“Dissenters’ March” in St. Petersburg : What is the Point?

There is no reason to underestimate the significance of the so-called "Dissenters’ March" in St. Petersburg last weekend.  It was without doubt the largest protest action in the city since pensioners took the streets in January 2005 angry at the botched implementation of the "monetization" reform.  The march has certainly added tension to the already electrified atmosphere in the run up to the tomorrow’s election into the City Legislative Assembly. 

However, there is no reason to overestimate the impact of the march on the history of the world civilization, either.  Read this beautiful summary of the event Moscow Carnegie’s Masha Lipman gives in today’s Washington Post op-ed

Last weekend, in an unusually large political protest in St. Petersburg, several thousand people defied a government ban on their rally, broke through police cordons and marched along the streets of Russia’s second-largest city.

That’s it.  What to discuss here?  If nothing else, what happened in St. Petersburg last Saturday speaks favorably about the cool head and competence of the St. Petersburg governor Matvienko, who allowed unsanctioned demonstration to take place without letting it out of control. 

It is also easy to answer the question Ms. Lipman is so piously teasing herself with:

What caused the high turnout at last weekend’s rally?

First of all, it was unseasonably warm on March 3 in St. Petersburg, and the Nevsky Prospect was full of tourists and shoppers.  So, when the protesting crowd "broke through police cordons and marched along" the Nevsky Prospect, there was no way to distinguish between the protesters and on-lookers.  That’s why even the organizers of the march give so different estimates of the turnout: between 4,000 and 8,000.  Well, at any rate, for a five-million plus city, this is only about one-tenth of a percent.  Rock star Sergei Shnurov and his group "Leningrad" get larger crowds routinely.

Police brutality?  Compare these two pictures.  The first shows police in Brazil dispersing the crowd protesting against President Bush’s visit.  In the second, a brave elderly lady kicks the shield of a bloodthirsty "omonovets." 

This is not to mention that all major opposition figures such as Yabloko’s Grigoriy Yavlinsky and SPS’ Nikita Belykh have ignored the march.  Even Vladimir Ryzhkov, whose alienation from the "official" politics is growing day after day, has chosen to stay in Moscow stricken with what was reported to the protest crowd as a severe angina.

More to that, one of the organizers, Eduard Limonov, let himself arrested well before the demonstration finale, for being arrested (for a short time, of course!) is the only thing that traveling with a personal lawyer Eddie is interesting in any protest action.  Or take another "opposition leader", Mikhail Kasyanov, who was whisked away in what was described as a "silver Mercedes" right before the protesters hit the "police cordons" barring them from entering the Nevsky Prospect.  In other words, right before it became potentially risky.  But of course, Mr. Kasyanov must protect himself for the future battles with the "regime."

So what is the point, or, as we say in America, where is the beef?

The beef is to have a "protest", as the Oppositioner-in-Chief, Garry Kasparov, explains us in today’s The New York Times piece.  Won’t you like it?:

It was not a protest against a concrete measure…It was not, "give us more money, salaries" or "stop raising prices."  It was a protest against the regime.

No, Mr. Kasparov doesn’t need "more money":  he’s a wealthy person, having profitably played chess until younger competitors pushed him out of the game.  Now, living in a bubble and increasingly resembling mad (and maddening) Vladimir Lenin in his last years of the European exile, Kasparov has made his personal hatred for Putin political philosophy. 

What can he offer to the thousands of people who happened to stroll down the Nevsky Prospect last Saturday?  "Russia without Putin?", as one of the banners over the protest crowd demanded?  And then what?

Mr. Kasparov will soon be heading for New York City: to see his wife and newly-born baby who permanently live there, to write editorials for WSJ, and to plan, surely, new "protest actions."  If anything bothers him, it’s not "raising prices" in St. Petersburg.         

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
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