On February 24, Russia began a war with Ukraine. On that same day, protests broke out all over Russia. It is difficult to call them mass demonstrations in any real sense, although ultimately almost 6,500 people were arrested (in Russia, street gatherings of this type are practically forbidden, with the authorities persecuting even individuals who picket alone). Sociologist Greg Yudin, too, was arrested and ended up hospitalized following an anti-war protest in Moscow. Meduza special correspondent Svetlana Reiter discussed with Yudin why it doesn’t make sense to call protests in Russia “small” — and why he thinks scholars have to take a principled stand.
When we were first arranging this interview, you objected to my statement that anti-war protests were small in number: “Not so small.” What made you say that?
We don’t live in Berlin, where participation in a protest gets you lots of pats on the back. You can end up with a concussion, or spend the night in jail, or be required to remove your underwear [for a cavity search], or [possibly] have a felony case opened against you. Given the current situation, we can’t exclude the possibility that protests will eventually be punishable by 20-year prison sentences or the death penalty. So, yeah, in my view, people are coming out in force.
At a recent protest, you were beaten to the point of sustaining a concussion. Can you give us some more details about that?
Honestly, I don’t really want to talk about it — ultimately, it’s insignificant against the background of the major disaster we’re confronting. But, yes, the evening ended with a concussion for me.
How are you feeling now?
So-so. I’m still recovering.
Has anyone been conducting sociological surveys in order to determine which segments of the population approve of the hostilities in Ukraine?
They’re in progress, but it’s too early to talk about results — there aren’t any numbers for us to rely on. I don’t have them, at any rate.
Is it possible that protests will escalate?
It’s possible, yes. The initial situation was largely unexpected, and in fact studies showed that people in Russia weren’t interested in the topic of Ukraine. Hence the certainty that there wouldn’t be any war.
The danger here is that, when you’re not interested in something, then after a shocking event you’re ready to accept any convenient interpretation on offer. Which is exactly what happened — many people are clinging to the most immediate explanation, courtesy of government propaganda. That’s the most comfortable choice: everyone wants to avoid problems, especially in wartime.
But already there’s a factor that introduces dissonance into the picture — it’s obvious that the blitzkrieg failed. It’s becoming harder and harder to pretend that all of this is happening somewhere far away and will soon be over — on the contrary, it’s already an obviously significant military conflict. Lots of people on the Russian side have already been killed or wounded, with many more to come. Russians have many relatives in Ukraine, and, according to numerous reports, the Russian air force has begun using cluster bombs, which means a lot of civilian deaths.
All of that is going to disturb the picture, and people will be forced to take a clear position. It will become impossible to bury yourself in everyday tasks. Plus, the reality we’re all used to is going to be destroyed by the consequences of economic collapse. Which is why I think that a rise in critical attitudes across different segments of society is likely.
But we’re not the only ones who have figured this out — and we should expect actions in the near future that seek to nip any kind of generalized protest in the bud.