Performing Political Opposition in Russia
The Case of the Youth Movement Oborona
Russian civil society is often described as weak and Russians as politically apathetic. However, as a surprise for many, tens of thousands of people gathered on the streets of Moscow to protest the fraud in the parliamentary elections in December 2011. Nevertheless, this ‘awakening’ did not last for long as Vladimir Putin took hold of the Presidency again in 2012. Since then, the Russian State Duma has passed new legislation to restrict civic and political activism. This, together with the fragmentation of the opposition movement, has hindered large-scale and sustained mobilization against the government. In 2013, the number of protests has plummeted when the risks of demonstrating are high and the benefits to participate in political activism appear non-existent. Why is it impossible for the Russian opposition to find a common voice and to sustain contentious action? This book analyzes how political opportunities and restrictions in contemporary Russia have affected the opposition activists’ activities at the grassroots level. The book examines Russian civil society, contemporary activist strategies, and democratization from the perspective of the young activists participating in the liberal youth movement Oborona (Defense) in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Before its dissolution in 2011, Oborona was an active participant in the Russian opposition movement, and thus it is an interesting case study of the living activist traditions in Russia. The research illustrates how the Soviet continuities and liberal ideas are entangled in Russian political activism to create new post-socialist political identities and practices. In Russia, the group of dissenters is small, and the political elite in power do not leave much room for voices of dissent in order for the opposition to grow and diverge. However, the study argues that one of the reasons of Oborona’s demise came from inside the movement: The group’s solidarity was based on personal ties instead of political connectedness. Furthermore, the movement suffered from the lack of common ideological goals and leader-centeredness. The research suggests that these problems can be found in Russia’s liberal opposition in general and explain why it is inefficient to mobilize large amounts of people for public demonstrations and to sustain protests. The research draws on sociological theories on identities, social performance, and politicization as well as class, gender and generation studies. The data is derived from thematic interviews and participant observations amongst Russian youth activists and it was collected in Moscow and in St Petersburg during the period of 2009–2011.