The Rise of Maidanophobia in Russia: For Good or No Good?
792 views   /  14 Oct 2015
Daria Zakharova, a political critic currently based in Germany, talks about the rise of Maidanophobia in Russia and how the phenomenon led to an unprecedented tightening of government measures towards any large crowd gatherings.
By Daria Zakharova
Euromaidan revolution has definitely changed Ukraine. Today the country is drastically different from what it was 2 years ago – the new president, the new parliament and a new sense of direction. However, Ukraine’s Euromaidan revolution has also influenced neighboring Russia and its society, perhaps in a less visible, but significant way. The phenomenon that one could describe as Maidanophobia has emerged in Russia.
Dozens of anti-Maidan organizations appeared right after the Ukrainian revolution; hundreds of conservative anti-US and anti-European online groups were formed; thousands of Russians now compare the new Ukrainian government to the fascist regime in Germany prior to World War II.
Shortly after the Ukrainian revolution in February 2014, a group of activists under the control of Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party formed the anti-Maidan movement. By bringing together the different layers of society – public leaders, actors, singers, renowned athletes and activist citizens – the group targeted potential threats of an orange revolution in Russia.
After the start of a civil war in Ukraine, the activists proclaimed they wanted to “prevent a Western-led revolution” in Russia that could happen in a similar way it happened in Ukraine. However, as fighting with something that hardly exists in the Russian society is quite hard to do, the activists became “famous” for hindering and attacking oppositional protests and holding meetings next to the US embassy in Moscow. Some of their actions were extremely bizarre. For instance, they repeatedly vandalized the memorial of Boris Nemtsov, a Russian opposition figure killed in February 2015 while walking on the Bolshoy Moskvoretskiy Bridge. Activists also posted videos and pictures of their actions online.
Trying to find a black cat in a dark room is a hard to do, especially if there is no cat to be found. But the well-funded state movement fighting against a potential Russian “Maidan” is not the only indicator of public hysteria. The last couple of years have been hard for Russia’s liberal opposition and the so-called “Maidan apologists,” as these groups experienced tighter oppression than prior to Maidan. Several laws, which significantly hinder the organization of public meetings, were passed; as a result, much fewer non-political meetings are now possible without government interference.
In the middle of August, several Russian cities hosted the festival of colors called Holi. The festival is held in a dozen of countries around the world with teenagers, mostly attending these innocent celebrations during which participants get to throw paint at each other and fool around. In the middle of the festival held in Moscow, the riot police OMON suddenly appeared on the stage. The music was abruptly turned off and kids were ordered to go home. Several trucks that transport prisoners also approached the scene. The perplexity turned into agony and the crowd of resentful teenagers refused to disperse. Immediately, the OMON unit did what they do the best – they started to disperse the youth using violent methods. Witnesses claim some participants had broken ribs and noses, and one girl received a head injury after a policeman stomped on her head. The police also beat a dozen of teenagers using batons. The incredibly hostile reaction of the riot police at the youth festival caused mass discontent among participants. However, this gave the government an impetus to take even harsher measures.
Brutal methods used by the Russian authorities are hard to excuse, considering that teenagers attended the festival, no anti-governmental slogans were chanted and most importantly a local municipal government sanctioned the event. Can we talk about the new phenomenon of the government’s pathological fear of any crowd gatherings that aren’t pro-government? Might this be the fear of a possible “Maidan” revolution in Russia?
“Nashestvie,” one of the biggest rock festivals in the post-Soviet space, has been held in Russia for over 15 years now. The rock festival has never been a political event, but since rock music played a certain role in the fall of the Soviet Union often opposing the Soviet regime, the dose of rebel spirit has been always hovering over “Nashestvie.” In August 2014, for the first time in the history of the festival, the Russian Ministry of Defense took part in the event. The ministry organized a massive military exhibition at the site. Dozens of tanks and other military vehicles were shown to attendants. Vendors sold military-style clothing and shirts with the pictures of Vladimir Putin and other uber-patriotic slogans during the festival. According to Radio Freedom, this year the Ministry of Defense organized recruitment tents offering to festival-goers military enlistment contracts during the event.
The Kremlin’s interference into non-political public events that increased during the last year may not only be the fear of every mass event, which could turn into the wave of protests or acquire political tone. The case of “Nashestvie” shows that the government wants to have new allies loyal to its policy and to summon potential opposition forces into the pro-governmental side.
As one can see the Kremlin’s paranoia of innocent mass gatherings is expressed in both violent and non-violent, yet still oppressive, forms. The increasing state interference into various non-political, cultural and musical events shows nothing but the government’s pathological fear of its own people.
There are no definite indications that something similar to Maidan could ever happen in Russia. Therefore, it would have been much better to use state funds, spent on fighting an “invisible enemy,” on better things, such as the delivery of urban amenities and the array of social and healthcare services across the country. Or even better – to stabilize the national economy.
The majority of the world sees the notion of Euromaidan as history, but in Russia the government sees it as a very real threat that could happen in the future. Instead of learning from the Ukrainian experience how to communicate with its people more effectively to avoid mass protests, the Russian government chose to tighten the screws. The only question is for how long will this work?
Disclaimer: the views and opinions contained in this article are those of the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of Russian Accent.
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