Policy Memos

Protests Without Leaders: Making Multiple Choices into a Source of Strength

Policy Memo:

220

Publication Date:

09-2012

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One striking and puzzling feature of the wave of protests that has risen in Moscow since the fraudulent parliamentary elections last December is the absence of a group of leaders united by common goals and organizational ties. Indeed, most successful “color revolutions” (or “velvet revolutions” before them) have had one or more charismatic champion. Take for example the Viktor Yushchenko-Yulia Tymoshenko duo in Ukraine in 2004, or the larger-than-life personalities of Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa that defined the anno mirabilis of 1989. On the other hand, the list of triumphant leaderless uprisings—from Berlin’s Alexanderplatz (1989) to Cairo’s Tahrir Square (2011)—is also remarkably long. It is not so much the mythologized history of Russian revolutions as the excessively personalized nature of the current political system that compels observers and rebels to agonize over a key irresoluble question: “If not Vladimir Putin, then who?” It may turn out, however, that the confusing multiplicity of speakers who tried to capitalize on five minutes of fame at rallies on Bolotnaya Square or Sakharova Avenue is not proof of the weakness of the opposition, as President-again Putin tends to believe, but a source of strength. [...]

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Research Professor
Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)