The Putin regime severely punishes participants in anti-war demonstrations. Public protest is no longer possible. Activists often only have the option of using social media and culture – and fleeing.
A human beetle called Masjanja, somewhat similar to the German comic book Beinhart and enjoying Burt’s cult status from Sesame Street in Russia, has entered the Moscow Kremlin. There he insults President Vladimir Putin. She denounces that he is now in a clique with Hitler and Osama bin Laden and condemns the war in Ukraine. What follows in the fictional comic isn’t a happy ending for Putin.
In a YouTube video, the Msjanga beetle says what activists on the streets of Russia can no longer do. Public criticism of the Kremlin’s policies threatens life had become. Years in prison threatened. Online criticism seems safer. Or just to watch. Also 5.5 million people have already done with Masjanja in social networks.
Anti-war protests in Ukraine are taking place online in Russia
In general, the Russian protests against the war in Ukraine turned out there. Not without reason: according to the independent organization OVD-Info, since February 24, the day Russian soldiers invaded Ukraine, 15,445 people have been arrested in Russia for their participation in anti-war actions. The protests are now taking place online, via Telegram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and TikTok.
Anti-government actions are now so severely punished that lesser-known activists are fleeing. People, like university lecturer Ilya Matveev. leave his homeland. Or, as he says himself: “I jumped on the wave of political immigrants.” Fearing the Russian internal security service, the FSB. In order to protect him, his whereabouts outside should not play a role here.
The Russian people feel the effects of the war
Matveev did not participate in street protests, assuring that thousands of brave people did so at the beginning of the war. What prevented him from doing so was his teaching position at a Saint Petersburg university. He still has it, at least until the end of this semester. and then? “I don’t know yet,” he says. The world of politics loves his country. But because he has repeatedly publicly criticized the policies of the Kremlin, it has become very dangerous for him there. Now he tweets. He signed up for the platform about two months ago. More than 16,000 people are now following his posts.
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He also runs a podcast with a friend. Matveev says the war in Ukraine has been a turning point for Russian citizens as well. Although a state of emergency was never officially declared, you are actually experiencing it as a citizen: Countless new laws have been passed since March. Including one prohibiting the publication of “false news” about the Russian army. “He who criticizes the war criticizes the army,” says Matveev. Two words like “no to war” can be enough to risk heavy fines and up to 15 years in prison. Matveev’s Twitter profile reads “Damn the war” in all caps.
In Russia, protesters face many years in prison
The activist dared to protest, often followed by a severe punishment: because Alexandra Skochlenko plastered price tags with anti-war messages and facts in stores in St. Petersburg, the artist was sentenced to ten years in prison. This is a deterrent factor – and it attracts people active in the cultural sector in particular, including Russian actress Renata Litvinova. She posted a YouTube video asking: When are you going to learn it? She stands alone on stage in black, without an audience in front of an empty hall. Over a million people have already watched it online.
Likewise the Leningrad rock band. “Geopolitik” is the name of one of the many critically-discussed songs released since the start of the war. The band addresses Russian propaganda and sings: “This is not a massacre, this is a special operation.” Over five million people watched it. And at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre, where national pride meets a politically important Russian sense of culture, the ballet world is divided over their opinions on the war in Ukraine — dancers post them to audiences on social media. Among them are the stars of the scene, Artem Ovcharenko and a dancer from the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Vladimir Shklyarov.
What actress Renata Litvinova, political scientist Matveev, many singers and some ballet dancers have in common: many have left their country. Activist Maria Alyokhana, singer of the scandalous band Pussy Riot, recently did the same. True, not everyone has to flee the police like they do, disguised as a food deliveryer under the protection of a hat, scarf, and thermal grocery backpack. But it is still a risk. Those fleeing at that time have limited options on the outside. They are all against the war in Ukraine and against the ruler Putin. But you do it alone. There is hardly any joint action.
There is no longer a polarization between opposition political groups in Russia
“There are no longer any political groups that can mobilize citizens,” says Mitviev. Alexei Navalny, a former opponent of Hope, is still in prison. This is how protest in social media crosses its limits: spontaneous uprisings, spread on Facebook posts, says Matveev, are seen only by a certain circle of people. “And those limits have already been reached.” There can no longer be an uprising inside the country, says Matveev.
The Russian site of the makers of the human beetle Masjanja has now been blocked and their videos can no longer be viewed there. “While the King’s Knights attack the civilian population, we’d better use YouTube,” she says. Western platforms are more helpful. Pussy Riot has found another way. She tours Europe and protests the Putin regime with her performance. The income from their concerts should go to the victims of the war. And Matveev? It also plans and makes public policy assessments. However, he cannot and does not want to return to his homeland indefinitely.