Tag Archives: riots

Emergency Serious Post: Protests in Moscow

So the last thing I wanted to do was write another serious post about Russia on this blog, but as my mic is nowhere near up to par for the video I wanted to make, I feel like I should write my thoughts about the recent protests in Moscow here.

Is this tEh rvOlUtIoN?!! No, far from it. But there were several things that jumped out at me when watching the footage of the protests. For one thing, the level of civil disobedience seemed much higher than in the past. Apparently the Garden Ring road near Tsvetnoi Bulvar was closed off. For those not familiar with Moscow, this is a major important street encircling the center of the city. After one day, over 1,300 protesters were detained.

What I also noticed was the more violent response from the riot police, which included a lot of swinging batons and there was even some blood drawn. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, Russian riot police, particularly in Moscow, are still often much more reserved than their counterparts like Berkut in Yanukovych-era Ukraine or even in Western countries. When Berkut went after the students on Maidan in the end of November 2013, they came in swinging and broke bones. From my experience and observations, Russian riot police snatch people. It’s forceful, it’s scary, and they often do it to people who aren’t actually involved with the demonstration, but it’s efficient and doesn’t tend to cause serious injury. We may be seeing an end to those days. Mark Galeotti seems to suspect  it has to do with authorities’ fears about provoking a Maidan-like reaction. After all, excessive use of force by police was what turned a small student protest focused on a single issue into a revolution that drove out a regime, and there’s nothing Putin fears more than being driven out of power.

I think this leads to a sort of paradox because while on one hand Putin and other authorities are wary, perhaps unrealistically so, about provoking a larger resistance movement, on the other hand it’s crystal clear that Putin and his cronies have zero reservations about unleashing the full violence of the state against unarmed civilians if they should feel the threat of revolution is immanent. We know from his own words and the message of his media machine that Putin believes the masses need a strong hand and a strong leader does not show weakness in their eyes. Putin is of that mindset that believes that leaders cannot forfeit their legitimacy via rigged elections, massive corruption, or gross human rights violations. This same mindset only sees problems with Russia’s historical leaders when they make concessions to rebelling masses. Both Nikolai II and Gorbachev were “weak” because they didn’t murder enough of their own citizens and that is why they were toppled.

And the leader of the Kremlin regime has demonstrated these beliefs not only in word, but in deed. Apart from producing numerous conspiracy theories about the sniper massacre on Maidan in 2014 (and in fact Putin himself repeated one of these conspiracy claims to Oliver Stone), Putin continues to back Bashar al-Assad, arguably the most murderous person of the past decade, to the hilt. He continues to do so despite the rampant use of chemical weapons and the continued use of barrel bombs. Assad famously took this “not me” approach in response to protests after the flight of two other Middle Eastern leaders, and I have no doubt Putin has drawn conclusions from Assad’s experience and praxis. Indeed, when something resembling revolution is brewing in Russia, it will be “Putin or we burn the country.”

We haven’t seen anything approaching that level of violence yet, however, which suggest to me that the authorities don’t yet feel so threatened, even despite Putin’s record-low ratings this year. In fact they’ve even granted another protest permit in a few days. While the authorities can’t necessarily rely on the working masses in the hinterland anymore, those people don’t seem ready to join any mass Russia-wide movement, and while the opposition has made a lot of inroads outside the capital in recent years, it may be that the authorities still believe this to be a Moscow-based phenomenon, one they are confident they can handle.

Russian society is still very atomized and divided by distance, which makes it easy for people to ignore the plight of others in different locales. Moreover, it is still afflicted with the great power delusion, which may not be strong enough to stop Russians from standing up for their own rights, but isn’t strong enough for them to go as far as they need to and put an end to the last major European empire. They demand to live in dignity, yet they still think Tatars should be happy speaking Russian and that Crimea is theirs. Until they realize that these are lies and paltry privileges they get in exchange for bondage under authoritarian regimes in the Kremlin, I don’t think any truly revolutionary movement will build within Russia. But then again, I’ve believed more or less the same about this since at least 2008.

 

American Maidan

So as my readership is surely aware, the grand jury in the Michael Brown shooting case decided not to indict officer Darren Wilson. To use the words of Gin & Tacos blogger Ed, they didn’t even think the matter was worth discussing. Wilson was a cop, Brown was a young black male. Now of course the media will show us images of rioting, complete with burning police cars. Pundits and politicians will condemn the rioters. They’ll call them “thugs” and accuse them of destroying their own community. To all individuals who do so, and the American media as a whole, please hear my reply. Go fuck yourself.

There’s a breakdown of law and order? Okay, go fuck yourselves.They’re throwing Molotov cocktails? Go fuck yourself. They set a cop car on fire? Good, now go fuck yourselves. They smashed up a Denny’s? Not my property, go fuck yourselves.  Condemn the violence, call for order, go ahead and do all of that, but please don’t forget to go fuck yourselves. Do whatever you like, but more than anything I beg of you- go fuck yourselves. You owe the nation that much. Yourselves, go fuck.

Why such hostility? Well you see, the American media has a habit of jumping on the bandwagon of various protest movements, and often those movements which happen to advance America’s foreign policy goals in one way or another. No matter how lawless or violent these protests become, our media dutifully reports the protesters’ own narrative of the event with virtually no criticism. While Ukraine’s Euromaidan protests certainly had some just demands, there was a significant far right presence within the movement, and near the end there was an explosion of violence which involved Molotov cocktails, the occupation of buildings, and eventually firearms. Indeed, many protesters were unarmed and peaceful, but a very active, thuggish minority deliberately turned the protest into a battle without regard for the civilians who would be caught in the crossfire. If these words sound to you like blaming the victims, I invite you to watch the coverage of the Ferguson riots, because this is exactly what we have heard before and what we will be hearing for the next few weeks.

“Protesters beaten by police? They should have done what the police told them! Why didn’t they vacate the area when they were told? Why did they throw rocks at the police? They should have known this would provoke a violent response!”  This is how Americans respond to protests which get out of hand on American soil. Law and order in Kyiv mean nothing. Let me make this perfectly clear- in spite of my past criticisms of Maidan, I’m not condemning the idea of violent protests against a government. What I’m condemning is a ridiculous double standard whereby Americans and citizens of other Western countries are expected to meekly obey a policeman’s every command, while at the same time our media cheers on foreigners who engage in melee battles with police. In Ferguson they’re “destroying their own community,” but the people who burnt the center of Kyiv are heroic rebels. Condemn all, condemn none, or maybe take a more nuanced approach and discuss the conflict in a critical manner.

Part of me suspects that one reason for the media love affair with foreign protests is that we’re expected to live vicariously through the actions of protesters on the other side of the planet. We’re encouraged to show solidarity with them via social media, and in so doing, we get to imagine that we’re part of some revolutionary movement, something totally forbidden to us at home.  We’re supposed to cheer those who threw Molotovs in Kyiv, while in the US numerous activists have been arrested on spurious claims that they were conspiring to make Molotov cocktails.  Resistance is for those foreigners in a far off land you don’t understand, American, at home you will obey.

The Maidan protesters wanted their government to sign a trade agreement with the European Union. Ferguson residents want assurances that their police won’t be able to murder their sons with impunity.  I think the latter warrants a bit more leeway than the former.  So to every member of the American media who uncritically came out in support for Euromaidan yet condemns the reaction in Missouri, I cannot stress this enough. Go fuck yourselves. To the protesters, you’re America’s Maidan, only more righteous in cause. Burn it to the ground.

“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”    –Abraham Lincoln, 2nd inaugural address