At yesterday’s Strategy 31 rallies, stalwart democracy activist Boris Nemtsov was apparently quick to draw inspiration from the example of Egypt’s mass protests, a tsunami of popular discontent against Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule, which is bringing the authoritarian regime to its knees and dominating global headlines. ‘Please, someone tell me how our leadership differs from his‘, Nemtsov apparently shouted to last night’s crowd from the back of a truck. Whilst certainly similarities in regime styles might be identified, Vladimir Ryzhkov in the Moscow Times explains why socio-political differences in the populations of the two regions problematize any comparison:
It is the numerous and embittered Arab youth — deprived of opportunities by economic stagnation and aging dictatorships — that formed the combustible material first for the “Jasmine Revolution” in Tunisia, and then for the fires of revolution breaking out in other Arab states. In this respect, Russia is the exact opposite of Tunisia, Egypt and Iran. The Arab world is a boiling cauldron of discontented youth, but Russia is an old and cooling star.
Unlike Arab states, Russia’s population continues its rapid decline, faced not with an excess but an acute shortage of young people. As that shortage grows at an alarming rate, it is having a major impact on the military, universities, employers, schools and the pension fund. There are 40 million retirees in Russia today as opposed to only 75 million people of working age — and that imbalance continues to increase. The workforce is expected to shrink by 900,000 people this year alone. Even with a deep economic crisis and the current stagnation, unemployment remains relatively low, and this is because of growing labor shortages that are mitigated in part by an influx of foreign workers. Youth can expect to find jobs in Russia with far greater ease than their peers in the Arab world. With growing demand in Russia’s labor market and an increasingly nationalized economy — including more jobs with the government and siloviki structures, even though half of the workforce is already employed by the state — youth are more likely to choose a strategy of adaptation and conformity than protest.
Only 3 percent of Russians are “very interested” in politics, as compared with 5 percent to 7 percent over the last five years. Those who are “sort of interested” in politics number 29 percent, although in 2009 it was 37 percent. And an incredible 64 percent said they were “completely uninterested” or “sort of uninterested” in politics.
Meanwhile Paul Goble on Window on Eurasia has also contemplated the impact that the wave of uprisings across Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen might have upon the eastern bear. He has sourced an essay by Caucasus expert Sergey Markedonov, from the CaucasusTimes.com portal which sees the Egyptian crisis having a tangible effect upon the Russian federation, in terms of radical Islam, which as the events of last week reminded us, remains very much a thorn in the Kremlin’s side:
Whatis happening in Egypt now, Markedonov notes, is not the world of theIslamist element alone. It is a far broader phenomenon. But that veryfact may have negative consequences for Russian power in the NorthCaucasus because as he points out “mass uprisings not infrequently throwoverboard moderates” as events develop.
Since it intervened in Chechnya in 1994, Moscow has sought to limit theadverse reaction in the Arab world. It has succeeded in part, but ifthings change in a major way in Egypt, Russian calculations in thisregard may have to be changed, especially if events in Egypt lead tochanges elsewhere.
At the very least, “the fall of such a secular fortress as Egypt,”Markedonov concludes, “would create not a few new problems for Moscow”especially because Islamists in the North Caucasus will be watching whatis taking place and drawing their own conclusions about what they canand should do next.
Read Goble’s full comment here.