Russian protests have definitely occupied many progressive minds. Internet fans in academia were happy to state once again after Arab Spring: The Internet is a new Messiah employed for “installing” democracy. But a concentration on the Internet does not explain what is going on in Russia. An analysis by Yulia Lukashina
People have come to the streets to say “NO” being not sure what they are protesting against. And their opponents – the political elites – are also trying to understand what they are all “FOR.”
The media coverage of Russian protests, including all kind of information circulating in social networks and blogosphere, showed them as a unique phenomenon. One had the impression that there was no other before and 5.5 million Russian miners had never sat on the rails in 1990s and like no retiree had ever left his place to block Russia’s biggest highway in 2004 - 2005. These two social groups were protesting against economic reforms which both, despite being different, led to the same consequences – the total impoverishment of millions of Russian citizens. Social networks like LiveJournal, Facebook or Vkontakte are far from being overloaded with information about those two stories. Has the iPhone-generation completely forgotten about them?
The claims of retirees and miners, the two biggest protesting groups after the decline of the USSR, differed quite a bit from those formulated by their successors. The former were and still are poor and pragmatic, the latter are young, well-educated and less concerned with money. While the former had to fight for their livelihood, the latter are fighting for their political self-expression. Why has there been such a shift in protest activity from protesting for your basic needs to democracy?
The Web-based mess
As of now, the current movement has still not invented its own ideology and lack for united organizational structure. There are a lot of groups feeding the cyber-space with more or less abstract slogans accompanying their off- and online activities. For example, ordinary Facebook users received invitations to attend twelve protest events, including the few biggest ones on February 4, March 5, and June 12, 2012, from the community We were on Bolotnoya square and we will come again. The group administration distributed information about the place and time of forthcoming events and posted some links on mass media articles to frame the discussion.
They stopped creating Facebook events after June 12. Another group, claiming they are interested in changing the electoral system is Electorate League, whose members are mainly intellectuals and celebrities. They devote themselves to more tedious questions like organizing observation of elections and collecting information about disturbances. And the third group, longing to influence people’s minds, has the name Committee for Fair Elections. The different protest groups share tasks, but an overarching ideology and a professional representation is still lacking.
Some people suggest it is necessary to change the Russian Constitution, like the Initiative group for revolutionary referendum for Russian Constitution, while others defend it, like the Russian United Internet Constitutional Assembly does. All Facebook groups, as a rule, are supported by their twins in other social networks and the blogosphere. Protesters are divided, and that is normal. But if people have started to talk about the Constitution, it’s time to take a deeper look.
Why is all of this important? Protesters define themselves as people not suffering from the shortage of money – they are the new, well-off middle class. And it seems like many other people, who are struggling to make ends meet, are wondering how it is possible to have enough time to collect info about protests, since it is so disorganized.
Looking for a point of destination
Protesters attempt to figure out how the future of the political system must look like. So do the elites. When both insiders and outsiders of the political system do not know exactly what they want or what they are able to get, it must be called nation-building and state-formation. The two concepts, as famous Norwegian political scientist Stein Rokkan saw it, have less to do with nationality, it’s mainly about which kind of sovereign state the people living on the same territory want.
Still children of the 1990s
During the USSR times people used to name themselves “Soviet citizens.” They have another citizenship status now and have to get used to being a part of smaller society with a new social structure and with new political institutions. They have tried to name themselves Russian citizens but that probably did not sound sincere enough. Maybe that’s why those who were children or teenagers in 1990s didn’t learn who they are supposed to be. On August 25, 1968 seven dissidents came to Red Square to protest; now there are thousands dreaming about living in a new state. And about being a new nation.