The Day of Protest

I was skeptic about the last year’s decision of the International Committee of the World Social Forum (WSF) to hold a worldwide day of protest on January 26. And I was not the only one – my colleague from Latin America commented that "it will be too cold in Russia, and in Brazil there will be a carnival".

It was surely not about the date with me. I was convinced that the very idea of a non-representative and non-elected committee giving instructions to social activists worldwide and thus orchestrating their actions contradicted principles of democratic and network organizational order assumed by the antiglobalist movement. Despite the winter season, the date thoughtlessly fixed by the WSF International Committee was supported by social organizations at the local level. The winter was relatively mild, explained the local activists; the second reason was that the water and gas pipes were bursting, power was periodically cut off, houses were ruining. And the protest was gaining momentum.

In Russia the worldwide day of protest was held under supervision of the Central Coordinating Council that was created during the 2005 mass protests against the monetization of social benefits. Since then the ?CC member organizations have held actions of protest against the social policy of the authorities and the housing and public utilities reform. But January 26 outmatched all those actions by its scale: in 24 regions people got out on the streets to hold rallies, pickets and demonstrations (in many cases, despite the ban of the local authorities). Some demonstrations were small in members others attracted hundreds of people. What all the actions had in common was total neglect from the official mass media, except for the rallies in Ingushetia’s town of Nazran where the public actions ended in clashes with the riot police and shooting at the demonstrators. But even in Nazran, the press turned a blind eye to connection of these rallies and over a dozen of other protest actions all over the country.

Ironically enough, the date set by the Western antiglobalists coincided with the presidential election campaign in Russia. On that very day, January 26, the Communist Party organized rallies in support of its candidate Gennady Zyuganov. In some places the party activists took advantage of the protest actions to campaign for "the only genuinely opposition candidate". This made the antiglobalist rallies stronger in numbers but dead boring, formal and meaningless. It trenched upon absurdity, especially when the leaders of the party that has been defeated in the elections ever since 1995 started telling the confound audience about the rosy prospects for the country after Zyuganov is elected president.

In most cases the rallies and meetings had nothing to do with political parties. People voiced problems of their neighborhoods, expressed dissatisfaction with the housing conditions, scolded the authorities for balking street protests. A great many people all over Russia were eager to take part in the actions organized by the ?CC, and that means that people in the regions feel bitter and dissatisfied. Constant failures of the local authorities that stay unpunished, excessively paternal legislation and bureaucratic blunders contribute to the critical mass of discontent.

The protest actions held on January 26 must serve as a warning. The protest actions were not large-scale enough to alarm the authorities, but clearly outlined social trends. For some time the ruling elites can continue to light-heartedly ignore such actions. But the social environment is changing, and one day they might wake up and find out that they have to rule an utterly different society.

Eurasian Home, 7 February 2008

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