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Window on Eurasia — New Series: Despite Crackdown, Khabarovsk Residents Resume Their Protest


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Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 11 – Despite the use of force against them yesterday, protesters in Khabarovsk resumed their demonstrations today, another indication that they are not about to be intimidated, that is attracting support from other nations inside the current borders of the Russian Federation and that the powers that be there have compelling reasons to be worried.

            Taking part in protests changes people; resuming protests after the kind of crackdown the authorities visited on demonstrators in Khabarovsk yesterday not only shows their courage but also their radicalization. And not surprisingly, that courage is attracting others to their cause and possibly to emulate them.

            Yesterday after more than 90 days of avoiding a confrontation, the powers that be in Khabarovsk decided to use their police powers against the protesters. Their action was a clear sign that the regional and central authorities want to stop them altogether (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/10/khabarovsk-protests-crushed-on-92nd-day.html).

            This morning, as if the siloviki attacks had not happened yesterday, several hundred people came into the streets of the Far Eastern Russian city. They carried signs reflecting their protests up to now and new ones, declaring that yesterday was “A Shame on the OMON” (echo.msk.ru/blog/echomsk/2723405-echo/).

            Perhaps significantly, in contrast to protests earlier, the overwhelming majority of participants today were elderly women, perhaps reflecting a calculation that the forces of order would be less likely to attack the elderly or women than working-age men but a clear indication that Khabarovsk plans to continue protesting.

            Perhaps especially important with regard to what will happen next, activists elsewhere, first and foremost in the Komi Republic, staged sympathy demonstrations on behalf of the Khabarovsk residents now under attack (7×7-journal.ru/news/2020/10/11/v-syktyvkare-gorozhane-pokormili-golubej-v-podderzhku-habarovska-i-protiv-politiki-putina).

            In Syktyvkar, they held up placards declaring that “we’ve had enough: we must change the current powers! Russia must unite against Putin so as to liberate the country from the thieves in the Kremlin” and that “the police and OMON who go against the people are worse than bandits.” Further, the protesters called on Khabarovsk to hold on as they have support elsewhere.

            In one of the first comments on the latest developments in Khabarovsk, Ukrainian commentator Ivan Yakovina argues that the actions of the officials have given the Khabarovsk protests “new life” (nv.ua/opinion/habarovsk-protesty-chto-budet-posle-izbieniya-mitinguyushchih-omonom-novosti-rossii-50117155.html).

            Yesterday’s crackdown, he argues, was “a milepost” in the protests. The authorities hoped that their actions would end the demonstrations, but in fact, “on the contrary, they may have opened the door to “something bigger.”

            Because the powers that be understood that risk, they had avoided acting like this up to now; but yesterday, Yakovina says, they concluded that the demonstrators had crossed lines that Vladimir Putin had earlier said must not be and that, if they were, the authorities were fully justified in spilling blood.

            The Kremlin leader said that regional powers must respond forcefully if protesters approach government buildings or try to set up tent encampments so that they can remain in place for long period. That is what the Khabarovsk government thought it saw yesterday and so it decided to act.

            “In general,” Yakovina concludes, “everything is in the best Russian traditions. The Khabarovsk residents who thought that in their city the police were normal and would not beat anyone, now have the chance to become convinced how far they were from the truth.” That means further radicalization on both sides with potentially explosive consequences. 

Window on Eurasia — New Series