As the demonstrations in Khabarovsk which began as a protest against Moscow’s removal of the elected governor of that region enter their fourth week, they have changed not only their demands but how those making them view themselves. Today, Khabarovsk people proudly declare that, whatever Moscow thinks, “we are the power here.”
That psychological transformation is hard to measure and even describe in detail, but such shifts as the events in some republics at the end of the Soviet period show are the ones on which future developments are likely to be driven.
Khabarovsk residents were angered by Putin’s decision to remove Sergey Furgal and then further infuriated by the Kremlin leader’s decision to impose on them someone who was part of the same political party (the LDNR) but not one of their own chosen by election. And this anger has been further exacerbated by official actions since that time.
The Kremlin-appointed head, Mikhail Degtyarev, has made it worse for himself and the regime by suggesting that outside agitators are behind the protests rather than showing that he understands that the people in the street are the people of Khabarovsk who now feel empowered to speak up for themselves.
Degtyarov’s regime has detained a blogger, prompted the driver of the Furgalmobile to declare a hunger strike, and begun to arrest and fine individuals for taking part in the protests. But instead of intimidating the people of Khabarovsk, such actions have only made the population angrier and more ready to protest.
And statements by Khabarovsk officials that people should not take children to the protests because of the risk of “psychological trauma” or coronavirus infection or warnings that no one should risk taking part in such “unsanctioned actions” have proven equally counter-productive.
The people of Khabarovsk are more committed than ever to the defense of their rights to choose their own leader rather than have to live under one imposed by the Kremlin and they are encouraged by the fact that people in other Far Eastern cities are backing them and that polls show almost half of all Russians support their aspirations. Only 17 percent oppose them.
Unfortunately and pointing to a crisis at some point in the future, among those 17 percent are the denizens of the Putin dictatorship.
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