Russia's Middle Class Protestors

"The gap between the Putin regime and the expectations and attitudes of the Russian middle class is widened by a deep generational--perhaps even existential--divide." -- American Enterprise Institute (AEI) Russian Scholar Leon Aron in his latest Russian Outlook.

Aron examines the demonstrations and rallies which have been taking place in Russia since December 2011 and finds that:

  • Although the demonstrators could be described as political opposition, a civil rights movement would be a more fitting characterization. The movement is united by a quest for dignity in liberty and democratic citizenship, and as a result, the movement is likely to endure -- despite the Russian regime’s attempts to stifle public protest.
  • These rallies appear to follow the pattern of successful antiauthoritarian revolutions in Europe, Asia, and Latin American, which were spearheaded by a middle class comprised of young, urban, well-educated, and relatively prosperous men and women.
  •  
    • The protests were not confined to Moscow or St. Petersburg. The rallies and marches took place in 113 Russian cities and towns, including all the largest ones.
  •  
    • The crowds are strongly middle class.  For example, in a December 24, 2011, protest, 70 percent had college degrees or higher and 13 percent were more than halfway (over three years) through college; only 5 percent could be classified as rich.
  •  
    • Of equal importance is the geography of the demonstrators' social base. Democratization, open and competitive politics, impartial justice, fair elections, and elimination of corruption have a growing appeal in the country’s largest cities (populations of five hundred thousand or more) where between 44 and 50 million Russians live.
  • The Kremlin's greatest political challenge is to close the gap between the reality and expectations of the middle class. Can the regime manage this? Theoretically, it is possible, but in practice, it appears increasingly unlikely.
  • The protesters appear to predicate success on changes coming from within, from "below." Not from a revolution or a good tsar.
  • If Russia's protest movements do persist, the country's domestic policy will become an increasingly central factor in relations with the United States.

 

Leon Aron is the director of Russian studies at AEI and can be reached at laron@aei.org or through assistant daniel.vajdic@aei.org (202).862.5942. 

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About the Author

 

Leon
Aron
  • Leon Aron is Resident Scholar and Director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. He is the author of three books and over 300 articles and essays. Since 1999, he has written Russian Outlook, a quarterly essay on economic, political, social and cultural aspects of Russia’s post-Soviet transition, published by the Institute. He is the author of the first full-scale scholarly biography of Boris Yeltsin, Yeltsin: A Revolutionary Life (St. Martin’s Press, 2000); Russia’s Revolution: Essays 1989-2006 (AEI Press, 2007); and, most recently, Roads to the Temple: Memory, Truth, Ideas and Ideals in the Making of the Russian Revolution, 1987-1991 (Yale University Press, 2012).


    Dr. Aron earned his Ph.D. from Columbia University, has taught a graduate seminar at Georgetown University, and was awarded the Peace Fellowship at the U.S. Institute of Peace. He has co-edited and contributed the opening chapter to The Emergence of Russian Foreign Policy, published by the U.S. Institute of Peace in 1994 and contributed an opening chapter to The New Russian Foreign Policy (Council on Foreign Relations, 1998).


    Dr. Aron has contributed numerous essays and articles to newspapers andmagazines, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, theWall Street Journal Foreign Policy, The NewRepublic, Weekly Standard, Commentary, New York Times Book Review, the TimesLiterary Supplement. A frequent guest of television and radio talkshows, he has commented on Russian affairs for, among others, 60 Minutes,The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, Charlie Rose, CNN International,C-Span, and National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” and “Talk of theNation.”


    From 1990 to 2004, he was a permanent discussant at the Voice of America’s radio and television show Gliadya iz Ameriki (“Looking from America”), which was broadcast to Russia every week.


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  • Phone: 202-862-5898
    Email: laron@aei.org
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    Phone: 202-862-5872
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