Lisbeth Tarlow / Director of the Project on the Russian-Speaking Jewish Diaspora, Davis Center at Harvard University
Olena Tregub / Co-Founder & Executive Director, Global Education Leadership
Date: Wednesday, June 27th, 2012
Time: 9:00am – 10:30am
Part One – Russian Protest Movement in Struggle Against Personal Autocracy: Russia today experiences an unprecedented wave of citizens’ organizing against their own government not seen since the times of the collapse of the Soviet Union and nonviolent mobilization against Yanayev push in Moscow in August 1991. The current protest movement in Russia is both robust and limited. It continues engaging in creative acts of public resistance often initiated and popularized online that bring together various political and social groups. At the same time, the movement faces challenges with expanding its outreach beyond main cities into smaller towns, villages and countryside where Putin enjoys a genuine support. The authorities play on public fear of foreign interference and ‘color revolutions’ that, according to them, will destabilize economic and political situation in the country. In addition, the government introduces ever harsher laws against activists and discusses ways of tightening its control over the Internet where a significant part of the current civic organizing against Putin’s regime is taking place. In these changing and challenging circumstances it remains to be seen whether and how the protest movement can adapt and reinvent itself to convince the majority of the population that the political changes demanded by the movement are a matter of time not choice.
Part Two – From Frustration to Mobilization? Reinventing Ukrainian Society under Personalistic Rule: After the Orange revolution in Ukraine, the society ended up in a deep retrenchment from a political life as the Orange leaders disappointed in their ability to introduce economic and political reforms and quiet down their personal animosities for a greater public good. Eventually, the ‘people power’ that ushered Victor Yushchenko to Ukraine’s presidency in 2005 also brought it down, albeit through conventional politics. Yulia Tymoshenko did not manage to beat Viktor Yanukovych, an anti-hero of the Orange revolution, in the presidential race in 2010. Right from the outset of his presidency he quickly consolidated his powers via corruption schemes, and re-writing the Ukrainian constitution. Following a politically charged trial Tymoshenko was sentenced last year to 7 years in prison for allegedly exceeding her power in signing a gas deal with Russia in 2009. Next to his attempts to suppress political opposition, Yanukovych is now trying to tame down media and civil society. A number of civil society organizations and activists have been voicing their criticism in public protests and information campaigns. Until now, the Ukrainian society, by and large, has remained demobilized, still feeling the fatigue with politics. The polls however show that the protest moods in the society are higher than before the Orange revolution. The activists mostly realize their dissatisfaction with the current government and its policies through small localized and single-issue protests and ridiculing and criticizing authorities in the unrestricted digital space. The coming parliamentary elections this Fall have already seen the government imposing institutional barriers to restrict open political participation while, at the same time, some civic groups began organizing themselves, independently of the divided political opposition, for honest and fair elections.
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