By Paul Goble
While the Navalny protests may have attracted more attention than Vladimir Putin’s address to the Federal Assembly, the reality is that those behind the protests overrated their possibilities because of their focus on the Internet, something which “gave rise to the illusion” that they were already at the head of a mass movement, Vladislav Inozemtsev says.
Statistics show why that is the case, the Russian economist and commentator says. While 130 million people viewed the film on Putin’s palace, only 465,000 declared themselves Navalny supporters, and while 2.5 million said they would protest, fewer than 60,000 did so (t.me/kremlebezBashennik/21173).
The authorities focused not on the Internet numbers but on the numbers of people ready to go into the street. They estimated that there were 15,000 during Putin’s address. Even opposition outlets did not give significantly higher figures. Open Media, for example, said that there were 25,000 in Moscow and more elsewhere, but not the million some had hoped for.
And the authorities showed that they had learned from the earlier Navalny protests and restricted the actions of the police lest they spark anger or create martyrs, Inozemtsev continues.
The current protests, he says, “differ from the protests of the end of the 1980s” or those in the last two decades.
In most of these, “the movements began spontaneously” and then charismatic leaders sought to take control of something already in motion. What is occurring now, however, is something very different.
Navalny is trying to produce a wave where none exists so that he can ride it, but at least so far, “it isn’t growing” at the rate he hopes. What that reflects is the fact that “the dissatisfaction of citizens is not being transformed into actions.” And that failure, the economist says, is “most important” because it suggests that there isn’t going to be a wave anytime soon.
There is a reason for this, Inozemtsev says. “Protests always have arisen when there appear in society certain expectations which then haven’t been met … but now in Russian society, expectations are low, people are occupied with their own problems,” and thus no tsunami of protests is likely.
There are other things the latest protests show, he continues. “Today is not 1917 and it is impossible to build a protest movement from abroad … the emigration is not considered by many to be a real part of Russian society, and those dissidents who move abroad are ever more cut off from an understanding of what is taking place in Russia.”
Despite their relatively “soft” approach to the latest Navalny demonstrations, the powers that be, Inozemtsev concludes, remains committed to having Navalny organizations declared extremist groups and effectively shut down. So this week, one can say “the Kremlin won a local victory, and it remains only to watch to see how stable this turns out to be.”