Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
During a uniform voting day in Russia protest actions organised by the supporters of Alexei Navalny took place. The oppositionist himself at this time was still under arrest for organising the January “voters’ strikes”. After the protest meetings in different cities of the country more than 1,000 people were detained, 400 of which took place in St. Petersburg.
The political scientist and director of the Institute of Contemporary Development Dmitry Solonnikov explained to the correspondent of the Federal News Agency whether or not there was sense in this political provocation, whether or not it affected the course of elections on September 9th, and whether or not it had anything to do with pension reform, as the activists claim.
Dmitry, do political scientists evaluate the actions of Navalny’s supporters as a real protest against pension reform or nevertheless as a provocation on a uniform voting day?
“Of course, it was provocation, which had nothing to do with pension reform. It was possible to choose any other date to oppose pension reform, it isn’t mandatory to do it on a uniform voting day. Especially since formally this is a violation of the law: to rally in regions where there is an electoral process and use political appeals — this is agitational propaganda on an election day. But Navalny deliberately opted for this: he wanted to present himself as someone who is persecuted, to show how his supporters are beaten up and detained, and he achieved it.
The authorities behaved rather rigidly, but in accordance with the current laws. After all, it’s not a concert in honor of the Day of Moscow that Navalny organised, but political slogans. In St. Petersburg there weren’t any elections on September 9th, therefore the rally was allowed.
But it so happened that a pipe broke the day prior at the place where it was planned to hold the meeting. Everybody saw this fountain on Lenin Square. After all, bringing people to a place where an accident has just happened and where there is a danger of there being a sinkhole isn’t a good idea.
And it is for these reasons that the rally was forbidden. It is for sure that no city official went underground and broke this pipe just to disrupt Navalny’s rally. It’s simply that generally unpleasant things happened for the city, and there was a need to somehow treat it adequately.
But the meeting took place anyway, and here Navalny achieved what he wanted — he created the image of a fighter being persecuted together with his supporters. Perhaps, he will also receive some positive remuneration for this, but from the point of view of political prospects, his chances only worsened. His rallies against pension reform gathered even fewer people than the rallies of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation.
The number of participants in its rallies decreases, and their meaning is gradually being lost. It is the youth that has drive, likes to engage in hooliganism, and likes action that come to the rallies of Navalny. Stealing cherries and fleeing is normal at a certain age. Here it is the same: to go to a rally, to run from OMON — there is a certain thrill in it. But, as a rule, it’s not those people who represent a real political force who participate in this.”
Did the rallies somehow affect the voting process on September 9?
“I don’t think so, because Navalny’s rally couldn’t influence the voting for the parties involved in the electoral race in any way. He couldn’t transfer his protest vote to anyone. It also can’t be said that fewer people voted for ‘United Russia’ because of these rallies. Otherwise, who else did they vote for?
Was it succeeded to distract people from voting on this day? No. Those who came to polling precincts understand what a real political struggle is. But Navalny only has clownery.”
According to the political scientist, the heat of protest moods in the country started to considerably drop by September. He explained that after the speech of the president of Russia Vladimir Putin, it became senseless to continue to demand the cancellation of pension reform.
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