential financial obligations on Russian internet providers.
The demonstration, held in Sokolniki Park in the northeast of the Russian capital, was organized by some opposition groups and particularly by a regional lawmaker and IT specialist Leonid Volkov. A prominent Russian opposition figure, Aleksey Navalny, also delivered a speech at the event. https://www.rt.com/politics/355314-anti-terrorist-law-russia-protests/
Prosecutors Ask Court to Fine, Not Jail Pavlensky for Burned FSB Doors Moscow Times 6 June 2016
Prosecutors have asked for extreme performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky to be fined 1.5 million rubles ($23,000) for setting fire to the doors of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) headquarters, the Interfax news agency reported Tuesday.
The proposed fine originally stood at two million rubles ($30,000), but was reduced due to Pavlensky’s good character references and because he has a family with young children, the Mediazona website reported.
Pavlensky is currently standing trial for his latest action “Threat: The Burning Doors of Lubyanka ” on Nov. 9, 2015. During the stunt, which was described by Pavlensky as a protest against repressive government policies, he set on fire the wooden doors of FSB headquarters on Lubyanskaya Ploshchad. The building has been used by the FSB since the Soviet era and the doors are considered to have “cultural value,” the court was told. https://themoscowtimes.com/articles/prosecutors-ask-court-to-fine-not-jail-pavlensky-for-burned-fsb-doors-53180
Massive Strike at Russian Factory of Abramovich's Evraz Moscow Times 2 June 2016
Six thousand workers have gone on strike at a plant of the Evraz steel and mining company, partly owned by Roman Abramovich.
Staff at the ore mining and processing plant in the Sverdlovsk region town of Kachkanar are protesting a new bonus system, the RBC news outlet reported Thursday.
Strike leaders claim the changes reduce their wages by 7,000 to 15,000 rubles ($100 to $220) a month. The average salary at the plant is 47,000 rubles ($700) a month.
Workers are holding a work-to-rule strike, where those taking part are encouraged to strictly follow all industry rules and guidelines to the point where it hampers production.
Trade union leader Anatoly Pyankov said that production could be reduced by 50 percent as a result of the action, RBC reported. https://themoscowtimes.com/news/massive-strike-at-russian-factory-of-abramovichs-evraz-53150
Krasnodar Farmers Organizing Protest Tractor Run to Moscow Moscow Times 24 March 2016
About 100 farmers from nine districts in Russia's southern Krasnodar region have announced that they intend to take part in a tractor run to Moscow, the Caucasian Knot online newspaper reported Thursday.
Starting on March 28 from Ust-Labinsk, one of the region's towns, the purpose of the trip is to “make President Vladimir Putin aware of the years of illegal seizure of land and violation of the rights of farmers” by private businessmen in the region. https://themoscowtimes.com/news/krasnodar-farmers-organizing-protest-tractor-run-to-moscow-52261
Russian Village Cordoned After Roma Protests
Mar 18, 2016 ... Police have cordoned an area in Plekhanovo, a village in Russia's Tula region, after members of the local Roma community protested against ... https://themoscowtimes.com/.../russian-village-cordoned-after-roma-protests- 52197
Russian Truck Drivers Strike for 10 Days Against Platon Tax System Moscow Times 22 Feb 2016
Truck drivers from 43 Russian regions have begun a 10-day strike to protest the controversial Platon truck tax system, the Interfax news agency reported, citing the protesters' spokeswoman.
The strike will last until March 1, with drivers halting orders and stopping deliveries, the truck drivers’ spokeswoman Taisiya Nikitenko told Interfax Saturday. https://themoscowtimes.com/articles/russian-truck-drivers-strike-for-10-days-against-platon-tax-system-51905
Protests By Unhappy Mortgage Holders Rock Moscow Banks Moscow Times 27 January 2016
Foreign-currency mortgage holders launched a series of protests against Moscow banks this week, demanding a discount on their mortgage payments that have increased dramatically in tandem with the weakening ruble.
On Tuesday a group of people rushed into a Raiffeisenbank office and demanded that they be allowed to pay back their mortgages at the rate of 40 rubles per dollar instead of the current 78 rubles per dollar rate, the Dozhd TV channel reported on Tuesday. https://themoscowtimes.com/articles/protests-by-unhappy-mortgage-holders-rock-moscow-banks-51599
Pensioners block Sochi streets to protest loss of free access to public transport TASS 15 January 2016
Earlier today, several dozen pensioners in Sochi protested the cancellation of public transport privileges by blocking one of the city's main thoroughfares, according to the news agency TASS.
Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov met with the protesters to explain the reason for the cancellation and to outline what steps the authorities are taking to support the poor. https://meduza.io/en/news/2016/01/15/pensioners-block-sochi-streets-to-protest-loss-of-free-access-to-public-transport
Russian Truckers Protest Near Building of Presidential Administration Moscow Times 14 Dec 2015
Truck drivers gathered next to the building of Russia's presidential administration to protest the Platon tax system, Dozhd television channel reported Monday.
Approximately 70 drivers participated in the demonstration, along with two Communist Party parliament members, Dozhd reported.
Truckers are protesting a new tax system that levies additional fees on heavy trucks for the use of federal highways. Truck drivers say the system would erode their earnings. https://themoscowtimes.com/news/russian-truckers-protest-near-building-of-presidential-administration-51216
Russian Truck Tax Protests End in Tragedy Moscow Times 19 Nov 2015
A Russian truck driver was killed and three others injured when a truck careered onto the curb and into a group of protesters in the Tver region west of Moscow on Thursday, traffic police said.
Around 60 people were rallying against a new per-kilometer charge for trucks to use Russian highways, when at 10:30 a.m. a truck carrying flour along the St. Petersburg-Moscow highway switched lanes, lumbered onto the pavement, collided with a parked vehicle and rolled toward the crowd. https://themoscowtimes.com/news/russian-truck-tax-protests-end-in-tragedy-50852
Russian Truckers Protest Federal Levy With Roadblock Moscow Times 11 Nov 2015
Russian truck drivers have set up roadblocks across the country, demanding the cancellation of a new levy on 12-ton vehicles for using federal highways, the news portal BFM.ru reported Wednesday.
More than 300 long-distance trucks have halted traffic on the R-245 federal highway in the Siberian District's Novosibirsk. Similar protests are taking place near other major Russian cities, including Irkutsk, Yekaterinburg, St. Petersburg, and Arkhangelsk.
About 150 drivers are also blocking the Moscow-Crimea highway in Belgorod, a Russian region bordering Ukraine. https://themoscowtimes.com/news/russian-truckers-protest-federal-levy-with-roadblock-50723
Moscow protest against Russia role in Syria Yahoo News 17 October 2015
Moscow (AFP) - Around 200 people demonstrated in Moscow on Saturday against Russia's campaign of air strikes in Syria, with one protester arrested by police.
The rally by people mainly in their 50s and 60s in a small central park passed off amid tight security as the authorities threw up a strong security cordon.
The demonstrators oppose Moscow's decision to carry out air strikes which began targeting assorted Syrian rebel groups on September https://www.yahoo.com/news/moscow-protest-against-russia-role-syria-152224207.html?ref=gs
10 LGBT Protesters Detained at Sochi Olympic's Moscow Headquarters Moscow Times 25 September 2015
Ten LGBT-rights protesters were detained Wednesday while attempting to picket the Olympic headquarters in Moscow.
Prominent gay rights activist Nikolai Alexeyev, who has been detained more than a dozen times at protests over his career as a campaigner, was reportedly among them, an eyewitness told Gazeta.ru.
Police were waiting as the protesters approached the entrance to the building, with signs decrying homophobia in hand, and detained them on the spot while several journalists stood by, the eyewitness said.
Photographs of the protest show two activists holding a sign that reads “Homophobia is a disgrace for Russia,” while Alexeyev carries one that reads “Sochi Olympics boycott — no! Sochi gay pride house — yes!” https://themoscowtimes.com/articles/10-lgbt-protesters-detained-at-sochi-olympics-moscow-headquarters-28017
Protesters Against Church Construction Gain Rare Victory Moscow Times 3 August 2015
Long-lasting protests by residents against building a Russian Orthodox church in a park in northeastern Moscow appear to have resulted in a rare victory for public protests after religious officials said late last week they were ready to consider a different location for it. https://themoscowtimes.com/articles/protesters-against-church-construction-gain-rare-victory-48718
Protesters Against HIV Drug Prices Arrested in Moscow Moscow Times 14 May 2015
Eight activists were arrested Thursday outside the presidential administration building in Moscow for staging a protest against the shortage and rising cost of medicine for HIV/AIDS patients, the OVD-Info news site reported. https://themoscowtimes.com/news/protesters-against-hiv-drug-prices-arrested-in-moscow-46571
65 Protesters Detained in Bolotnaya Anniversary Rally in Moscow Moscow Times 7 May 2015
Russian police detained at least 65 people who gathered on central Moscow's Bolotnaya Square to honor participants of the massive anti-Kremlin protests that took place three years ago. https://themoscowtimes.com/news/65-protesters-detained-in-bolotnaya-anniversary-rally-in-moscow-46378
Health Care Workers to Hunger-Strike in Protest of Labor Conditions Moscow Times 23 March 2015
Health care workers in central Russia threatened to stage a hunger strike starting Monday to protest what they described as "repercussions" against co-workers who demanded better working conditions and higher salaries at previous protests, media reports said.
The hunger strike, planned in Ufa, the capital of Russia's republic of Bashkortostan, would be the third by medical workers in the city since the start of a labor dispute with local health care officials last April, Ekho Moskvy reported.
About 20 health care workers are expected to go on a hunger strike on Monday, joining the protest started last week by a local ambulance service manager, Svetlana Yusupova, the report said. https://themoscowtimes.com/news/health-care-workers-to-hunger-strike-in-protest-of-labor-conditions-45019
Angry Siberian farmer avenges ‘debt slavery’ by dumping manure outside bank investmentwatchblog.com 3 February 2015
A farmer in Siberia dumped a cart of manure in front of a bank, saying that was his way of paying out his debt. The man also described what he did as a “soft, if somewhat smelly” protest against bank policies.
The farmer, Aleksandr Bakshaev from the Novosibirsk Region, placed banners reading, “Banks are people’s enemies” and “Down with debt slavery” atop the heap of manure he piled by the entrance of the local office of Sberbank, Russia’s biggest lender, on Friday. http://investmentwatchblog.com/angry-siberian-farmer-avenges-debt-slavery-by-dumping-manure-outside-bank/
Activists Detained for Bizarre Reindeer Protest in Moscow Center 2Moscow Times 1 December 2014
Animal rights activists have been detained after staging a creative protest in central Moscow that involved locking themselves in a cage with a reindeer at a holiday display on Tverskoi Bulvar. https://themoscowtimes.com/news/activists-detained-for-bizarre-reindeer-protest-in-moscow-center-4252
Anti-Putin Rally in Moscow Met With Protest and Sympathy The Moscow Times 8 December 2014
Opposition activists rallying in Moscow on Saturday drew an onslaught from Kremlin
supporters but also, according to protesters, sympathy from passersby in what they say is a sign that public sentiment might be changing in their favor.
Members of the Solidarity democratic opposition movement this weekend gathered in central Moscow holding up signs denouncing Vladimir Putin's policies in Ukraine and supporting the suspects in the so-called Bolotnoye case, according to a video posted on YouTube by opposition news portal Grani.ru. http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/anti-putin-rally-in-moscow-met-withprotest-and-sympathy/512712.html
Thousands rally in Moscow against health care cuts Yahoo News 2 December 2014
At least 5,000 Russians marched through Moscow on Sunday to protest against plans to lay off thousands of doctors and close hospitals in the capital amid a flagging economy.
Doctors, patients and other protesters braved the freezing cold to voice their opposition to an ongoing Moscow health care reform that could remove up to 10,000 doctors from their jobs and close 28 hospital and clinics by early next year.The demonstration followed a previous doctors' rally early this month, which was the first social protest in Russia in a decade. The pressure on the country's budget has intensified as the economy is taking a hit from low oil prices, a drop in the value of the national currency and from Western sanctions over its role in the deadly conflict in eastern Ukraine.Many of the protesters were dressed in white coats over their winter jackets. https://www.yahoo.com/news/thousands-rally-moscow-against-health-care-cuts-121040510.html?ref=gs
St. Petersburg Police Dismantle Evicted Homeowners' Protest camp Anna Dolgov 21 October 2014
Police in St. Petersburg have dismantled a tent camp that demonstrators tried to set up outside the municipal administration in protest against their eviction from cityissued apartments.
The camp was erected by construction workers and their families who were offered housing after moving to St. Petersburg on government contracts decades ago but who now face eviction after their building was bought by a private company.
The protesters on Monday took tents and sleeping bags to St. Petersburg's central
Smolny Garden, which flanks the city administration, saying they had no place else to live, the TASS news agency reported. http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/st-petersburg-police-dismantle-evictedhomeowners-protest-camp/509799.html
Moscow Motor Rally to Protest New Parking Rules Broken Up by Traffic Police Moscow Times 19 October 2014
A motor rally held by opposition activists in Moscow on Sunday was broken up by police and several people were reportedly detained.
The rally, which began at about 2:30 p.m. on the Garden Ring road, was meant to protest the Moscow government's new policies on parking for city residents, many of whom are now obligated to pay fees. https://themoscowtimes.com/news/moscow-motor-rally-to-protest-new-parking-rules-broken-up-by-traffic-police-40545
Moscow sees thousands march for peace in eastern Ukraine Russia Today 21 September 2014
Participants in the March for Peace staged by the opposition in Moscow (RIA Novosti Anissa Naouai, Politics, Protest, Russia, Ukraine Huge crowds of protesters took to the streets of the Russian capital to demand peace in Ukraine, in the biggest opposition rally in half a year.
The opposition organizers failed to attract the promised 50,000 for the event, but “there was a very high turnout,” RT’s Anissa Naouai reported from the center of Moscow.
City authorities estimated the turnout at 5,000, but the number voiced by independent monitors – 26,000 – seems more believable, according to Naouai. http://rt.com/news/189472-moscow-opposition-march-ukraine/
Russian Workers Go on Hunger Strike to Protest Low Wages in Health Sector Moscow Times 9 September 2014
Health workers in the city of Ufa have declared a hunger strike to protest their low wages, state-run news agency TASS reported Tuesday.
Andrei Konoval, a spokesman for the Interregional Union of Health Workers, said in comments to TASS that six health workers were participating in the protest. Another individual had wanted to participate, but was excluded due to health concerns. https://themoscowtimes.com/news/russian-workers-go-on-hunger-strike-to-protest-low-wages-in-health-sector-39206
Russia to Prosecute Crimean Tatar Protesters Over Unrest Moscow Times 4 May 2014
Thousands of Crimean Tatars on Saturday responded to news that their spiritual leader had been banned from the peninsula by blocking several highways in a tense standoff with riot police — the first sign that the Muslim ethnic group's discontent with Russian authorities may lead to turmoil. https://themoscowtimes.com/news/russia-to-prosecute-crimean-tatar-protesters-over-unrest-34961
Dozens Detained at Rallies Against Olympics Moscow Times 9 Feb 2014
Dozens of people were detained over the weekend at numerous rallies protesting the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Many people both in Russia and abroad, have criticized the Olympics over a range of issues, including alleged rampant corruption during the construction of Olympic facilities and the culling of thousands of stray dogs in Sochi. Other issues included the government's seizure of many residents' land for Olympic construction and what is seen by some observers as Russian authorities' crackdown on homosexuals' rights and human rights in general. https://themoscowtimes.com/articles/dozens-detained-at-rallies-against-olympics-31876
UN's Ban Wants Russia to Show Leniency Over Greenpeace Protest Moscow Times 21 Nov 2013
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed to Russia on Thursday to show leniency toward 30 people arrested during a Greenpeace protest against Arctic oil drilling, saying environmentalists played an important role in society. https://themoscowtimes.com/articles/uns-ban-wants-russia-to-show-leniency-over-greenpeace-protest-29832
St. Petersburg Skyscraper Approval Prompts Protests Moscow Times 3 September 2012
ST. PETERSBURG — A group of local politicians and city heritage activists have appealed to City Governor Georgy Poltavchenko, asking him to reduce the height of the planned 463-meter Lakhta Center skyscraper, which is slated to host the headquarters of Gazprom Neft.
In an open letter, preservationists claim that the skyscraper will "interfere with the panoramas protected by UNESCO and alter some of the city's signature views, including gems such as the Rostral Columns and the Peter and Paul Cathedral." https://themoscowtimes.com/articles/st-petersburg-skyscraper-approval-prompts-protests-17481
Crowds Gather to Protest Russia's WTO Entry Moscow Times 2 July 2012
Discontented Muscovites gathered on Ploshchad Revolyutsii onSunday to demonstrate against Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization and decry a new wave of liberal reforms.
Event organizers, which included the left-leaning Essence of Time movement, Trade Union of Russian Citizens and Union of Orthodox Citizens, decried policies they said would destroy Russia.
Organizers told the Rosbalt.ru news portal that 4,000 protesters attended the event, adding that the protest's main goal was tohighlight the damage that WTO entry, new laws on juvenile punishment and increasing utilities tariffs would cause.
Police did not immediately give an estimate of how many attended the protest event.
In particular, WTO membership would lead to the closure ofthousands of factories and make millions unemployed, organizers said. https://themoscowtimes.com/articles/crowds-gather-to-protest-russias-wto-entry-15908
Labor Protests Pose New Kremlin Headache
No sooner had protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg quieted down than strikes broke out in the provinces. For the most part, these protesters were not the same people who had turned out in December and February to demand fair elections. These demonstrators demanded higher salaries, better work conditions and the recognition of independent trade unions by their employers.
Workers at a battery factory in Saratov went on strike in mid-March. Later, oil drillers in the republic of Bashkortostan staged walkouts in the cities of Neftekamsk, Dyurtyuli and Yanaul to protest a reduction in wages. Finally, employees halted production at the Benteler Automotive plant in Kaluga. That strike was the most important and symbolic, quickly morphing from a local conflict into a confrontation between the authorities and the Interregional Trade Union of Automobile Workers, or MPRA. For Russian trade unions, the MPRA is an example of a strong and effective organization capable of achieving real concessions from employers.
The authorities responded to the work stoppage with undisguised pressure tactics. Kaluga MPRA leader Dmitry Kozhnev was summoned before a prosecutor, and riot police units were stationed at the factory. Governor Anatoly Artamonov, rather than the factory director, soon became the main antagonist for protesters.
Once again, state-controlled trade unions shamelessly showed their true colors. They were extremely active in the run-up to the March presidential election, mobilizing members and providing transportation and meals so they could join pro-government rallies in the capital. But the moment that the protection of labor rights became an issue, the unions made it clear on whose side they really stood. No sooner had the Benteler plant gone idle than Alexander Grechaninov, the head of the Kaluga branch of the pro-Kremlin Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia, rushed to the scene. In all the years of its existence, this organization has never once tried to establish a formal union at the plant. But whenever labor disputes have arisen, it invariably sided with management, using scare tactics and persuasion to get workers to return to the assembly line.
But this time, its efforts were to no avail. The workers stood firm. The plant's management and owners were forced into negotiations conducted by the governor himself. The trade unions also brought in their "heavy artillery" — Russian Confederation of Labor president Boris Kravchenko traveled to Kaluga. Once information about the strike began circulating on the Internet, sympathizers began raising money for a strike fund.
On the morning of April 2, management agreed to the strikers' demands, announcing acceptance of the trade union and the start of collective bargaining.
This sends a sign to the workers of many other businesses across Russia that, with proper organization, they can successfully fight for their rights as well. It should also serve as a warning to the authorities that the social climate is changing just as dramatically as the political mood.
Strikes are essentially prohibited in Russia, and until now they have been rare, and even more rarely successful. After initial victories achieved by the MPRA in 2007-08, a pause ensued in the development of the workers' movement because of the economic crisis and organizational problems within the new trade unions themselves. That is why the success of the Benteler strike has been so significant.
Kremlin leaders might entertain the hope that a lull in political protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg means that they can rest easy. But events now taking place in the provinces show that their real problems are only beginning.
Boris Kagarlitsky is the director of the Institute of Globalization Studies. https://themoscowtimes.com/articles/labor-protests-pose-new-kremlin-headache-13827
Russians' Enthusiasm For Political Protests Hits Record Low, Poll Shows Moscow Times 9 September 2014
A man holds a sign during a protest against the conflict in eastern Ukraine in the center of Moscow Aug. 28, 2014. The sign reads: "No war." Maxim Zmeyev
Russians' willingness to take part in political protests has shrunk to a record low, with only 7 percent prepared to take their political demands to the streets, according to a recent poll.
The independent Levada Center pollster said Monday most Russians did not imagine their fellow citizens would take part in protests either— only 12 percent of those questioned said they expected some kind of politically-motivated public protest would be staged in their region.
The number is at its lowest since mid-2000 and marks a dramatic decline from late 1998, when half of respondents said political protests could occur, according to the report.
In the latest poll, 83 percent of respondents thought it unlikely a political protest would be staged in their region, and an even higher number — 87 percent — said they would probably refrain from participating in one themselves, the poll indicated.
The poll was conducted on Aug. 22-25 among 1,600 people in 134 cities and towns around Russia, and gave a margin of error of no more than 3.4 percentage points.
The lack of enthusiasm for public action to further political demands is likely the result of a belief such protests have little effect and a fear of persecution.
The anti-Kremlin protests on Moscow's Bolotnaya Square in 2012 led to a widely publicized ongoing case which, to date, has seen six protesters convicted on charges of having participated in "mass riots" and dozens more indicted. https://themoscowtimes.com/news/russians-enthusiasm-for-political-protests-hits-record-low-poll-shows-39184
The Russian Protest Movement: Not Dead, Not Alive, Just Different Yekaterina Schulmann 3 September 2016
There are two widespread misconceptions about protest activity in Russia. The first is that, for some mysterious reason, Russia is exempt from the general rule where the popularity of the ruling regime declines in tandem with the economy. The second is that the authorities have managed to muzzle political protest, and that the only disgruntled voices heard are not really protests at all, but local appeals or personal grievances.
Both views are based on mistaken assumptions. First, they consider that because millions of people are not currently taking to the streets, they obviously will not do so in the near future. They also assume that a “political” protest is only when protesters complain about purely political issues.
Such views are incapable of explaining the current protest movement in Russia, or of predicting how it will develop. They simultaneously anticipate what is not and ostensibly cannot happen — mass protests — while they denigrate what actually is happening as unworthy of attention.
The public mood viewed through Russia’s flawed sociology is a vague reflection in a murky mirror. The fact that Russians have no legal way to run for public office makes citizens uninterested in even going to the trouble of voting against those who are in power. Elections are infrequent, the choice of candidates is unattractive, and there is no discernible connection between election results and changes in real life. In line with Russian law, parliamentary elections have no bearing on the composition of the ruling regime.
For the most part, Russians have no desire to take part in violent “pitchfork and axes” unauthorized rallies, riots, mob gatherings and the like. There are two reasons for this. First, the state’s repressive machinery puts too high a price on such activity. The second reason is largely social and demographic in nature. The majority of Russia’s active citizens are not youth, as in some countries, but those over 40, who are less likely to take to the streets or engage in violent behavior, and who are yet perfectly willing to protest through legal means.
How does this look in practice? Citizens are unhappy when decisions that directly affect their lives are made without their direct or even indirect participation. Aside from such “global” issues as the Kremlin’s decision to annex Crimea, this dissatisfaction primarily concerns decisions by local authorities to, say, tear down a building, demolish a park, shutter a local business, raise utilities fees or introduce a new tax. Such causes prompted all of the most recent significant protests by truckers, farmers, mortgage holders and opponents of unwanted government construction, paid parking, illegal renovation and so on. Each case demonstrates the same political phenomenon — citizens reacting angrily to decisions made without concern for their interests.
Whereas so-called “horizontal protests” by truckers or farmers and targeted protests focused on a particular yard, park or business are relatively straightforward, the situation becomes more complicated at the regional level. Because the federal authorities try to avoid unpleasant protest themes and prefer that regional authorities deal with those problems, the resolution of this or that protest depends largely on the attitude of the regional officials.
Despite all the talk of uniformity, rules in the regions differ widely. The people of the North Caucasus adhere to their own severe laws and the situation is little better for the citizens of the southern regions of Rostov and Krasnodar. In the major cities of Central Russia and Siberia, the authorities bear some accountability to the public and are not as free to use repressive measures, and Russia’s northwestern cities are traditionally the most opposition-minded.
Civil awareness might blossom in Russia with the collapse of the paternalistic economic model in which every citizen feels entitled to some form of government handout. People are already starting to realize that, not only is no one going to give them anything for free, they are doing all of the paying. What’s more, citizens are constantly paying on all fronts — for high taxes, numerous fees and expensive housing, utilities, parking and toll roads. The government is taking money from citizens at every turn. When that realization finally settles in and replaces the Soviet notion of the citizen as a child who receives sweets from his kind father, the state, it will provide a firm foundation for true civic awareness.
After all, civic awareness goes hand in hand with being a taxpayer.
Yekaterina Schulmann is a political scientist at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration. https://themoscowtimes.com/articles/the-russian-protest-movement-not-dead-not-alive-just-different-55179
Crisis Bites Deep in Russia's Struggling Astrakhan Region
ASTRAKHAN — With oil and gas, fish in the nearby Caspian Sea and a warm climate, Astrakhan should be one of Russia's richest provinces.
It isn't, and for years many people in this southern region of more than 1 million have accepted their position near the bottom of Russia's leader board. But patience is wearing thin.
The strictures of Russia's economic crisis are making it increasingly difficult for many people to turn a blind eye to the corruption and waste that have hindered the region's growth since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
While President Vladimir Putin may not be taking the blame, the spending promises which helped him weather protests and win election in 2012 are depriving Astrakhan and other regions of badly needed funds, forcing cuts in once secure jobs that strike at the core of his support base.
Complaints range from street vendors being moved from their trading spots by overzealous police and building companies being denied access to government tenders, to disappearing benefits for dangerous work and lives spent in dilapidated housing.
"In Astrakhan, people live badly," said Olga Yaskina, a pensioner who with 34 others sells clothes and bric-a-brac at a local market stall in the region's administrative capital, which is also called Astrakhan.
"We sit there every morning and have done for years, but they still want us gone, probably to get a more profitable trader. They sell off everything to the highest bidder now. Times have changed."
In recent years, some modern offices and red brick elite apartments have sprung up in the city, which sits on the banks of the Volga River and has just over half a million inhabitants.
But elsewhere crumbling wooden huts open into courtyards with rusting cars and abandoned toys. Cracked paving and pot-holed roads lead up from the newly paved embankment overlooking the wide expanse of river where people take shade in cafes.
The city feels unloved, down on its luck. Higher prices and spending cuts in Russia's financial downturn, exacerbated by low oil prices and Western sanctions over Moscow's role in the conflict in Ukraine, have added to the gloom and brought the local economy close to a standstill.
A recent survey by Russia's Civil Society Development Foundation, headed by a former aide to Putin, put Astrakhan's governor, Alexander Zhilkin, among the least effective governors in Russia out of the 81 ranked.
Opposition Focus Zhilkin, who stood for governor as a candidate for the United Russia party loyal to Putin, did not respond to requests for an interview, with aides citing his full schedule.
At a meeting with Putin in February, Zhilkin was upbeat, saying his region would this year become home to a special economic zone, offering lower taxes and less bureaucracy. He said the Astrakhan economy grew 2.5 percent last year, compared with 0.6 across Russia, but the figure has yet to be finalized.
Astrakhan was briefly a focus for national protests against Putin in 2012 when local politician Oleg Shein staged a hunger strike, saying he had been cheated out of victory in a mayoral election. The result was not overturned.
There are no signs of renewed demonstrations for now, and no obvious dissent against the all-powerful Russian president, but there is discontent and plenty of calls for change.
Alexander Gerlakh, a 52-year-old food producer, is one of the few in Astrakhan who are gaining from the crisis, enjoying rapidly increasing demand for his dairy products after Russia banned Western food imports in response to financial sanctions.
But he also does not want the crisis to last.
"I see how people are living and how needy they are now. They're losing their jobs, and many families are cutting back on spending to finance loans. People cannot pay," said Gerlakh, a Volga German whose family was expelled to Kazakhstan during World War II and who returned to Astrakhan in his teens.
"Jobs are being lost in all industries except food. Just next to our factory is a factory that produces parts for railway engines. The buyers have no money to pay and they cannot afford to buy the raw materials to fulfill their orders. It's a chain. … Whole sectors are moving into a period of stagnation."
Latest official statistics say 6,955 people were officially registered as unemployed in the Astrakhan region in April 2015, up 15 percent from the same month a year ago. However, the majority of locals operate in the shadow economy, and anecdotal evidence suggests the actual jobless total is much higher.
Unlike in the early 1990s, when money was even tighter, people now cannot rely on supplementing their incomes by fishing for caviar-producing sturgeon in the nearby Caspian Sea — it is forbidden after overfishing decimated the sturgeon population.
And while the economy stagnates, prices rise.
For Tatyana Gassakhanova, part of the group which trades at the market, her monthly pension of 8,900 rubles ($163) now needs to cover a gas price hike which means her winter payments reach 3,000 rubles — a particular source of bitterness given that the gas is produced locally.
The cost of electricity, medicine and communal charges have also risen, she said, with inflation in Russia running at 15.8 percent in May after peaking at 16.9 percent in March.
Gerlakh said he had heard about government programs to help small businesses grow during the crisis, but dismisses this as just words. "I always say; just let them not bother us, don't get in our way," he said.
Debt Woes Fear of state intervention has ruled this region and much of Russia for years; increased attention can mean higher costs.
But with the Russian government leading the way with budget cuts and state companies following suit, even people in the more protected sectors are feeling the pinch, fueling anger over officials who, at local and federal levels, seem out of touch.
Vladimir Milkin, a worker at Gazprom's gas processing plant in Astrakhan, said his benefits paid for working in an environment classified as "dangerous" had seen repeated cuts.
Gazprom Production Astrakhan did not respond to a request for comment.
The region too is suffering.
Local revenues are falling as the two areas it can tax — wages and land — are squeezed, and its debt burden is rising as it carries out spending pledges made by Putin in 2012 as part of what as known as his "May promises" to dampen mass protests.
Ratings agency Standard & Poor's ranked Astrakhan the ninth most indebted of 90 cities, regions and districts last year, with more than 70 percent of the debts held with banks, at shorter maturities, exposing the region to refinancing risks.
S&P credit analyst Karen Vartapetov said regional defaults were not only likely, but, at least in one instance, have taken place according to the agency's definition of default.
The local politician Shein, who now works in the regional legislature, said that with growing demands on the national budget, the federal "center" may not be able to pay out forever.
"There are sharp cuts in pay, especially those who work in the finance departments of local administration … and the reduction of salaries in Gazprom," he said, adding that some firms were withholding wages as they ran low on cash.
"In the 1990s when there were huge strikes, they normally started after the wage arrears reached six or seven months. We are not there yet." https://themoscowtimes.com/articles/crisis-bites-deep-in-russias-struggling-astrakhan-region-47427
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