One year after allegations of vote-rigging triggered mass protests in Russia, there are considerably fewer people today who support the opposition. And still, not all observers believe that the movement has failed.
Hundreds of thousands of Russians took to the street late last year to call for political reforms. One year on, the protest movement has dwindled considerably. The mass protests in December 2011 were triggered by allegations that the parliamentary elections were rigged.
It was mostly educated citizens from the middle class who joined in the demonstrations, Natalia Sorkaya, of the independent Russian opinion research centre Levada, told DW. And Olga Kamentchuk, an expert for the national opinion research institute WZIOM, said most demonstrators were young people and middle-aged wealthy citizens from Moscow and St Petersburg.
But, according to the research expert, the demonstrations didn't mirror Russian society as such - they didn't even mirror Russia's middle class. "I would say they were primarily young angry citizens from both capitals", Kamentchuk told DW. In contrast to people from other regions in Russia, she added, the people living in Moscow and St Petersburg can afford trips abroad. That's why they can compare their lives with those of people living in Paris or New York. "And they don't like the result", Kamentchuk said.
Resignation is spreading
Igor Tarasov is one representative of the above-mentioned middle class. He owns a small enterprise and lives in Moscow. Tarasov took part in all the protests in December 2011. After one demonstration, he was arrested and consequently spent 15 days in prison. He shared a cell with the widely known blogger and opposition member Alexey Navalny.
Tarasov said that he was fighting to have the constitution respected in Russia. But the reforms everyone was waiting for never came. That's why he has now decided to leave the country. "Many of my friends have already moved to Europe, to live and work there. And I founded a small company in Slovenia this year," the businessman said, adding that he no longer saw a future for himself in Russia.
Just like Tarasov, many Russians who were politically active last year are no longer willing to join in the protests organized by the opposition. Only a few thousand people came to the demonstrations in recent weeks. Russian political scientist Dmitry Oreshkin believes the opposition's activities didn't bring the desired results.
"How many more times do you take to the street only to get further proof that the government doesn't care about you at all", Oreshkin told DW, adding that a feeling of discouragement and resignation was beginning to take hold.
Igor Tarasov also believes that Russia's protest movement has taken a hit because it hasn't achieved anything so far. He goes as far as saying it's failed. He bemoans what he calls the Russians' "laziness."
"Nothing can get the Russian people going. It actually seems more likely that the oil price will slump and that that will trigger the collapse of the corrupt Russian state," the businessman said.
"The protest movement has lost its steam," said opinion researcher Olga Kamentchuk. She believes that the events of December 2011 were a result of the massive manipulation at the parliamentary election. "That was the driving force that mobilized people. That's now missing," she explained.
But that could still change, she added. If the Russian economy were hit by a crisis that the government couldn't resolve then there could be a new wave of mass protests.
And Natalia Sorkaya from the Levada centre agrees that the protest movement still has a chance. "There's some degree of confusion here at the moment. The opposition is divided and the various leaders are struggling to come to agreements. But I don't believe that the wave of protest will simply fade away entirely", said Sorkaya.
Just how deeply the Russian protest movement is in crisis will only be known after the next campaign which has been announced for December 15th, said political scientist Oreshkin. "I believe that the number of participants at these protests will be significantly higher than what many people expect today."
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