A protest group of intellectuals and students with consistent views has formed in Russia. There will be no decline in this movement, as it will continuously be reinvigorated by new developments. People enjoy rallies and other such events because interactions on social networks and the Internet are not enough for them.
At the June 12 rally in Moscow, the Kryshtanovskaya Laboratory, a new center for sociology, began a study of the social composition of the protesters, their goals and their future.
Sociologists usually refer to the core group of protesters as the “creative class,” “hipsters” and a host of other terms that are not always entirely clear. Essentially, the protesters belong to the segment of society that has traditionally been referred to as the Russian intelligentsia. In Russia, 28% of the population have higher education, compared to 70% of protesters; 0.4% of Russians have an academic degree, compared to 5.8% of protesters; nine percent of the Russian population are university students, compared to 17% at the rally. All in all, knowledge workers account for about half of all protesters at the rally. These data make it abundantly clear that rallies are being staged by the intelligentsia – the class that has always been in opposition to the government, and has spearheaded revolutions and all the meaningful changes in the country.
At rallies, protesters are relatively young, with an average age of about 30 years. This says a lot about government policy, which has not paid enough attention to students, the intelligentsia, intellectuals and groups of people who often visit the West. During such visits they see positive examples and want to see them replicated in Russia. The overwhelming majority of protesters have been abroad. They would like to emigrate to the West but haven’t done so for some reason. As a result, there was a feeling of national depression that resulted in these protests.
In this context, it is important to analyze the media environment in which protest communities – or “hedgehogs” as I call them – take shape. They have a firm foundation in social networks – 65% of protesters find information about protests and rallies on the Internet. Most protesters have accounts on Facebook (about 40%), VKontakte (20%) Twitter (18%) and LiveJournal (5.5%), while about 25% of opposition-minded people browse the Internet to find this information. These people have long expressed grievances on the Internet, and took to the streets as soon as they got the opportunity and saw that it was relatively safe to do so.
When these “hedgehogs” sense danger, they leave the streets and curl up into a ball on social networks, but they don’t disappear. Moreover, 56% of them say it is safe to attend rallies, which is contradictory – while they protest the absence of democracy, they are not afraid to attend such events and feel quite comfortable there.
The network origin of the crowd and its cohesion is borne out by the fact that two third of protesters arrived in small groups of 19 people on average. They don’t have a nucleus like political parties where all members know each other. Protesters come from different groups and different political backgrounds, but have come together thanks to the Internet and web communication.
Given these circumstances, protesters have a nuanced attitude toward leadership, and the authorities are not quite sure how to act in this new reality. The community is governed by profiles on social networks that can be replaced. For instance, if a protester is arrested, his or her account can be operated by another person. Perhaps the opposition itself is not yet harnessing all of the opportunities afforded by technology.
The motives of protesters warrant special attention. Strange as it may seem, 33% of those polled found it difficult to answer exactly what they are supporting by attending the rallies. No positive motives have been determined. More than half, 55.9%, said that they don’t have a leader. However, negative motives make it possible to create a pyramid, the top of which is occupied by revolutionaries (3%). They are ready for resolute action and believe that they are primarily fighting against Vladimir Putin. The next group (25%) is against the entire political system. The third group is the biggest (40%). It has no revolutionary goals but is protesting the fact that they do not live in a nation of laws (the abuse of police lights, double standards in the judicial and law-enforcement systems, and dishonest courts). To sum up, a considerable number of people are protesting inequality in Russia. This is a key finding.
I believe that a protest group of intellectuals and students with consistent views has formed in Russia. There will be no decline in this movement, as it will continuously be reinvigorated by new developments. People enjoy rallies and other such events because interactions on social networks and the Internet are not enough for them. At rallies they feel the solidarity that is essential for people who want to feel like citizens of a country. Although there has been no influx of fresh forces and this is unlikely to occur in the future, these protest groups will continue to exist.
That said, the protest movement reached its peak at Bolotnaya Square and then gradually declined. This happens because people who come to one, two or three rallies do not see any results. They need a positive agenda because the negative one has been exhausted – they have told the authorities what they want; they have made their grievances known. What next? Continued results require a new form of consolidation.
This movement will be effective only when it is organized into a political party that has an ideology and concrete positive goals, but this will cause a schism among the protesters. Thus, they need a party, but this is impossible because the protests are turning them into a single whole. The leaders of rallies understand this and do not want to form parties for this reason, although the conditions for doing so are there.