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    Friday, April 13, 2007

    The battle of Pushkin Square

    Looks like tomorrow could be a bellweather day in Russia, with four separate marches expected to collide on Moscow's Pushkin Square.

    The first to choose April 14 for a demonstration was The Other Russia, the opposition umbrella group that includes everyone from former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov and chess grandmaster-turned-politician Garry Kasparov to the National Bolshevik Party. Organizers expect to draw about 5,000 people, from democrats influenced by Ukraine's Orange Revolution to Bolshevik skinheads, all under the catch-all banner of "those who do not agree" (with Putin and Putinism).

    Since The Other Russia declared its intention to march on April 14, the pro-Kremlin Young Guard - as well as the ultranationalist Movement Against Illegal Immigration and the likeminded Congress of Russian Communities - have all announced they would rally on Pushkin Square the same day with the intent of disrupting The Other Russia protest.

    As The Moscow Times reports, everybody's expecting trouble. Riot police forcibly broke up two Dissenters' Marches last month in St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod.

    In this kind of situation, the last thing the democratic opposition needs is self-exiled oligarch Boris Berezovksy spouting off like he did in today's Guardian about forcibly bringing down Putin. ("We need to use force to change this regime," he said. "It isn't possible to change this regime through democratic means.")

    Berezovsky is arguably the most unpopular man in Russia. The fastest way for the Kremlin to turn public opinion against the opposition is to demonstrate Berezovsky's involved in it. Every time he opens his mouth, he hurts those he purportedly aims to help.


    La Russophobe said...

    I'm not sure about the significance of being popular in Russia. HOw popular would Martin Luther King be in Russia today? Nice guy Grigori Yavlinsky is spurned by the nation routinely.

    Granted, Berezovsky is a mafioso, but was Lenin that much better than the Tsar? Lenin was a thoroughly nastly little man, but maybe that's what it takes to alter the status quo in Russia today. In Russia, it's usually the case that beggars can't be choosers. What sort of "good person" in his right mind would risk his life for a country that freely elected a proud KGB spy? Milqetoasts like Yavlinsky have got us exactly nowhere.

    I'm always disappointed when people who dare to fight the power in Russia get attacked without the critic identifying a better champion. Kasyanov and Kasparov are fine, but they've done exactly nothing so far to directly challenge the regime and have exactly zero chance of getting any traction at all in the upcoming elections. However, if you like them, I'd love to see a lengthy post praising them and suggesting ways the West can help them succeed. As you note, they've been crushed twice in prior protest attempts; where was the support?

    Meanwhile, Putin just keeps right on consolidating his power. By making these statements, Berezovsky is showing that the Kremlin is not omnipotent, and that's valuable in a nation of cowardly sheep. He's made the statements at considerable personal risk; they could prompt an assasination attempt, and they are already being used to seek his extradition on sedition grounds. I think the situation is a bit more nuanced than you make it seem.

    In the end, Berezovsky is certainly no worse than the proud KGB spy who runs the country. I wouldn't want him to be president, but given a choice between him and Putin I'd be hard pressed to decide. At least Berezovsky didn't spend his whole life in the KGB and hence is logically less well equipped to recreate a totalitarian state.

    markmac said...

    Russophobe - much of what you say is true, but I think Berezovsky should by now understand that he's a lightning rod in Russia and try to keep a lower profile. He can help the opposition without shouting from the rooftops that he's helping.

    (His claims to have aided the Orange Revolution in Ukraine certianly did no good to either Yushchenko or Tymoshenko...)

    La Russophobe said...

    But if he's not going to play the role, then who will? Isn't it better for him to play it than nobody?