Street protest is the vital force for democratic changes

Alexey Navalny should challenge the Kremlin in a more serious way then organising street protests. It leads nowhere and may end badly for the participants, argued journalist Anna Arutunyan. Activist Nikolay Artemenko doesn't agree. For citizens in Russia street protest is the only way to express their disagreement with government policies and meet like-minded people. Change can only come about if this form of political action will be sustained.

by Nikolay Artemenko

After the last mass rally against corruption on June 12, which gathered thousands of people across Russia, a pause in political life has set in. The organizer of the rally and the main fighter against corruption Alexey Navalny is serving a term in prison, new rallies are not announced, and besides, summer is always a period of political calm, both in government and opposition.

protest june 2017It is vitally important to meet like-minded people. Street protest June 12

The prospects for street protest are rather vague. It is obvious that the opposition has no long-term plan of action. You do not need to be a political scientist or genius to understand that after the next Moscow municipal elections in September and a ban for Alexey Navalny to participate in the presidential elections of 2018, a general apathy and, most importantly, a lack of follow up strategy will come over us. This happened after the Bolotnaya protests in 2012, it happened after the recent Duma elections in 2016 and it will happen again.

Citizens have no influence

Russians, even the most committed ones, are gradually beginning to realize that there is nothing in this country they can influence. We must admit that today the citizens of Russia are almost completely excluded from the decision-making process in the country. First and foremost, because elections are not fair and transparent and there are no checks and balances in the branches of power.

Unlike Western democracies, where citizens are involved in decision-making through the electoral process and networks of ngo’s, in Russia the only channel of communication with the authorities is the street. The only possibility for a citizen today to express a different point of view, is go out into the square and publicly declare his disagreement.

Being not alone is vitally important

For an ordinary citizen who sees injustice and lawlessness, it is vitally important to find like-minded people, it is important to see that he is not alone. He doesn’t particularly need to be keen on participating in election campaigns, in socio-political associations, parties or others attributes of political life. The only thing he craves for is to say that he does not agree. And that's where he needs support and constant replenishment, otherwise he will be disappointed or simply leave the country.

People who show up for protests are the engine of change, in their head a light was sparked. If it was only because of this, street protests should be permanent. In the absence of other forms of expressing one's opinion, in the absence of representation of the people in government bodies, the street must become a platform.

Of course, there is a risk that street protests will become monotonous and people will loose interest. But this will be the fault of the opposition leaders, who are not able to keep the flame burning. This problem has deep roots in history: opposition forces being reluctant to unite even in the face of a common cause.

The rallies of March 26, April 29 and June 12 showed that a new protest generation has appeared in Russia, in the age of 15 to 22 years. They were waiting for the moment when, perhaps subconsciously, they realized that this is their country and that they must make a life here.

For a very long time opposition forces neglected youngsters. I remember how we, ten years ago, as leaders of the youth wing of the liberal-democratic Yabloko party in St. Petersburg, hardly rallied 20-30 people to our meetings, despite the fact that we were the most active branch in the country. If the opposition treats young people not as equals but as a marginal social group, nothing good will come from it.

It is important to emphasize that even for the young generation Navalny today is by no means a panacea. Yes, he is a very strong politician and a figure who can unite many thousands of people for rallies, but he is not the only one. An excellent example was the recent rally in Moscow against the demolition of dilapidated flats, which attracted several thousand people, but was organized entirely without the participation of opposition leaders.

Take care of your runway

My feelings are best described by the story of Vasily Sotnik, a simple caretaker of an abandoned runway in a remote taiga in the north of Russia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the runway was shut down. Vasily was fired, but he did not quit, and despite the utter uselessness of his actions, for many years he took care of the runway, because he believed one day it would be needed. And that day came after more than 10 years, when an aircraft with one hundred people on board made an emergency descent. If it had not been for this runway, if it were not for Vasily, the plane would have crashed in a forest.

The story teaches us that in order to save the passengers of an airplane in danger, one must constantly clean the runway, even if it seems completely useless. One day this runway will be needed and we should do everything possible to let the plane land safely.

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