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Analysis & Opinion
28.07.10 Marching Season
By Roland Oliphant

As the summer heats up, so are Russia’s demonstrators. The opposition in the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad, which saw a series of mass demonstrations against the regional governor from January to March, is readying to take to the streets again. But despite a front-page spread in a national broadsheet, few in Kaliningrad seem to know about the plans. And, stranger still, the leaders of the winter demonstrations are hostile to the latest plans.

Last Friday representatives of half a dozen mainstream and marginal political parties, opposition movements and local pressure groups assembled for a meeting in the Baltic port town of Kaliningrad to plan the ousting of regional Governor Georgy Boos. According to the Kommersant daily, the representatives gathered to plan a demonstration demanding Boos’ ouster on August 21 – directly recalling the series of headline grabbing anti-Boos demos earlier this year.

But oppositionists involved in organizing the winter protests, which attracted thousands of people, told Russia Profile that the August 21 demonstration is nothing more than an “internal conflict in United Russia.”

“I know only that there is an internal struggle in United Russia, and that we will not be supporting this event,” said Konstantin Doroshok, the leader of the local Justice (Spravedlivost) pressure group who became the de facto spokesman for the winter and spring demonstrations. Doroshok said someone in the ruling party was after the governor’s job, but asked who Boos’ enemies in United Russia might be, he said only “that will be known when the party submits its list.” He also claimed that none of the local political parties cited by Kommersant (including the Communist Party, Yabloko, Patriots of Russia and Solidarnost) had anything to do with the demonstration. None of these parties was reachable by telephone to confirm or deny this on Wednesday.

Boos’ first term as governor ends in September, and the August 21 demo is timed to coincide with the deadline for the local ruling party (which in Kaliningrad, as in almost every other Russian region, is United Russia) to present its list of three candidates for the post to the regional Parliament. As August 21 representative Irina Voloshina told Kommersant, the demo organizers’ message is simple – don’t give Boos a second term.

The August 21 demo is backed by, a Web site that makes further fun of the orangish hue of Boos’ skin and publishes a petition entitled “Kaliningrad against United Russia” (which claims 1890 signatures).

Their appeal may fall on deaf ears, or at least those of a party that has already committed itself. United Russia has apparently already decided to back Boos for a second term. Even Boris Gryzlov, the speaker of the State Duma and chairman of the party’s supreme council, has said that the party is “happy” with Boos’ work. And, as Doroshok, points out, going against Boos would mean simply supporting another of United Russia’s two candidates – whoever they will be.

Kaliningrad won a reputation as a hotbed of dissent after a series of anti-Boos demonstrations this winter. The largest, on January 31, attracted an estimated 10,000 Kaliningraders disgruntled after a hike in fuel duties and transport tax – an especially sensitive topic in a region where every third resident is a car owner. It was the biggest demonstration anywhere in Russia for at least a decade, and had the more optimistic among Russia’s marginalized opposition waxing lyrical about the long awaited awakening of the Russian public against injustice. A delegation of United Russia officials, apparently thinking along the same lines, flew in from Moscow to admonish Boos for failing to keep his house in order.

But the surge of discontent actually ebbed away. A second demonstration on March 20 attracted no more that 5000 demonstrators, who cheerfully waved mandarins around to mock Boos’ perma-tan before dispersing in the rain. Then, following a flurry of concessions to the demonstrators’ demands, including a U-turn on the transport tax, it went quiet. Doroshok, who met with Boos after the January demo, described consultations as “generally productive,” and criticized the August 21 organizers for shortsightedness.

“If you’re going to have consultations, you have to give the other side time and space to deliver what they promise,” he said, though he conceded that “there are lots of things we’ve still to see progress on,” he said.
Perhaps. But Georgy Dykhanov, a Kaliningrad-based economist who said he had not heard of the August 21 plans, said Boos’ had reneged on his promises and was as “unpopular as ever.”

“He said he wouldn’t raise the transport tax; but everyone saw the bill last month, and it has gone up,” he said. “That’s why people here are irritated. The opposition who organized the last demonstrations discredited themselves in the eyes of many people by getting co-opted by the authorities.”

Whatever is going on in Kaliningrad – and the intrigues are unlikely to be untangled before the August 21 demo, if it does go ahead – the isolated exclave is in a bad way. Dykhanov reckons real unemployment is probably “over 10 percent,” and there’s no clear way forward. “The governor is worried about the current economic strategy; economists criticize it but don’t know what to do; and ordinary people criticize it and don’t know what to do,” he said.
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