Moscow's Anti-Maidan March: Creating a Bogeyman to Fight a Bogeyman
- By Allison Quinn
- Feb. 23 2015 21:23
- Last edited 21:24
As tens of thousands gathered in central Moscow on Saturday for the “Anti-Maidan” rally, the Russian public was asked to swallow an unsavory pill: The notion that Russia is in such danger from outside forces that its own security forces are not enough to prevent a coup d'etat, and that Russia needs a backup team of aging B-list celebrities with a catchy name to help fight off the West.
See the Photo Gallery: Russians Rally at Anti-Maidan March
Russia already has the framework in place to prevent any popular uprising, even one not orchestrated by outside forces. That became clear with the case against Alexei Navalny, who was not only sidelined from the opposition movement thanks to a flurry of criminal cases launched against him, but also discredited in the eyes of many activists. The imprisonment of his brother Oleg last December was likely enough for many other activists to throw in the towel as well.
The rally organized by the Anti-Maidan movement (See story, page 2), whose stated purpose is to prevent “color revolutions” in Russia, makes any sane person ask: What could a rag-tag crew of cultural figures possibly do to prevent a revolution that the Federal Security Service, the GRU and numerous other security agencies couldn't? After all, isn't it the job of these agencies to preserve stability? Why bother having counterintelligence agents at all if you need minor celebrities to do your job for you?
But thinking critically about these issues would mean missing theápoint. This movement spearheaded byáFederation Council member Dmitry Sablin, Night Wolves biker gang leader Alexander "the Surgeon" Zaldostanov, andámixed martial arts fighter Yulia Berezikova could clearly never prevent any uprisings ináRussia.
That simply is not within Anti-Maidan's competencies. But it can put onáa flashy show toádraw as many people intoáits ranks as possible ináa bid toámake fear ofáthe outside world mainstream. It does not seek toáprevent uprisings; it seeks toámalign members ofáthe opposition, create theáimpression that Russia is under siege fromáthe West, andápresent President Vladimir Putin as theásolutioná— all ináone fell swoop.
Saturday's rally was theáfirst manifestation ofáall three things. Signs vilifying U.S. President Barack Obama andáopposition activists like Alexei Navalny andáBoris Nemtsov were ináabundance, while placards saying "Putin Won't Allow Maidan ináRussia" were handed out near metro stations.
Reports abounded ofástudents being paid toáattend, andástate workers being forced to, making it clear that organizers knew they had toámake it appear toábe aásold-out show. á
Many demonstrators atáthe rally seemed convinced that Russia's government was atádirect risk ofábeing overthrown.
"We, theápeople, must fight foráour country's independence fromáAmerica. That is why I came," said Svetlana, who declined toágive her surname. She said she also planned toáattend anáupcoming referendum foráRussia's independence.
When asked who was inácontrol if Russia was not presently independent now, she responded as though theáanswer were obvious: "The U.S. Who else wrote our Constitution when Yeltsin was drunk? American 'aides.' Theásame people working ináUkraine now."
Svetlana was not ináthe minority. Many other demonstrators voiced theánotion that theáUnited States had not only been responsible foráthe bloodshed ináKiev one year ago, but had also meticulously infiltrated Russia using members ofáthe political opposition. á
While conspiracy theories are nothing new, theáAnti-Maidan movement's purpose is toámake them theánorm.
It's no surprise that Moscow authorities sanctioned theárallyá— held ináthe very center ofáthe city —á just as it's no surprise that theáprotest was crawling with state television reporters.
Nor is it aásurprise that foráperhaps theáfirst time inárecent history, Moscow police overestimated theáturnout toáa major protest rally, putting attendance atá35,000 while many journalists put it ináthe ballpark ofá20,000-25,000.
If there are enough people congregated ináone place shouting, "Fire! Fire!" one might actually start toábelieve there is aáfire.
Andáwhat better time than now, when Russia is stuck ináthe bowels ofáan economic crisis, toácreate aábogeyman foráthe people toástand united against? What better time than now, when ordinary Russians are starting toáfeel theáeffects ofáinflation andárising food prices?
These are precisely theásort ofáconditions that make aácountry ripe forápopular protestsá— so what better way toánip that ináthe bud than byáconvincing theápeople that protests are aácreation ofáthe enemy, that voicing discontent with theágovernment would be playing right intoátheir hands?
Another rally was held over theáweekend toámark theáone-year anniversary ofáthe protests that overthrew Kremlin-backed President Viktor Yanukovych. But that protest, held ináKharkiv onáSunday andáattended byáabout 500 people, was not put onáas some sort ofáelaborate show toámanipulate public consciousness. It was not staged toádirect theápublic's rage atáan abstract bogeyman.
That rally was tainted byávery real bogeymen, as theárelatives ofáthree people killed byáa bomb blast ináthe middle ofáthe march can attest. Two policemen were killed atáthe scene, andáa 15-year-old teenager died later ináthe hospital, when theápeaceful protest was interrupted byáan explosion that Ukraine's Interior Ministry suspects was aáterrorist attack. Atáleast another 15 were wounded ináthe blast.