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Protesters Will Have to Pay the Pipers

Protests by miners in the Kemerovo region have received huge support from the opposition, which sees the unrest as the long-awaited confirmation that it is possible to mobilize a workers movement in Russia. But May 22 — the day that there were supposed to be thousands of protesters in the central squares of Kemerovo’s mining towns — turned out to be a flop.

That should not have come as a surprise. Although the May 14 protests in Mezhdurechensk in the Kemerovo region were a spontaneous outburst of emotion, the attempt to repeat this success on May 22 was an effort of a hodgepodge of political groups made up of members from the extreme left and the extreme right. This attempt to consolidate groups with such conflicting ideologies could have only resulted in failure.

Statements by far-right organizations expressing sympathy for the miners caused unease among leftists, who complained of dubious politicians trying to worm their way into the popular protest movement.

The problem is that the miners and their supporters expressed gratitude to every political organization offering support without bothering to disassociate leftists from rightists.

This reminds me of a similar situation in 1989, when Moscow liberals cynically used the miners movement to provoke a political confrontation in the capital. The catastrophic conditions miners and their families face today are a direct consequence of those earlier events.

I suspect that the left’s main motivation for organizing mass demonstrations is to stoke protests for their own sake without having any specific objectives. That tactic reveals the political immaturity of the left and its incapacity for taking serious and responsible action. It is impossible to influence events without taking a critical and clear-thinking approach. The “assistance” that the left offers often boils down to an abundance of self-promotion and a shortage of protesters.

Any social movement pays a high price when it decides to accept the support of nationalists, liberals or State Duma deputies. Honest people with a strong set of morals and principles are fully aware of how the cynical political game is played and do not want to have anything to do with this farce.

The pragmatic desire to bring everyone together leads to the emergence of disparate and unstable alliances that inevitably fall apart at the most critical moment. This is exactly what happened in Kaliningrad in March. After successful protests in February, in which more than 10,000 protesters gathered, attempts to repeat this feat one month later in the same city failed miserably.

Social protests produce no results unless they are backed up by systematic and long-term efforts to achieve specific objectives. Social movements desiring serious support must earn it by first demonstrating their own effectiveness and accountability.

Until participants in social movements and their leaders learn to make independent policy choices, they will continue to be pawns in somebody else’s political game. Opposition coalitions will become a viable force only when they learn to more sharply define their ideologies. They must decide who should be their allies and who should be their adversaries. Once this is done, they must expel their adversaries from their ranks, despite any alluring promises of assistance or declarations of solidarity they might offer.

Boris Kagarlitsky is director of the Institute of Globalization Studies.

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