Between Opportunist Revolutionaries and Mediating Spoilers: Failed Politicization of the Russian Truck Drivers’ Protest, 2015–2016
- Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization
- Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies, The George Washington University
- Volume 25, Number 3, Summer 2017
- pp. 279-303
- Additional Information
Russian truck drivers’ massive protest against new fees in late 2015 attracted wide attention in Russian liberal circles and abroad, with some movement entrepreneurs seeing it as the start of a democratic revolution in Russia. The regime was clearly taken aback by this challenge, which differed from previous Putinera waves of contention. Unlike the protests in 2005 and 2011–2012, the activists could apparently neither be bought off with partial concessions nor framed as isolated from “the people” and their everyday concerns. However, after hectic activity during the first month, the level of protest decreased drastically, and the strand calling for substantial political change became marginalized. This article analyzes the interaction between protesters and political actors in the initial, critical phase in order to show how the protest became drawn into the dynamics of the Russian hybrid political system. The sharp discursive divide between (legitimate) economic and (illegitimate) political protest made it difficult for “politicizers” to be accepted by the protesters, whereas the “systemic opposition,” through its active support, paradoxically prevented radicalization and rendered the protests largely toothless. Well-meaning arbiters such as the Presidential Council for Human Rights and Civil Society served mainly to channel discontent and stall the protests.