The Russian opposition held a rally on May
6 to mark the anniversary of last year’s mass protests at Bolotnaya Square. The
protests in 2012 involved violent clashes with police and resulted in the
arrest of 400 protestors, a few of whom remain in custody.
According to police,
around 8,000 people turned out for the most recent rally, although organizers
cite a more optimistic estimate of 30,000 protestors.
The rally was organized by the opposition
Coordination Council – a structure that emerged last September and whose
members were elected through online polls. The role of the Coordination Council
(CC) is to represent the Russian opposition as a whole and engage in a dialogue
with the government on behalf of the opposition.
During his live TV call-in event on April
25, President Vladimir Putin said that he was ready for a dialogue with the
opposition, “but some opposition figures are evading this dialogue.”
In an earlier interview with TV channel
Rossiya-24, Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said that he didn’t think a
dialogue with the Russian opposition was possible, because, according to him,
“it’s not possible to talk with emptiness.”
In Peskov’s opinion, the regime’s opponents
have failed to come up with a constructive agenda or any true leaders. In the
six months since its inception, the members of the CC have been mainly busy
holding regular meetings to discuss organizational matters and issue statements
on various actions of the government.
According to Boris Kagarlitsky, Director of
the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements, the establishment of the
CC has become a symbol of the impasse in which the protest movement has found
“The leaders of the protests were aware that they were beginning to
lose supporters and that they were unable to set new objectives. That’s where
the Coordination Council election campaign came in,” Kagarlitsky said.
The CC’s inability to set clear-cut
objectives has led some prominent members to become less involved. Poet Dmitry
Bykov, one of the stars of last year’s opposition rallies, has essentially
focused on journalism and artistic activities that are only indirectly related
to political struggle.
And the recent marriage of TV celebrity Ksenia Sobchak
was perceived by many as a sign of her withdrawal from political activism to
focus on her personal life.
While CC members were holding meetings, the
government was actively trying to isolate some of its most active members and
reduce its potential impact on society. Several opposition leaders have become
suspects in criminal probes launched with regard to either their political
activities or alleged economic crimes.
Thousands rally in Moscow in support of Bolotnaya prisoners
Six arrested during Bolotnaya Square opposition rally – police
The opposition which rejects the regime has actually discredited itself – Timchenko
In particular, a court in Kirov is hearing
the case of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, whom law enforcement agencies have
accused of fraud. Navalny has become famous for exposing corruption in the
highest ranks of the government.
Another CC member, leftist activist Sergei
Udaltsov, is under house arrest after being accused of accepting money from the
Georgian special services, which was allegedly recorded by hidden cameras.
Udaltsov has also been essentially deprived of participating in political
Journalist Oleg Kashin admits that many in
the opposition have recently lost interest in the organization. However, according
to Kashin, despite the ‘flickering’ nature of its activities, the CC still
represents the opposition. He believes that it is the CC that would be able to
start a dialogue with the government if a domestic political crisis were to
Kashin believes that Navalny remains the best person to lead
such a dialogue on behalf of the regime’s opponents. “Unfortunately, it has
become clear in recent months that he sees the role of a real political leader
as a burden. Perhaps the Kirov trial will galvanize him,” Kashin said.