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They Got Together in a Demonstration but Can They Stay United

One demonstration does not make a spring. The opposition must demonstrate cohesiveness or succumb to divide and rule.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 12/12/2011, 5:43 AM


Although the postelection demonstrations in Russia came as a surprise, if I were a betting man (without offering a $10,000 wager a la Mitt Romney), I would still put my money on Putin and company in the intermediate term.

Some analysts point to the rise of a Russian middle class that seeks to achieve participation in the same way that the middle class democratized the system in Spain and Taiwan. While it would be nice if Russia could emulate these examples, a strong difference remains.

In Spain, two distinct political families existed:  the right and the left. In Taiwan, there was one party rule by the KMT, that sought to perpetuate a privileged position for those who had fled from the mainland while denying rights to native-born Formosan's.

In Russia, no single cohesive opposition or potential unified base for such an opposition exists. The demonstrations were indeed impressive and descriptions of Muscovite ipad wielding yuppies marching hand-in-hand with nationalist skinheads may have been good theater  but it did not offer the basis for a cohesive opposition that can assume power if  Vladimir Putin and company were given the boot.

This argument is countered by Egypt where the demonstrators in Tahrir Square represented highly diverse positions and backgrounds.

But Cairo and Moscow are two separate stories. For one, there is no force in Russia comparable to organized Islam in Egypt. Secondly. one cannot compare the 59-year-old Putin to the 82-year-old Mubarak. Thirdly, Egypt's military rulers had a major role  in deposing Mubarak because they did not want his son Gamal to inherit the presidency.

Russia is very averse to periods of interregnum and dual power going back to the historical Time of Troubles (1598-1613) when anarchy prevailed .

The Russian leadership did misread the people when it assumed it could get away with the crudest of forgeries (146% percent of the vote). As of a few hours ago, they organized an investigation of the irregularities. Pawns will be sacrificed and as long as the judicial process is fully under control nobody is going to turn state's evidence and implicate the higher ups.

On the other hand, this may prove sufficient to satisfy part of the opposition. The same applies to the decision not to crush the demonstrators by force and even to give them coverage in the government controlled media.  Here too is an attempt to take the sting out of the grievances.

In truly revolutionary circumstances, concessions by the government increase the confidence of the revolutionaries and lead them to press for further concessions until a breaking point is reached. This requires an identifiable leadership nucleus and groups that can work together-- something the opposition has not yet demonstrated.

Members of the regime have a great deal to lose in terms of personal wealth and possibly even personal freedom if they are overthrown and they will fight tooth and nail to prevent this.