Why the Kaliningrad Protest Is a Big Deal

topstory1.jpgFrom a posting published over on the Khodorkovsky & Lebedev Communications Center which argues that 10,000 people on the streets of Kaliningrad over the weekend is a notable development:

So what is new here? During the transition between Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev there were protests all the time, followed by arrests, followed by NGO statements of disapproval of human rights violations.

For one, the Kaliningrad protest represents the largest demonstration against Moscow to have occurred in the enclave in more than a decade, rivaling the massive marches after the fall of the Soviet Union (many in Kaliningrad believed their geographic position would lead to sovereign status as an independent nation). Remember the outbreak of protests in Vladivostok in 2008 over the automotive trade? This one was six times larger. Blogging on Global Voices, Vadim Isakov translates part of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov’s popular essay on the events posted to his LiveJournal:

Ihaven’t seen such a grandiose rally for the last ten years. At theprotest, people expressed their political demands: the resignation ofPutin and governor Boos. The uniqueness of the Kaliningrad phenomenonis participation of all oppositional groups of the region in theprotest.

Secondly, the protests this past week collected representatives fromacross the political spectrum with a coherent series of specificdemands … such a level of organization and specifically defineddemands had been lacking in earlier opposition protests throughout thePutin years, to put it lightly. Although the protestors were expressingtheir outrage over their locally appointed governor Georgy Boos, and shouting the slogan “Partiya YedRo – Pomoinoye Vedro” (“United Russia is a bucket of filth”), they also presented a unanimous declaration published on rugrad.ed demanding that Putin should lower taxes, restore direct gubernatorial elections and fire the regional governor.

Lastly, this demonstration is especially remarkable becausethe Kremlin is actually responding with desperation. Immediatelyfollowing the event, Kremlin envoy Ilya Klebanov was flown toKaliningrad for an emergency meeting with Boos, while United Russiaalso sent a delegation and hinted at replacing the governor. Nikolai Petrov of the Carnegie Center in Moscow told told RFE/RLthat this protest may have been organized by other political elites inKaliningrad in order to force the ouster of Moscow’s appointee to theregion.