Is Kremlin afraid of the protests?

This week Margarita Zavadskaya was invited to Meduza’s podcast “What happened” to share her thoughts on the recent events and the transformations Russian regime has been going through. Margarita and the host Vladislav Gorin talked about the protests of the last weeks, organised by Alexey Navalny and his Anti-Corruption Foundation team, and how the regime reacts to them. They also discussed in details the current type of Russian regime – personalistic authoritarianism – and Margarita Zavadskaya explained what it fears and how it tries to fight the incoming challenges.

While many things in Russia may seem gloomy, there are several points that can give us hope. First, the society in Russia is more mature than it has been and is not content anymore with the political system in the country. This society has overgrown the personalistic regime and is ready for changes. Second, there are now more organisations and civil associations in Russian regions (the legacy of 2011-2012 ‘For Fair Elections’ movement) and there is also the network of Navalny offices opened after 2017 – this infrastructure and the social capital and experiences that accumulate after each protest wave give Russian opposition a chance for success.

Listen to the full version of podcast in Russian on Meduza website or at the podcasts platform you use.

Varieties of Russian activism today

Aleksanteri Institute organises a series of Aleksanteri Alumni Talks online seminars, where the previous visiting fellows present their research on Russia, Eurasia, and Central and Eastern Europe. Today’s talk was devoted to the upcoming book “Varieties of Russian Activism: State-Society Contestation in Everyday Life”, edited by Jeremy Morris, Andrei Semenov, and Regina Smyth.

In this presentation we reflect on a critical question in Russian politics that lies at the heart of our co-edited book project for Indiana University Press forthcoming in 2021: how do Russians act together to pursue shared goals through civic activism? This question demonstrates our break with existing studies in which Russian society is alternatively depicted as either passive—content with the strong leadership of President Putin—or nationalist and supportive of new Cold War policies. On the contrary, our contributing authors show Russians acting together to educate, inform, or engage fellow citizens, providing new insight into the continual change occurring in Russian politics and society. Common themes that link our studies are the accumulation of shared grievances, the role of identity and shared information, and the influence of opportunities, and resources. Considered together we highlight the dynamic nature of Russian society and civic organization as social forces gain experience and resources to make demands of governmental, economic, and cultural leaders.

Margarita Zavadskaya participated in the seminar as a discussant and highly praised both the editors and the authors for such a successful and bold project they undertook. In this collaborative effort of authors from different disciplines, who have different perspectives and use varying methods, as Margarita stressed, the researchers managed to debunk several myths about Russian civil society. The volume clearly shows that civil society in Russia is not dormant, it is constantly evolving and experiencing truly tectonic shifts, with which the state, alas, keeps up. And the activists and protests are not concentrated anymore just in Moscow, they are very much alive in Russian regions as well, and the last weeks’ Russia-wide protests in support of Navalny are a vivid example of it.

Margarita Zavadskaya strongly recommends everyone to read this book and we can’t wait to see it published.

Naiset Navalnyin takana

Alexei Navalny has been in the constant centre of attention since his return on 17th of January in Russia, after months of therapy in Berlin that followed a luckily failed attempt on his life with Novichok poison in August 2020. Finnish media also devotes a lot of attention to the Russian opposition leader, and on Saturday Helsingin Sanomat published a large piece on the women that stand behind Navalny (Naiset Navalnyin takana).

Margarita Zavadskaya was interviewed for the article and she shared her opinion on the role of women in opposition and argues that it is too early to speak about their breakthrough in Belarus, where Tsikhanouskaya and other powerful women became the leaders when the previous, “typical” opposition leaders who were their husbands and male colleagues, were imprisoned or sent abroad. In the case of Russia, Lyubov Sobol and other FBK women, like regional coordinators Ksenia Fadeyeva from Tomsk and Lilija Сhanysheva from Ufa are seen by authorities already as full-blooded opposition politicians.

The full version of the article can be found on HS website.