Dmitry Oreshkin: “Yekaterinburg authorities are sane”
The political scientist: about the features of protest activity of Russians and the desire of “a new Stalin”
“The main task of the government is not to extinguish the protest, but to solve the problem. Because people feel deceived in the broad sense of the word: how come, we were told that we were raising from our knees, but life is not getting better? Therefore, we see a kind of underground rumble that speaks of changes in the deep sentiments and is being manifested in exotic forms of protest so far,” political expert Dmitry Oreshkin believes. Whether an increase in protest activity in million cities of Russia is possible, whether the government is ready to respond to them in the same way as in Yekaterinburg, and whether the regional identity of the Russians is strengthening — read in the interview with Dmitry Oreshkin to Realnoe Vremya.
“The frenzy of the vertical of executive power is clear — the economy is faltering”
Mr Oreshkin, what have Yekaterinburg events with protests against the construction of the temple in the square shown? Have we seen any major changes in the social atmosphere?
These are really significant changes. The thing is that today there have accumulated too many negative signs in the system of the country's leadership — the temple in Yekaterinburg, the garbage protest in Arkhangelsk, the street protest in Ingushetia against the redistribution of the territory and, although to a lesser extent, the dismissal of the political department of Kommersant newspaper arrest everyone’s attention. Some lines in the relations between the state and society have already been crossed clearly, rudely and deeply. The same journalists of Kommersant go nowhere because it will be incredibly difficult for them to find the same job, but there’s no other way because the owner acts unethically, disrespecting the law and so on. Why did the owner of the newspaper act this way, in fact destroying the newspaper? Because he was pressed from above.
The frenzy of the vertical of executive power is clear — the economy is faltering, incomes continue to fall, and the composite index of regional economic activity from the HSE in March fell from 69 to 52 per cent. If the index is less than 50 per cent, it will be appropriate to talk about the fall of regional economic activity throughout Russia — now the fall is already observed in half of the regions. In addition, businesses in a panic are withdrawing money from the country — the amount of withdrawal that the Central Bank expected for the entire 2019 year had been withdrawn from Russia already by April. All this is happening against the backdrop of rising oil prices, and these prices of 72-73 dollars per barrel are generally high, and we have a surplus of foreign trade as much as one and a half billion dollars! But I draw the attention — if the oil price falls to $50 per barrel, then we’re all dead — the money is not enough for payments to the same pensioners, and what will happen if it also falls?
So there is a reason for the authorities to be nervous, and the fact that now the middle-level bosses are rushing, who want to suppress the protest in their own way or scare the protesters, means that they are afraid of actions at the top, and at the top, as I have said, the wind is changing. Can the same governors ease off the pressure? Not, they cannot. So that means they will tighten the screws! It is important to look at the reaction of the chiefs, not at what is happening on the street.
The authorities met with serious resistance and therefore decided to take a soft decision. This is a sign that the Yekaterinburg authorities are sane
But in Yekaterinburg, they did not tighten the screws. How did it happen that the situation was resolved in the best way?
Here the authorities met with serious resistance and therefore decided to take a soft decision. This is a sign that the Yekaterinburg authorities are sane. But in Ingushetia, they began to imprison protesters. Each regional head acts at his own risk — he has a zone of responsibility and he realizes it.
“Almost everywhere people say: ‘We do not need your political slogans”
At the end of the day, in Ingushetia, the protest was organized by politicians not least of all. You must admit that if the protest in Yekaterinburg was brightly painted in oppositional overtone, it would be chosen a stringent scenario.
Yes, the scenario “to suppress” would be chosen, but in Yekaterinburg, it is the citizens who took to streets — it was a city-wide protest. The city is a social organism, that means that grandmothers-pensioners can protest because they are against capitalists because they are Communists, hipsters can also come — they don’t care about Communists, but the situation is unpleasant to them. After all, there was no political overtone at the protest on Bolotnaya Square — everyone was there, and the same was in Yekaterinburg.
In today's big city there live special people — they have different ideas about human rights, these people have a sense of self-importance, these people consider themselves citizens, and with this kind of people, the authorities need to behave differently. Sobyanin in 2011 realized this, the Yekaterinburg authorities in 2019, apparently, are also beginning to understand this, based on their own experience. Besides, Putin's policy has been based in recent years mainly on that it is necessary to unite, the enemies are everywhere, “Crimea is our’s” and so on, but after a time all this begins to irritate people, especially when they have their local problems. If everything was good in the city, well, Yekaterinburg would not take to the streets because of this temple. They could explain to people what a wonderful temple would be built and what a wonderful park would be around or something like that. But they did not explain this to people, which has what caused the frenzy. Since people cannot realize the discontent politically, they begin to protest. Protesting against construction in the city is akin to a protest against garbage, and this phenomenon is absolutely not political, and people feel at liberty to carry out such a protest.
Well, the Ingush also feel this right — they came to the streets not against the government, but against the fact that they were taken away the territory. I'm not talking about Arkhangelsk — people there are also against not the government but the landfill. Almost everywhere people say to the representatives of the parties: “We do not need your political slogans — make sure that the square is preserved.”
“It’s like the ‘80s”
But when it is said that such rallies show that the authorities have actually ceased to listen and hear people at all levels, it is the phenomenon of politics. Or do you disagree and you divide the protest into political and civil?
Of course, it is a political phenomenon, but in Yekaterinburg, the authorities did hear people. Regional power is always in a rigid and narrow fork: on the one hand, it is accountable to the top authorities — like “do not worry”, but on the other, at the bottom they resist it. But again, Yevgeny Royzman was not given the opportunity to nominate for governor of the region, but no one was ready to protest or to fight with the police for him, but for the park, people decided to fight.
This is all very interesting because it resembles the situation of the mid-80s when people had a lot of questions to the Soviet government, but they did not dare to articulate it and therefore protested against environmental problems. They suddenly rushed to protect Baikal Lake, the Aral Sea, the Georgians began to protest against the construction of the direct railway Moscow-Tbilisi under the Caucasus range because there were unique nests of white eagles, in Lithuania they protested against the construction of a chemical plant and so on.
All this is called sublimation of political dissatisfaction in the permitted sectors of protest — against garbage, for the square, against the division of territories and the like, but people run away from politics, they pretend that it does not exist. Of course, people from parties or political movements, the same Navalny, explain to protesters that one with another is connected, but people try not to listen to them.
Yevgeny Royzman was not given the opportunity to nominate for governor of the region, but no one was ready to protest or to fight with the police for him, but for the park people decided to fight
But there is still an underground rumble in front of us, which indicates the underlying sentiments or changes in these sentiments, and importantly — we see the frenzy or disorientation of the local authorities, who cannot understand what the top authorities expect from them. They understand that they are responsible, but they do not know how to act and in what system — that is, they do not know what they will be praised for and what they will be rebuked for. I think that the system can no longer control the process within the framework of their perceptions of the permissibility of violence. It is impossible to stop the protests for sure, and here they need either tough measures like the use of the National guard of Russia, or somehow negotiate with the population. It turns out that now for the authorities there has come a period of uncertainty, incomprehensibility what to do, and therefore, in the future, everything can end with a crackdown.
But the key challenge is not to extinguish the protest, but to solve the problem. That is, to remove those internal tensions because people feel cheated in the broad sense of the word. How come, they say, we were told that we were raising from our knees, that we got rid of the “dictates of the United States” and anyone else, and the life is not getting any better? So cognitive dissonance manifests itself in exotic forms of protest, albeit peaceful. It is clear that you can eliminate this protest and intimidate, but you cannot remove the reason for the protest and sooner or later you will have to “tighten the screws”. But the real reason is eliminated only by the competition of the economic and political environment. That is, you are not satisfied with one head of the city — you can elect another mayor in the competitive elections. But the vertical will not allow it.
“Wanting a new Stalin, people in no way want to enter into a confrontation with the authorities”
Is “the Crimean consensus” alive or dead? After all, the elections in the regions in September 2018, for the most part, brought success to the authorities, not the opposition.
Eighty-five per cent of Russians still support the accession of Crimea, but the Crimean consensus is gone not as a fact of support for the accession, but as the dominant in political life. If people asked: “Do you support the accession of Crimea?” then they will answer that they do, but then they will add that it is not important for them anymore.
Do you understand the current mood of citizens, what does the society want from the government, from the state today? Justice, respect to them? I’ve read that they want a new Lenin.
I saw that people begin to value Stalin — according to polls of Levada-Center, they are 70 per cent, but they do not know Stalin in the majority. They have his image — strong, severe, fair, honest, who walks in simple boots, who brought the victory, carried out industrialization. This image that Stalin himself created is, of course, abstract and imaginary, but the fact that the majority of citizens are beginning to hold a fascination with it means that citizens, first of all, are highly dissatisfied.
They simply believe that another ruler, “a new Stalin”, would protect them better than Putin did. He would strengthen the state, would bring equality and brotherhood and so on — everyone imagines Stalin as they like
Yes, you can call it all a craving for socialism, for justice and so on, but I think that all this is called dissatisfaction with the current policy, and, accordingly, people need some alternative. But they have no other alternative but Stalin. You see, they know that under Stalin there were no oligarchs, that he was a simple man, and this makes well disposed towards him. But I have not heard that they want a new Lenin.
Here I meant that Russians want to see a politician with new, close to people ideas.
Here I would agree again because in both a new Lenin and Stalin people want some alternative. But again, people do not know who Lenin actually was; they see only propaganda about such person. I think it is not necessary to argue with people — the fabulous image of a person who will lead them, for example, to communism, will always be in their heads. I think that people, in fact, becoming disillusioned with the current government, wanting a new Stalin or Lenin, above all, in no way want to enter into a confrontation with the government. They simply believe that another ruler, “a new Stalin”, would protect them better than Putin did. He would strengthen the state, would bring equality and brotherhood and so on — everyone imagines Stalin as they like.