First Russian Opposition Online Meeting Attracts Widespread Interest and 4800 Participants

File Image of Laptop Computer, Tables and Mobile Device, adapted from image at energy.gov

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, April 30, 2020)

The “No!” campaign organized on YouTube a virtual protest action against the amendments to the constitution and the failure of the Kremlin to act to help the population during the pandemic. It attracted only 4800 participants but far more likes and visits, observers said.

This virtual protest (youtube.com/watch?v=gYDkz-tjn7E), which took place as Vladimir Putin was announcing the extension of the self-isolation regime until May 11, was in many ways a test of the opposition’s ability to use the Internet not only to communicate with one another but to hold protests online that the authorities will need to pay attention to.

Yevlaliya Samedova of Deutsche Welle reports that the main speakers were journalist Ilya Azar and actress Yuliya Aug and that they were followed by opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov, publisher Irina Prokhorova, politician Lev Shlosberg, journalist Maksim Shevchenko, and economist Sergey Guriyev (dw.com/ru/как-прошел-первый-оппозиционный-онлайн-митинг-в-россии/a-53273415).

Participants were encouraged to make signs and send photographs in to the site to be posted. Relatively few did so, but many taking part did send in slogans like “No to the amendments,” “hands off the Constitution,” “the best amendment is Putin’s retirement,” and “where is the change in power?”

Prokhorova focused her speech on the dangers inherent in the amendments. Gudkov in contrast devoted himself to criticism of the failures of the authorities at the time of the pandemic. “They give out the impression that they are doing something, but this is not the case,” the opposition figure says.

And Guriyev attacked the Kremlin for both, arguing that they were interrelated. “The construction of the power vertical has led to catastrophic results, and now we see just how ineffective the regime is.”

The meeting adopted a resolution in the manner of protest meetings reflecting the position of participants on these two issues. But Shevchenko highlighted in a commentary about the meeting a fundamental difficulty with this form of protest: Not everyone who signs online agrees with the speakers (echo.msk.ru/blog/shevchenkomax/2634557-echo/).

Nonetheless, at a time of imposed self-isolation, many opposition groups feel they have no other choice but to go online in order to keep themselves in front of the population and the powers. The absurdist festival Monstrance is among those which have already announced plans for virtual meetings in the coming weeks (znak.com/2020-04-30/monstraciya_v_etom_godu_proydet_v_onlayn_formate).

[article also appeared at windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/05/first-russian-opposition-online-meeting.html]