Three Questions for Russia

This is my translation (from Russian) of Andrei Movchan’s facebook post, written in the aftermath of the major opposition protests on June 12, 2017.

Not aiming for an exhaustive list, I’ll ask three, in my opinion, “right” questions:

(1) How is the activity of youth on the streets related to substantive changes in the country? The question is not an idle one; there are ample examples of youth activity in recent history, take 1968, for example.

Only in France, where hundreds of thousands of students took to protests (we—only have thousands for four times the population), who were supported by trade unions (that we do not have) and parliamentary opposition (that in our case supports the authorities), in France, where by that time the opposition leader had been to the second tour of the presidential elections, and the democracy had more than one hundred year long history, protests only resulted in the change of the president during the next election.

While in Mexico, which is much more similar to us, the protesters were shot and the next elections were won by the person who was universally blamed for the shootings. The scenario was repeated in China in 1989—there protest only lead to the toughening of the regime.

Could it be that we often witness the protests on the breaking point of the system not because they caused it, but because they are a side-effect of the circumstances that lead to the change of the political regime, and for the same reason—frequently witness “blank” protests that lead to nothing? If so, then the initiation of the protests is the “cargo-cult” of the revolution—a senseless hope that one consequence (protests) would lead to another consequence (change of power) without a common cause.

I should note that the reasons for changes of power are rather well studied and include a massive crisis of the elites (most often), significant economic changes, the fall in the approval ratings of those in power greatly below 50%, catastrophic changes due to, for example, large military failures, and so on; nothing of this sort is happening in Russia at present or will happen anytime soon.

(2) If we suppose (for a moment) that the youth (and older people, who joined them) will be able to significantly change the political situation in Russia with street action (well, suppose Navalny succeeds in taking millions to the streets; suppose OMON [riot police] refuses to disperse them; suppose the students take the Mayor’s office or even the Kremlin), then in which direction will this political situation change?

That is not an idle question either—the experience of the Revolution of 1917 indicates that it is being prepared by one group of people, carried out by another, and the power is taken by the third. Most of the countries that have experienced a “social” revolution, including the modern Ukraine, share an analogous experience. What is the probability that the result will be

a. the rise to power of a military regime, which will violently quell the unrest? There are good reasons to consider this scenario—Russia’s security agencies' elites are very well developed and consolidated; there are quite a few proponents of a “firm hand” among the military, and adjacent to them civil leaders; Russia’s population is absolutely not ready for the armed resistance, while the regional disunity and high level of aggression in the society allow to suppress foci of discontent with the help of other regions' military units; and so on.

b. the rise to power of ultra-left, pro-communist, and quasi-nationalistic forces that de facto enjoy the greatest support of the population today, with the consequent “Chávezian” scenario? This is quite likely as well—Hugo Chávez came to power in 1998 in Venezuela under three slogans: “Victory over Corruption”; “Equal Opportunity for All Political Forces”; “Significant Growth in the Living Standards of the Poor” (compare this to the political program of Alexei Navalny). Communists, LDPR [a nationalist/populist party], Navalny, and the ultra-left are supported by more than 50% of the Russian population, so it’s not clear why during the change of power it’s not the left populists that will get it and then dominate the Duma after the elections.

(3) As we have seen from the numerous examples—1825 in Saint-Petersburg, 1989 in Beijing, and 2012 in Moscow—are the best-known to us, if the protests don’t lead to the change of power, they lead to the toughening of the regime.

So, suppose, magically, the street action did result in the change of power. Suppose that neither communists, nor nationalists, nor the military (or FSB) got the power and that no palace coups happened but the supporters of all the good came to power—liberal democrats, westernizers, humanists, advocating peace, progress, and prosperity, based on the European model.

And so—against the backdrop of the general euphoria, a question—what are they going to do? That’s true—not much money is left in the treasury. There is nobody to pay taxes, and it’s not like anybody was going to pay them anyway—it’s our tradition not to pay, unless you are going to be put in jail for this.

People are aggressively awaiting universal and weighty handouts—while, in fact, there nothing to hand out at all. By custom, the previous authorities have taken all their assets out of the country, and their example was followed by ten thousand major officials and state and private businessmen—just in case; the state banks have discovered a hole of the size of half the budget in their accounts, people are storming the branches, dollar exchange rate is 200 [currently it’s 60], because the Russians know for sure—only dollars in cash can save one from the revolution.

Enterprises that depend on imported components are halted due to the devaluation; this includes the agriculture as well, since we import seeds, fertilizers, and crop protection.

The army and the security forces are disoriented and demand financial guarantees; lower ranks are already starting to disband and create gangs, with active support from the upper ranks; showdowns and racket are spreading like storm throughout the country.

Republics where authorities are stronger vehemently demand sovereignty up to independence, since they can’t plunder the region and receive subsidies from the center anymore. Some republics simultaneously lament that, unless they receive immediate financial support, they will be swept by Islamic terrorists, and threaten that their own terrorists will come to Moscow to sort everything out. Other declare that if the former ones receive any money, then they will refuse to transfer any money to Moscow.

The foreign ambassadors (the ones from the West), declare courteously that they’re extremely sorry for new Russia, but that the money can only be given “after …”, which is followed by a long list, starting, of course, with Crimea, continuing with an offer for that unjustly privatized to be renationalized and subsequently privatized by the right global corporations, and ending with the demand to give up the seat at UN’s Security Council and for nuclear disarmament (no complaints here–they’re not idiots to step on the same rake twice). Absent that, they can only deliver humanitarian aid—they don’t know what to do with their food, anyway. On attempts to bargain the ambassadors from the West will say “Guarantee that you’ll be able to hold the power at least for several years”.

The ambassadors from the East will even be ready to give some money, but on conditions that will make those posed by the ambassadors from the West look favorable.

All of this—during the raging pursuit of power by the security forces, communists, half a dozen teams of officials, several governors, several barely distinguishable from them bandits, the church, several prominent businessmen (including those who returned from exile), during the seething demonstrations and small revolts (and we did allow demonstrations, didn’t we?), assets capture by people and by bandits, capture of houses by those with equity in them, capture of markets by the those primordially Russian, capture of banks by depositors, etc.

All against the background of our narcotic television completely falling apart, and every part of which now violently campaigning for their own, or for the one who payed last, or even just slinging mud at everyone, because it’s more dramatic this way.

So—this is the power. And what are we going to do now?

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