Friday, March 31, 2017

When Counting to 100 is Not Enough

The Kremlin is finding itself in a bit of a sticky situation this week.  You know how some people advise that if something makes you mad, or you smash your thumb while doing work, you should count to 100 before you say anything?  Waiting before talking is supposed to increase the chances that whatever does eventually come out of your mouth won't reflect badly on you.  But such advice doesn't always work.

After the "illegal" anti-corruption protests in Russia this weekend conducted by predominantly youthful demonstrators, Putin waited...and waited...and then said some things that added a great deal to the evidence that he is, in fact, a dictator and not a democrat.  According to one source, he accused "political forces" of using the issue of Russian government corruption for their own benefit.  He also compared the weekend protests to the Arab Spring protests that began in 2010, and hinted that if such protests were allowed to continue in Moscow, the result would be "chaos."

After these remarks, there were attempts both in Russian media and in sympathetic Western media (such as this) to deflect some heat away from Putin by suggesting that the real target of protesters' anger was Dmitry Medvedev.  One polling agency suggested that most Russians are not actually angry with Putin - believing instead that Putin is trying to fight corruption, but that he may not be successful.  And Putin also professed his dedication to fighting corruption, saying that "Personally, I am in favor of having questions about the fight against corruption always at the center of public attention."

So - if it's so that Mr. Putin is in favor of placing the fight against corruption at the center of public attention - why the crackdown on last weekend's protests?  Why have Russian prosecutors moved to block Internet calls for more protests?  Why were many protesters beaten while being arrested?  Why were even bystanders arrested?  Why did Putin show solidarity with Medvedev afterward?  Why is participation in "unsanctioned gatherings" punishable by up to five years in prison under Russian law?  (For that matter, if a man won a U.S. presidential election fair and square, and was himself the living embodiment of American democratic ideals, why would he be afraid of a vote recount?  But I digress.)

Honest people have a very powerful way of showing their honesty: namely, by allowing free and open examination of their deeds, including constructive criticism by others as necessary.  If Mr. Putin is really a champion of honesty and the elimination of corruption, how could he possibly be hurt by a free and open discussion of corruption in Russia - a discussion that included free, unconstrained, nonviolent protest?  Instead, what Russia is doing is seeking to "cure" the wave of protest by state-sponsored education about the Russian government's anticorruption efforts.  At least one Russian teacher is taking this "education" to a whole new level.  You can watch a video of this teacher here.

Problems that are constantly swept under a rug eventually become a tripping hazard.  One of the ways that tripping hazard may grow in Russia could be that the civil resistance that manifested itself last weekend begins to move beyond the methods of protest and persuasion to the methods of non-cooperation (especially economic non-cooperation), and to the methods of nonviolent intervention - including beginning to construct parallel institutions.

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