Russian news website stresses role of Facebook in driving today's protest moods
Text of report by Russian Gazeta.ru news website, often critical of the government, on 12 December
[Commentary by Boris Falikov under the "Trend" rubric: "Network of Non-Violence. The Cult of Friendship and Openness Has Transformed Facebook Into A Reliable Instrument for A Campaign of Civil Disobedience"]
A protest by citizens based on non-violent actions could prove to be a far more effective political instrument than the powerful ones of this world believe.
The social network Facebook finds itself at the centre of events connected with the Russian elections. It is on it that videos of numerous violations have appeared and have been immediately overrun with clusters of indignant comments.
While the state television channels were showing the usual ceremonial rubbish, Facebook users were testifying to what was happening, initially at the polling stations, and then on the streets of Moscow too.
It is not surprising that it was precisely on this network that the campaign in support of the rally "For Honest Elections sprang up, and in a few days attracted tens of thousands of potential participants. It is effectively around Facebook that a social movement dominated by well-educated urban-dwelling young people unhappy with the state of affairs in the country has united. But here is what is curious. The commonwealth of Facebook users continually insists on exclusively peaceful means of expressing protest. The spirit of nonviolence that reigns in it involuntarily brings to mind the satyagrahara (stubbornness in truth) of Mahatma Gandhi and the campaign of civil disobedience of Martin Luther King. With the difference that those great men called for the peaceful flouting of the law for the sake of a higher justice, while in Russia, people are peacefully defending the law with the same goal in view. The teachings of Gandhi and King had a religious impulse at their basis. What inspires the youths of the capital, who are at best indifferent towards religion?
What prompted Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg to create his virtual brainchild, which has won millions of adherents in just a few years, is well known. It was the need for friendship, the deficit of which is felt especially keenly in our contemporary atomized society. The computer wunderkind with his many hang-ups was not received in Harvard's closed clubs, so he created his own club, open to all.
You can argue as much as you like that virtual friendship is no match for real friendship, and even that it hinders socialization. You can say that people who have become glued to the computer screen have no time to tear themselves away from it for normal life. But the fact remains. Relations on Facebook are struck up easily, and, as a rule, do not bear a confrontational character.
Its main rival LiveJournal, for instance, brims over with aggression, and arguments on it not seldom give way to vulgar abuse. Zuckerberg's brainchild has a different character entirely. This is also facilitated by the magic word "like." At times it creates ethical complexities. For example, how can you record "like" about a message that in one electoral precinct a female monitor was kicked by the zealous officials of the electoral commission. But it is possible to "comment" on this vile piece of news or "share" it. These options also exist. At the same time, it is the friendly "like" that undoubtedly reigns on Facebook and determines relations on it.
The absolutization of friendship, all the signs suggest, is what endows Facebook users with the enthusiasm that Gandhi and Christ derived from Hinduism and Christianity. The protest movement that has arisen on this basis not only unites supporters, but also instills in them the hope that the opponent need not be seen as an irreconcilable enemy either. The main thing is not to respond to his aggression; after all, in this case he may in time turn into a friend (hence the calls not to be rude to the police at a rally, or even to give them flowers). As for the absolutely irreconcilable users, they will lose their former influence, and there will be nothing left for them to do but to depart in peace.
Why has Facebook and its cult of friendship and openness become the most successful platform of the protest movement in Russia? Probably because this protest is aimed, above all, against deceptio n and hypocrisy.
The authorities are behaving like a crook who has been caught in the act, but who insolently claims that he did not take anything belonging to anyone else, and as for the man who has been robbed, he has never laid eyes on him. Such cynical lies provoke moral indignation. In such a situation, even non-believers begin to swear by higher powers.
But Russia's religions, seeking to preserve good relations with the authorities, are maintaining a deathly silence, and not providing any outlet for moral indignation. It is not surprising that a social network with clear ethical guiding principles channels it so perfectly.
Meanwhile, the nature of this indignation is absolutely unintelligible to the country's leadership. It is not adverse to discoursing on morality itself, but only when this does not threaten its interests. And if it does, what kind of morality is this! No, it is enemy sabotage, aimed at overthrowing the existing order. Having become accustomed to regarding their own people as an object for manipulations, the authorities simply cannot believe that the dumb creature has suddenly begun to speak, making efforts to restore to itself a sense of its own worth. No, it is an enemy that broadcasts through its lips. However, Facebook displays a steadfast immunity to the promotion of such ideas. Curses aimed at the "malevolent yankees" sometimes by a miracle find their way onto its pages, but are seen there as foreign impregnations. No one argues with them, people simply do not pay attention to them.
The impression arises that the Russian authorities live in a parallel world that has no contact whatsoever with the world of the Facebook commonwealth. Hence they are adopting way-and-see tactics, consoling themselves with all the strength they can muster with the local scale of the protest. Russia with its enormous expanses are on our side, and the capital city's public will sow its wild oats and then disperse among the fashionable clubs.
All this has happened before. Stoned hippies used to thrust flowers into the barrels of soldiers' rifles. Where are these non-resisters now? Nothing in the world has changed, naked force reigns in it just as before. V.V. Putin once let fall, with his trademark sergeant-major's humour, - Gandhi is dead, and there is no one to talk to. And he is confident this time too that the capital's hysterics will make a loud noise for a while, and then die down. And that the transatlantic puppet masters headed by Ms Clinton will not succeed in realizing their cunning plan.
However, civil disobedience based on non-violent actions could prove to be a far more effective political instrument than the powerful ones of this world believe. It is fuelled by the energy of moral indignation, and it has the property of spreading over the top of social and even world-outlook barriers. The rally on Bolotnaya Ploshchad showed that it has spilt out beyond the limits of Facebook and poured through the streets of Moscow. Virtual reality has become one with real life. But this could prove to be not life as it is seen from behind the walls of the Kremlin.
Credit: Gazeta.ru website, Moscow, in Russian 12 Dec 11