Sham or Real Power of Internet Activism in Russian

We can blog it by Mike Licht, on Flickr

In his recent article “Russia’s “Youtube democracy” is a sham” Luke Allnutt from the Christian Science Monitor claims that Kremlin is using Internet to imitate the existence of openness and democracy in Russia. Russian politicians are using tools like Twitter to indicate that they are close to the people on a personal level, while various NGOs and journalists are being harassed and threatened. At the same time Allnutt points out that nowadays everyone in Russia can blog about it, thus an illusion of freedom is being created. He believes that blogging does not bring any change. Allnutt argues that authoritarian regimes allow online activism only to provide a sort of “pressure valve for the opposition to let off steam”. It seems like Allnutt represents a view of the Westerner on the processes of online activism in Russia.

A prominent Russian journalist Anrdey Loshak has expressed an opposite opinion in his recent article “[We] will survive without a state” (you can find it here in Russian and here in English). Unlike Allnutt he represents the point of view of an insider. Andrey particularly writes that self-organization and mutual help empowered by the Internet provides the exit from the societal deadlock. Internet became a parallel reality for people: one can find there the freedom of expression, opportunities for civil activism and absence of propaganda.

Loshak claims that nowadays civil activism is mainly limited by re-posting of some materials. However re-posting may become the first step on the way of activism, since not everyone is ready to go protesting on the streets. People who re-post are not indifferent any more. The energy of dissatisfaction and the sense of injustice pile up and become a real power in fight with the tyranny.

At the same time Internet is becoming a tool for investigative journalism while this genre is disappearing on TV. For example a famous Russian blogger Navalny is known for his anti-corruption campaigns and investigations. His recent post about corruption in Trasnneft blew up the Runet and attracted attention of the Russian government. Particularly he has found [RUS] and released documents confirming the theft of $ 4 billion dollars at the construction of the ESPO pipeline. In his post Navalny encourages people to re-post his findings and write requests to the government asking to investigate this case. His materials were re-posted by thousands of users on their accounts on facebook, livejournal and vkontakte, thus making this story widely readable.

Video messages on youtube became a sort of a new measure against corruption and injustice. Major Dymovsky was first but his example encouraged some other enthusiasts as well. Andrey Loshak claims that people are addressing their messages to the government but they count on the civil society, which is still in the process of shaping in Russia. He believes that the problem of modern authorities lays in its inability to overcome the “tyranny of selfish replicator.”

Anarchic spirit thrives in the Internet, precisely there is a sense that government is useless and hostile to the society. Another investigative blogger Piligrim_67 conducted an investigation of the gang attacking the lonely drivers. In a couple of days he and his supporters have found the gang and uncovered their relation to officials in Chelyabinsk. In this regard Piligrim_67 suggests employing investigative bloggers as police officers instead of those working now. Thus authorities cannot ignore the apparent moves of the civil society in Russia which is still in its infancy.

Over the Putin-Medvedev time television lost its credibility as a reliable source of information for the audience. According to the article [RUS] by Rumetrika over the past year the audience of the leading Russian television channels has reduced, whereas the number of Internet users has increased significantly. Not only young people prefer the Internet over the other forms of the media; the older generation starts to use Internet on the daily basis as well.

Even though not every Internet investigation and an online campaign ends up successfully, there is a room for improvements. Russian authorities cannot ignore the apparent moves of the civil society acting online now they have to react on it. People have started talking and discussing things and they don’t seem to stop.