About two weeks ago I had the pleasure of being on This is Hell!, one of my favorite leftwing podcasts to talk about Russia, Navalny, protest, and Putin.
Chuck and his crew were kind enough to let me re-purpose the interview as part of the SRB Podcast.
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By Sean — 10 years ago
In Russia, December 14 is remembered as the day of the Decembrist Uprising of 1825, but today’s dissenters are marking it as a annual day of protest. While most international reporting has focused on the arrests of some 90 demonstrators at the sparsely attended the Dissenters’ March in Moscow, on the other side of the country thousands of people paralyzed the city of Vladivostok for five hours in a protest against taxes on the purchase of foreign cars. The increase set to take effect on January 11, 2009 will increase the price of an imported car by 10 to 20 percent.
The action pits the Russian government and citizen against each other in the form of a classic tax revolt. Ironically, the government’s attempt to protect the fledgling Russian auto industry from foreign competition has found its greatest foe among the very people Russia’s economic boom has benefited: those Russians who now have enough disposable income to buy a new car. According to one figure, about 90% of small cars in Primorya are Japanese models. Much of the protesters’ anger was directed at Putin with slogans like “Improve the standard of living, but no taxes!” and “Mr. Putin help the oligarchs from your own pocket!” Given the protest’s constituency, economic theme, and target is why Russian television was silent about the protests. According to one report, no central television station–NTV, Pervyi, or Rossiia–reported on the protests. The Russian print media and blogosphere, however, continues to be abuzz with reports and discussion of the significance of the protests.
The protest, which was organized by the Society for the Defense of Drivers of the Primorya, appeared to catch local authorities off guard. Sure, the Vladivostok city administration gave a permit for the action, but it seems that they didn’t realize that it would garner that much support. According to Kommersant, the action was a two pronged attack. About half of the protest gathered in the center of the city in front of the city administration while a chain of cars caused a traffic jam to the airport. According to Igor Pushkarev, the mayor of Vladivostok, the action paralyzed the city and “caused serious problems for tens of thousands of people” including delays in emergency vehicles, disruption of businesses, and deliveries to grocery stores. It took the cops several hours to get control of the situation. In the end, several tens of people were arrested, fined 2,000-2,500 rubles, and then released. The organizers were fined 1,000 rubles.
The protesters can say that their action was a success. They may have been dismissed by the national television media, but they got the attention of their intended target: local and national leaders. Today, deputies from Primorya voted unanimously to appeal to Medvedev, Putin and the State Duma to reverse the planned tariffs on foreign cars. The Federal Council has already promised to help the protesters. One council member, Vyacheslav Fetisov, put it this way: “Once Primordtsy went out on the street it means that [the tariffs] will seriously affect their lives.” Funny how that didn’t cross his mind until now.
The protestors are serious. So much so that they aren’t going to take any empty words or gestures from goverment officals. They are already thinking about increasing the pressure with a repeat performance on December 21.Post Views: 1,030
By Sean — 5 years ago
Guest post by William Risch
In a December 25 interview with the magazine Foreign Policy, heavyweight world boxing champion Vitaly Klychko explained the significance of Ukraine’s Euromaidan protest movement to Belgrade-based journalist Harriet Salem: “Now people in this square [Kyiv’s Maidan] understand that they have power in their hands and the opportunity to change the situation in our country. Our country is very young, and this is a very important step, that every citizen is aware that his future depends just on him.” Klychko, true to his boxer image, advocated a knock-out blow against President Viktor Yanukovych’s regime: “We understand that to make real reforms, we must topple the whole system.”
Klychko was not the only one claiming to stand with the people. On December 15, after visits to Kyiv by European Union foreign policy commissioner Catherine Ashton and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, U.S. Senators John McCain and Chris Murphy spoke to the Maidan. As reported by the Washington Post, Murphy told the crowd, “You are making history. If you are successful, the United States will stand with you every step of the way.”
I was at that rally. The senators’ voices, interpreted by former Minister of Foreign Affairs Borys Tarasiuk, were muddled. While I filmed Murphy and McCain, fellow historians with me ignored the speech. They discussed with a local resident contested 2012 parliamentary elections being rerun that very day in five districts.
Were these politicians really with the people? On December 16, I took part in a march on the Central Elections Commission. About 150-200 people protested the results of the special parliamentary elections, claiming they had been falsified. Speakers said Klychko was going to speak, but in the end, he didn’t show up. The night of December 17-18, Klychko spoke to the Maidan’s “Night Watch,” an all-night disco and political rally aimed at keeping police forces from breaking up the Maidan. He gave a stirring speech about the hard work it takes to realize one’s dreams, and then he left.
The night of December 19-20, I volunteered to watch over the Maidan’s barricades. Warming up to a makeshift bonfire in freezing temperatures, I spent the whole night talking with other guards about why they were there. One man, 38 year-old Serhiy from Poltava, said he had lost his small store to bank debts, his wife had left him, and he was unemployed. As we debated over what Serhiy should do – get a lawyer, find another job, or emigrate to to America – the Maidan’s hourly singing of the Ukrainian national anthem began. Everyone suddenly stopped arguing. They tood up and silently watched the musicians performing on the large TV screen. Across the Maidan’s barricades, others joined us in silently saluting the anthem or singing. In that moment, no foreign dignitary, no celebrity like Klychko, spoke for people like Serhiy. If anyone, it was us, the people of the Maidan, who stood with him.Post Views: 531
By Sean — 2 years ago
Guest: Andy Bruno on The Nature of Soviet Power: An Arctic Environmental History.