So the big drama this week is about the independent trucker protest against the “Platon” road tax system. The truckers threatened to cause major traffic problems on Moscow’s outer ring highway, but since there appears to be a media blackout, it’s hard to get up to date information on the situation. Yandex maintains a special traffic monitoring service, but as I write it’s not showing any major disturbances. Besides that, the Russian state media is apparently ignoring the protest.
Naturally, some Russian government figures have tried to paint the truckers as paid agents of America, as always. The overall reaction, however, has been quite varied. Truckers are seen as those ordinary hard-working Russians who support the regime, and indeed many of them still do. It’s a bit difficult to portray them as West-leaning dupe and paid agents, which might explain the media blackout.
On the other hand, people expecting something big to come of this are most likely engaging in wishful thinking for a number of reasons. The first is that Russian society has for many years been extremely atomized and individualistic. “If it doesn’t effect me personally, who cares?” That’s the general attitude of most people. When the teachers and medical professionals protested massive cuts last autumn, nobody cared. It’s not like in Ukraine where the beating of some students who wanted European integration brought out scores of people who had their own agenda and grievances against the government.
Secondly, Russia’s media, politicians, and intelligentsia…Hold on a second, can you really call pro-Kremlin ideologues “intelligentsia?” There ought to be another word for it, like maybe dumbassia. Anyway, all those groups have concocted all sorts of ad hoc reasoning to explain why Putin and the overall system are not to blame for problems like Platon, in spite of the fact that Platon is owned by the Igor Rotenberg, the son of one of Putin’s close friends.
The explanatory narrative goes like this- Putin is a wise and just leader, but there are corrupt people around him and beneath him. He doesn’t know about all their activities. Just take a look at these quote from the VICE article quoted above:
“We didn’t come here to discuss Putin,” Andrei said, arguing Putin wasn’t to blame for his associates’ actions. “Do you know what your friends are doing at all times?”
“We support the government, we just don’t like this (Platon system),” added Sergei, a Moscow trucker. “People hand out fliers here, but why? We only care about one thing. We don’t get into politics.”
What you’re seeing there is typical Russian submissiveness. You’re allowed to criticize certain things but you must remain non-political and you must never question whether Putin, in spite of the authority he has wielded for 15 years, might be part of the problem. No, Putin is simply ignorant about the corruption his close friends engage in, but you mustn’t suggest this makes him a bad leader!
For this and other reasons, the trucker protest is likely to fizzle out. I don’t really see the Rotenbergs backing down on this one, so most likely the truckers will just take the hit and see their incomes drastically reduced. But that’s okay because remember, they’ve got to stand up to America! And don’t forget gay parades! It’s perfectly fine to live in poverty in a country where the government happily picks your pocket right in front of your face so long as there are no gay parades! Yes, folks, there are people who actually believe this.
So for the Goble-like crowd who’d like to see this as the beginning of trucker-maidan let me tell you this: you’re being just as unrealistic as the pro-Kremlin morons who are claiming this is being financed by the US. The only way you’re going to see mass protests that do anything significant is when you have more generalized poverty and other calamities.
Even then, the result isn’t going to be stellar because these protests will probably fall prey to enterprising con men and other demagogues who will promise the people to rebuild Russia’s imperial greatness. Once again a majority of people will trade their freedom to that guy in exchange for “stability,” and once again he’ll feather his own nest and help out his friends and family by reserving spaces at the trough of national wealth.
Start your week off with a positive note, I always say!