Large protests organized as part of the “Day of Anger” took place on Saturday, March 20, in dozens of regional centers around Russia. As always, the authorities and the opposition give differing numbers of participants, but whatever the case, the numbers are not overwhelming – from 20,000 to perhaps as many as 100,000 people at almost 50 different protests around the country. This is not such a big figure. But protests did cover the entire country with events taking place in Vladivostok, Irkutsk, Barnaul, Omsk, Tomsk, Novosibirsk, Arkhangelsk, Moscow, Kaliningrad, and more.
The important points to note are, first, that the authorities made every effort to divert the public’s attention, entertain them, use both the carrot and the stick on them, come to an agreement, anything to stop big protests from going ahead. I think the elections a week earlier were sufficiently honest so as not to provoke big protests from either political parties or the general public. Second, the authorities in Moscow reached agreement with the three – formally considered oppositional – parties in the Duma on not “rocking the boat.” Just how effective this vertical organization of parties will be is another matter, but the Kremlin’s return to a system based on four parties rather than the one-and-a-half parties it preferred until recently is a positive step. The authorities in general, and not just regional “mandarin” Boos in Kaliningrad, have shown their readiness and ability to compromise.
The question is, though, will the authorities want to keep working on this impulse-driven basis? What we have just seen is more likely an attempt by the authorities – and a fairly successful one – to manage the situation using manual control, rather than the construction of a functioning system of relations with society. The authorities made a real effort, including using public politics, which this is good. If protests continue, perhaps the authorities will start to realize the need for change at the systemic level.