Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Russia’s New Dissidents

Anne Applebaum has a troubling piece in the Spectator on the new dissidents in Russia, the anti-Western rhetoric permeating Pravda and political discourse generally, and the rapidly growing authoritarianism that has characterized Putin’s presidency. Near the piece’s end, she makes this disturbing observation:

Slowly, Russia’s new political class is bringing not just a change in rhetorical tone, but a familiar kind of violence. Last weekend, some 2,000 members of the political opposition—among them Kasyanov, Kasparov, and Limonov—organized a march in Moscow. They were met by 9,000 club-wielding riot police. At least 170 people were arrested, among them Kasparov, who was charged with “shouting anti-government slogans in the presence of a large group of people.”

Kasparov has deemed these harsh new police tactics evidence that the regime is “scared.” Others suspect the Kremlin fears a repeat of the Ukrainian Orange Revolution, whose adherents used street protests to change the regime. I am not so sure. The new aggression might, on the contrary, be evidence that the Kremlin is now so self-confident that it no longer needs to make any gestures to Western public sensibilities at all.

Applebaum also notes that the new generation of dissidents—including Garry Kasparov and ex-PM Mikhail Kasyanov—have joined forces with older ones, like the the human-rights activist Lyudmila Alekseyeva. But to little avail:

Oddly enough, in their mixed motives and varying backgrounds, this new generation of dissidents does resemble its Soviet predecessors. They, too, were unpopular. Peter Reddaway, then the leading scholar on the subject, reckoned that at its zenith in the early 1980′s the dissident movement had made “little or no headway among the mass of ordinary people.” Today, the mass of ordinary people are probably not merely indifferent but actively hostile to Kasyanov with his liberal economics; to Kasparov with his mixed ethnic origins; to Alekseyeva with her high principles; to Limonov with his madness. Yet despite this—or perhaps because of it—the Putin regime increasingly treats these new dissidents in much the same manner as the Soviet regime once treated its dissidents.

The whole piece deserves your attention.