UPDATE 1/24/09: The RIA Novosti news agency reports on January 21st that United Russia has pledged to hold a day of support for the president’s anti-crisis measures across Russia on January 31st. The decision is apparently a direct response to the Day of Dissent put on by the Other Russia. United Russia has now rescheduled its event twice.
United Russia, the Russian political party led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, will stage street rallies to back the Russian authorities, the Kommersant newspaper reports on January 16th. According to the party’s local branch, the first such positive protest will take place on January 24th in Moscow.
Experts have suggested that the economic crisis in Russia may lead to discontent among the public, and United Russia intends to steer any negative outcry spilling into the streets in a positive direction.
Yury Shuvalov, the head of the Center for Socio-Conservative Policy, and a party officer, said the first event would be held in late January “to support the president and prime minister.” United Russia are not planning to “counteract citizen’s public demonstrations,” Shuvalov added, but on the contrary “are planning to participate in the process and to intellectually guide it.”
“There is an understanding,” he went on, “that we can’t in any case allow the breakdown of the political situation in the country, that we must maintain social stability, but not by those methods previously used.” To do this, he said, “we can’t so much imitate discussion, as lead explanatory work about what the authorities are doing to minimize the strains setting in as result of the changing socio-economic situation.”
“It is very important to tell people the truth,” Shuvalov said, “and not be scared to openly admit erroneous decisions [made by authorities].”
Opposition youth activist Roman Dobrokhotov said the “intellectual guidance” described by United Russia will likely equal a search for an external enemy.
“From the very start, the authorities have tried to channel the public sentiment against a foreign source,” Dobrokhotov told the Sobkor®ru news agency. “Take for instance a meeting of Nashi [youth] by the US embassy, where the schoolchildren admitted it: they are being taught that the US intentionally provoked the economic crisis to weaken Russia; that this was their geopolitical goal.
“In the context of the “gas war,” another line was born from above: comments appeared that the gas war was instigated by the West as part of a strategy of fighting Russia.”
The Russian public, Dobrokhotov believes, is unlikely to buy this official stance. Recent car enthusiast protests in Vladivostok show that the public is prepared to protest, the youth leader said.
“It hasn’t happened in one country, that the ruling party is praised under conditions of a worsening economic situation,” he continued. The United Russia meetings, he said, could even end up counterproductive to the public perception of authorities.
Other opposition leaders have pointed out the double standard applied to demonstrations sponsored by different groups. In Moscow, city officials have repeatedly refused to allow Marches of Dissent put on by the Other Russia opposition coalition, claiming the events would interfere with traffic. Rallies put on by pro-Kremlin groups like Nashi have meanwhile been given free access to locations around the city.
Responding to what it described as unreasonable restrictions by the Moscow mayor’s office, the Other Russia has pledged to hold multiple demonstrations across Moscow in a Day of Dissent. The first such day of protest will take place on January 31st.