>Startling admissions: Grassroots opposition to Putin (and Medvedev)?


UCAS admissions interviews of prospective students applying to student SSEES are a hit and miss affair for the interviewer. Apart from the small matter of whether we should admit applicant (usually I recommend we do) they sometimes they genuinely interesting – a Chinese applicant tells me her impressions of travelling in North Korea, an ex-intern with the Lib Dems tells me that ex-leader Charlie Kennedy’s drink problem were common knowledge even to party minions. At other times, they can be pretty dull. But then what did I really have say about the state of world politics that was very compelling when I was 18?

As always I diligently read through the applications. They tend, however, to follow a fairly predictable formula, probably reflecting teachers’ and schools’ advice, designed to pitch reliably to admissions tutors across several institutions: top (predicted) grades, fearsome amounts of voluntary work and extra curricular activities; and a lot about why politics really, really matters in the world.

So, as ever, today I never quite know what you’re going to hear. Today’s interviewees do, however, throw me one interesting idea: two of them assure me, perhaps from lack of knowledge, perhaps because at they take a longer view than those middle aged enough to remember perestroika, that Putin’s authoritarianism, is just a passing phase and that in the historical slightly long term Russia will be democratic.

Who knows, they might be right? The latest phase of the Putin era seems to be playing itself according to script with extensively rigged presidential elections. But how heir anointed Medvedev and VP will share power is unclear. Rigged elections, are, moreover the political science literature on semi-authoritarian ‘hybrid regimes’ tells us fairly unsustainable as a means of control over the longer term. Sooner or later turn into a focus for political protest.

Does Russia have the potential for this? Ukraine’s Orange Revolution seems to have accelerated the trend towards authoritarianism. The latest issue of the Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics, however, carries an interesting article by activist and researcher Karine Clément noting the bubbling up of grassroots social movement – networks of pensioners, disaffected tenants and community activists radicalised by the overweening power of local state apparatus-cum-business elite. A shorter, openly accessible article on tenants’ movements by her can be found here. She also heads up an NGO called the Institute for Collective Action, whose (Russian-language) website can be found here.

The conventional answer would be that such movements are just localized shoots of civic activity, which will collapse due to collective action problems once they start to co-ordinate or be co-opted or stifled by Kremilin-friendly parties and official power structures.

Controlled elections… managed democracy … nascent grassroots civic movements. Rather reminds me of the perestroika era, the chaotic fag end of which I caught in my student days.

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