Birds in Hand vs in the Bush

March 7, 2012

Both Russia and Chima held important elections this past week. Russia’s presidential balloting returned Putin to the presidency–a Back to the Future style machination the USSR may not have been capable of.

Meanwhile, the Chinese village of Wukan has elected the leaders of serious anti-land grab protests as its mayor and deputy mayor. The local CCP authorities apparently didn’t wish to reignite discontent by interfering. And preliminary reports are that the villagers are satisfied with the democratic process. They seem to strongly feel that democratic reform will be positive for their economic development, in an interesting potential portend for the CCP.

Russian voters, on the other hand, were on the whole much less inclined to rock the boat. Stability, preserving what they still had economically, was the theme from voters and Putin both. The young protestors in Moscow chamting “Russia without Putin!” are obviously a minority in this country which still vividly recalls the economic and political upheaval of the early 1990s. Putin’s siren song of stability was overwhelmingly attractive in the face of that memory.

In that dichotomy the youthful protesters of Russia have something in common with the U.S. Occupy movement: inability to fully engage what we Americans have called “the 99 percent”.

The contrasting example of the PRC, with its 20+ years of explosive growth, may allow us to tease out from local context the hypothesis that economic growth coupled with repression that threatens it is a more potent recipe for productive protest than repression in a land of fitful, resource-driven growth and/or growth insufficiently grounded to orient people towards future prospects.

These elections offered lessons to the United States’ policymakers, both foreign and domestic.