By Paul Goble
By deploying repressive police power, the Russian authorities have largely blocked any massive protest against the war, but they have not been able to prevent “quieter” forms of protest – and these, the Insider portal says, “can exert serious influence on public opinion” even as they allow those who engage in them to maintain anonymity.
On the one hand, they allow those who engage in them to maintain their self-respect about an issue that they do not feel they can keep silent about. And on the other, in small ways and large, they send a message to others unhappy about the war that they are not alone and that many other Russians share their views (theins.ru/obshestvo/251928).
One of the most common forms of such protests involves individuals’ printing off “no to war” stickers from the Internet and then putting them up in public places. Others carry signs on subways and buses and then use them as an occasion to discuss the war with others. And still others write anti-war messages on Russian currency.
Somewhat more dramatic is the practice of women choosing to wear black on Fridays to protest the war, a Russian variant of the “Women in Black” movement in Israel against mistreatment of Palestinians. And another form of protest occurs when people take sick leave to disorder the war effort.
Russian historian Sergey Bondarenko says that such forms of “quiet” protest are typical in totalitarian societies, although they are seldom noticed by outside observers or become part of the historical record. But the authorities keep track of them fearing that like the broken window syndrome, such moves will spread to move public forms of protest.
He gives as an example the situation in Stalin’s Soviet Union. “It is customary to think that in Stalin’s times there was no political protest in Soviet society. But in fact, it existed, quiet but constant.” People suddenly sang anti-Stalin songs or defaced regime posters in order to make their feelings known.
“The government very carefully followed such actions and punished them severely because it saw in them a real threat,” Bondarenko says. They thus had an effect albeit not as great as perhaps those who engage in them hoped then or hope today.