Last June, Alfred Kokh wrote on his Facebook page:
I was reminded of this last night after I read about a report from the Higher School of Economics’ Natalia Tikhonova at the Levada Center Conference on where those limits might be.
“The patience of Russians during the crisis will last for another year and a half, then there is a risk of of mass protests beginning.”
Two groups have been hit the hardest by the economic crisis, Tikhonova notes: “the most educated and prosperous populations in Moscow and St Petersburg, and the residents of small villages and settlements.”
“In the first and second capital [Moscow & St. Petersburg] 28% of the population work a second job part-time to earn more money.”
This additional source of income is slowly drying up, however. And people are being forced to give up their “traditional way of life — trips abroad, & a good diet.”
In the villages the situation is different…. There people are suffering from mass layoffs, non-payment of salaries, labor exploitation by employers, the share of unemployed in 2015 in the villages has doubled. In the past year, the average working week in rural areas has increased by 4 hours, but it has not brought additional revenue. The workload has increased under the pain of dismissal, and, unlike the inhabitants of large cities, they have nowhere to go.
The thriving population whose income is not less than twice the minimum subsistence income [Moscow raised its subsistence income to $230 per month in September] is only 25% of the country. Among the poorest Russians, 12% have fallen very sharply into extreme poverty, that is, lost their jobs and social status.
However, the considerable drop in the standard of living has not driven people to the streets in protest. There are many reasons for this, among them:
- Russians believe that the current economic situation is dependent on external factors, and the government is “always bad”.
- a high standard of living and active participation in social processes are not included in the basic value systems of most Russians.
About 40% of Russians say that the most important things in life are good friends, a happy family, their own apartment, and the possibility of “an honest life”.
In comparison, only 2% say they want “the opportunity to “become rich”” and only 5% say that they want to “influence what is happening in society”.
But in 18 months, the level of trust in the government may drop dramatically, and the latent discontent of Russians with their situation will grow, which could lead to a wave of protest actions, Tikhonova said.
When society finally reaches the breaking point, even the most insignificant thing could lead to a violent reaction. Tikhonova cites the protests that began in December 2011 after the highly contested parliamentary elections.
If now the protests have been sporadic [e.g. the truckers protesting new tariffs, the protests of people who have taken foreign currency loans, etc.], then after a year they can go in a wave.
The situation is complicated by the fact that since 2011 Russian society has become sharply divided, and it is impossible to predict how events will unfold. “Who would have expected Crimea, Ukraine, Syria, the non-indexation of pensions to pensioners?” According to the report, in this situation, it is difficult to predict what the authorities will decide to do in a crisis situation.
The elections for the State Duma are scheduled for September 2016, and then the presidential elections in [March] 2018, [so] the government will make every effort to stop the protests, Tikhonova predicts.