BMB: Are Protests on the Rise Accross Russia? Data Says “Probably”

Article published on the Bear Market Brief website on November 28th, 2017.

Lawyers may seem an unlikely bunch to go on strike, especially in Russia. Yet, in September and October, lawyers’ associations in several Russian regions (Sverdlovsk, in the Urals, Chelyabinsk, near Kazakhstan, and Karelia, on the border with Finland) called on their court-appointed members to stop working in protest of wage arrears from the Justice and Interior ministries that amounted to up to 225m rubles ($3.2 million).

Though limited to a handful of regions, the protests appear to have been successful: Kommersant reported on 8 November that the Finance Ministry promised full repayment of the debt by the end of the year, in addition to a pay raise for court-appointed lawyers.

Protest is a sensitive issue in Russia. In early November, a report by the Moscow-based Center for Economic and Political Reform claimed that the number of protests across Russia had risen 56% over last year, from 284 in the first quarter to 445 in the third. 70% of those protests, the report added, were of a “socio-economic nature”, such as protests against rising utility prices.

These numbers have been interpreted by several pundits as yet another sign that protests, fuelled by falling revenues, mass layoffs, and growing anger towards entrenched corruption have been gaining steam across Russia. However, data from several Russian NGOs paints a more nuanced picture: while protests focused on social issues have become more and more frequent, outright political protests remain rare. Meanwhile, the number of labor protests remains stable, but at a much higher level than a few years ago.

The Center for Economic and Political Reform only started monitoring protests in 2016, and was first focused on labor conflicts (including work protests, mass layoffs, or conflicts due to wage arrears). Comparing data for labor conflicts shows a similar rise in the third quarter of 2016, meaning the rise in protests in 2017 may not be as significant as it first looks.



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