The Pushkin Revolt

This one comes from the Global News Blog at Reuters:

Pushkin’s “Russian Uprising” was an 18th century peasant revolt focused on the Ural and Volga regions led by Yemelian Pugachev, a pretender to the throne of Tsarina Catherine the Great — a rebellion crushed with equal brutality. The memory of Pugachev is a distant one, but there are more recent events, less dramatic in scale that scar the Russian landscape.

One city name stands alone as a reminder to Russia’s leaders as they weigh the dangers of social unrest in the months ahead: Novocherkassk.

In June, 1962, workers at the Novocherkassk Electric Locomotive Factory, furious about food shortages, wage cuts and dismal working conditions, declared a strike. Moscow, wary of any spread in the unrest, ordered tanks into the town. Crowds marched on the Communist Party headquarters to present their demands. Militants broke away and stormed the local militia headquarters. Rioting swept Novocherkassk, a city situated close to the historic heartland of the cossacks Pugachev drew on for his rebellion. Moscow ordered troops to act, and shots were fired into the crowd. Dozens, including women and children, were killed, their bodies buried secretly at night by the security services.

Russian leaders, ensconced in the Kremlin, had failed to recognisethe depth of feeling and suffering in the distant provinces and werequickly overwhelmed. Authorities in Novocherkassk under pressure fromMoscow acted clumsily, in panic, to restore order.

The political perils for Russia’s leaders lurk today, as they did inthe past, in the more remote provinces of a vast country spanning 11time zones and countless nationalities from the Polish border toVladivostok in the Far East.

Some in the poorest regions have little more they can lose as thecrisis grips. They may be joined in their anger by a middle class, onlyjust emerging, only just adapting to the pleasures of wealth nowsnatched from them.

Putin made clear the importance he gives to control over the regionswhen, as one of the first acts of his presidency, he brought themdirectly under his appointees. According to one newspaper report, thehead of Russia’s oil producing Bashkortostan region mayleave his post within weeks, the most powerful casualty yet in aclear-out of regional leaders analysts have linked to Kremlin concernover possible unrest.

The disintegration of the Soviet Union has its lessons for theRussian Federation. The tensions of the coming months may play out lesson the streets than quietly between Moscow and the power elites of thestruggling regions – from the unruly north Caucasus to the Arcticnorth, from the Siberian oilfields to the distant Far East.

In the best of times, Russia is a hard country to hold together.