New Policy Memo: Daring to Protest: When, Why, and How Russia’s Citizens Engage in Street Protest

25 Aug 2014

The December 2011-March 2012 protests in Russia, unprecedented in scale, surprised even the most astute observers of Russian politics. Were these protests a mere blip on the “normally placid surface of Russian political life”?[1] Or are they part of a longer-term trajectory of political maturation for Russian society? Do they reveal a growing capacity of Russia’s citizens to resort to non-institutionalized forms of political participation, as opportunities to influence governance through the ballot box progressively shrink? When and under what conditions should we expect protests to erupt again?

An original protest dataset I have assembled helps answer these questions.[2] In 2007, the liberal-leaning opposition figure Garry Kasparov helped set up a website called “namarsh.ru,”which can be roughly translated as “Go and protest!” The website relies on a network of regional correspondents to post and repost news on protests occurring across Russia. While some overreporting of liberal-leaning activism is likely, given the political orientation of those who run the website, the reports do cover protests featuring diverse agendas and political groupings. These range from activism that could be construed as purely civic in nature, such as when neighborhood residents take to the streets to challenge waste dumping, to protests led by activists from the Communist Party (KPRF) and other opposition parties and groups. Altogether, some 5,100 protest events were reported between April 2007, when the first protest entry was posted, and December 2013.

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