By Paul Goble
A major demonstration in St. Petersburg against the city’s decision to give St. Issac’s Cathedral back to the Russian Orthodox Church marked the transformation of such protests from the issue at hand into a more political one, when opposition members of the city duma met with the protesters and the protesters in turn demanded that the governor be fired.
That in turn has sparked concern among pro-government legislators that the protesters in league with opposition members of the city legislature are about to launch a Maidan in the northern capital and demands that the authorities crack down hard before things get out of hand (republic.ru/posts/79173 and gazeta.ru/comments/2017/01/30_e_10499771.shtml).
In the month since Grigory Poltavenko, governor of St. Petersburg, announced his decision to hand over the major public monument on the city’s main avenue, residents have been furious not only about the decision itself but about the way it was taken, without any input from the residents of the northern capital.
Opponents of the handover have circulated petitions, gone to court, and staged protests. Last Saturday’s was the largest yet with an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 people turning up. But what made it especially notable is that deputies from the city duma attended and showed their support for the protesters new demand that the governor step down or be fired.
The pro-government fractions of the city legislature, including United Russia and LDPR demanded that the force strutures punish the participants, and the speaker of the parliament complained that among the demonstators were “representatives of the LGBT community, pacifists, anarchists and other [unspecified] actists.”
“This flagrant case puts the actions [of the activists] not simply beyond the law but also beyond all norms of morality,” one of the pro-government deputies said. There can be “no doubt” that all this was planned in advance in order to “break up divine services, crudely violate public order and offend the feelings of believers.”
Aleksandr Teterdinko, another United Russia deputy, called for a tightening of the rules governing meetings of representatives with their voters to prevent a repetition of what happened last weekend. According to him, “the opposition deputies ‘under the pretext of meeting with voters could organize a Maidan.’”
“The majority of the parliamentarians supported his call.”
According to “Gazeta,” both sides in the dispute now consider their fight “political,” something they had avoided declaring in the past. .And neither intends to back down, raising the possibility that tensions will continue to grow and could get out of hand or lead the authorities to launch a sweeping crackdown.
The paper observes that “at the end of 2010, the awakening of the political consciousness” of Russians “began with a meeting in [Moscow’s] Pushkin Square in defense of the Khimki forest … Then it suddenly was discovered” that the real problem was that officials were ignoring the views of the citizenry.
“For many this was a surprise.” But after the crackdown a few moths later, subsequent attempts by citizens to dispute in public the decisions of the authorities declined to almost nothing,” the paper says. But the events in St. Petersburg show that the most unexpected causes can lead people to protest again.