06MOSCOW3356, CIVIL SOCIETY HITCHES A RIDE WITH IRATE DRIVERS

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06MOSCOW3356 2006-03-31 11:55 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow

VZCZCXRO8661
RR RUEHDBU
DE RUEHMO #3356/01 0901155
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 311155Z MAR 06
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3343
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 003356 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/21/2016 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PINR PREL RS
SUBJECT: CIVIL SOCIETY HITCHES A RIDE WITH IRATE DRIVERS 
 
REF: 05 VLADIVOSTOK 00074 
 
Classified By: Political Minister-Counselor Kirk Augustine.  Reason 1.4 
 (b, d) 
 
1. (C)  SUMMARY.  When a court in February sentenced an 
ordinary citizen to four years in prison for his involvement 
in a 2005 car accident that killed then-Altay Kray Governor 
Mikhail Yevdokimov, it sparked popular outrage.  The 
perceived injustice of the court's decision inspired a 
grassroots organization to lead protests across Russia 
against the conviction and against the behavior of 
black-limousined, blue-lighted, smoked-glass VIPs 
aggressively omnipresent on every road.  Many observers view 
the protests as a win for Russia's civil society, since it 
indicated that middle-class citizens can, if properly 
motivated, take to the streets to press for change, and can 
get results.  After the protesters' efforts resonated with 
the public and United Russia seized on the issue, a court 
overturned the conviction on March 23.  Though the episode 
illustrates that Russia's courts often act based on the basis 
of political rather than legal criteria, it was also 
noteworthy that civil society, despite Kremlin moves to coopt 
and control it, was able to impose its views.  END SUMMARY. 
 
2. (U)  In August 2005 Oleg Shcherbinskiy, a railroad worker 
in Altay Kray, was involved in a car accident that killed 
that region's Governor, Mikhail Yevdokimov.  The crash 
occurred when the governor's Mercedes came up, blue light 
flashing and reportedly at a grossly excessive rate of speed, 
behind Shcherbinskiy's Toyota and tried to pass on the left, 
just as Shcherbinskiy was making a legal left turn. 
Yevdokimov's car hit the side of the Toyota and crashed into 
a ditch.  The governor, his bodyguard, and driver died as a 
result of the crash.  Shcherbinskiy and the four passengers 
in his car survived.  On February 3 an Altay court sentenced 
Shcherbinskiy to four years in a labor colony for failing to 
yield to Yevdokimov's car.  Following a wave of protests, on 
March 23 the court overturned the ruling, acquitting 
Shcherbinskiy. 
. 
ANGER OVER SPECIAL PRIVILEGES 
----------------------------- 
 
3. (C)  The initial ruling provoked outrage focused on the 
abuse of special privileges that many government officials 
and other well-connected Russians enjoy on the road.  The 
most visible of those privileges is the flashing blue light 
used to excuse vehicles bearing it from the need to observe 
normal traffic laws.  The frequency and visibility of such 
abuses contribute to a high-level of resentment against the 
nomenklatura among average citizens, as Leontiy Byzov, head 
of the Social and Political Analysis Department of the 
All-Russia Public Opinion Research Center, confirmed to us. 
 
4. (SBU)  While such resentment usually festers, the 
Shcherbinskiy case evoked protests organized in nearly 20 
Russian cities on February 11-12 under the sponsorship of the 
Free Choice Motorists' Movement (FCMM).  In Moscow alone at 
least 500 cars took part, and FCMM head Vyacheslav Lysakov 
said the numbers were far higher.  The authorities avoided a 
heavy-handed response, although they attempted to keep tight 
control over the protests, bringing in a sizable law 
enforcement presence and pulling over a number of 
participants. 
 
5, (C)  The February protests, which received extensive 
coverage in print and broadcast media, were a collaborative 
effort.  Among the participating organizations was one 
representing rail workers, who came out in support of their 
colleague Shcherbinskiy.  According to an analysis from the 
Center for Political Technology, the motorists reached 
agreement about the Moscow protest as a result of discussions 
on the Internet. 
. 
A HEALTHY SIGN FOR CIVIL SOCIETY DEVELOPMENT 
-------------------------------------------- 
 
6. (C)  In the view of experts on civil society such as Nina 
Belyayeva of the Higher School of Economics, the protests 
represented a new step in civil society in Russia, since they 
involved largely members of the middle class (based on 
Belyayeva's presumption that car ownership remains out of 
reach for many poorer Russians).  Belyayeva also noted that 
the organizers were sophisticated enough to set up an account 
for people to donate money for Shcherbinskiy,s legal 
defense.  Other observers noted that the demonstrators were 
heavily members of the younger generation, while last 
winter's monetization protests, by contrast, primarily 
involved pensioners. 
 
7. (C)  Although the make-up of the participants differed 
 
MOSCOW 00003356  002 OF 002 
 
 
from that of the monetization protests, those earlier actions 
showed many citizens that getting into the streets could 
pressure the authorities to change policy.  Subsequent to the 
monetization protests, motorists in May 2005 organized 
protests against a GOR proposal to limit the importation of 
right-hand drive cars (reftel). 
 
8. (C)  A number of observers saw the protests as a sign of &#
x000A;civil society's growing independence and assertiveness. 
Aleksey Makarkin of the Center for Political Technology 
described the movement as "the young shoots of civil 
society."  Moscow Carnegie Center analyst Nikolay Petrov said 
it represented genuine grassroots democracy in Russia of a 
type that functioned despite a lack of financial support, 
including from the West.  IF Western-funded NGOs were 
eliminated, Petrov added, the kinds of organizations featured 
in the motorist protest would be all that would be left. 
Lyudmila Alekseyeva noted that independent human rights NGOs 
needed to reach out to grassroots movements of this kind. 
   . 
UNITED RUSSIA JUMPS ON THE BANDWAGON 
------------------------------------ 
 
9. (C)  The pro-Kremlin United Russia (YR) initially refused 
to support a Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) 
initiative in the Duma on Shcherbinskiy's behalf.  After the 
movement's popularity spread, however, YR adopted the issue. 
The YR website announced that prominent lawyer and Public 
Chamber member Anatoliy Kucherena had become part of 
Shcherbinskiy's defense team.  YR also announced it had 
gathered almost 27,000 signatures in support of 
Shcherbinskiy.  On March 22, the day before Shcherbinskiy's 
appeal, YR organized protests in Novosibirsk, Tomsk, 
Krasnodar, Nizhniy Novogorod, and St. Petersburg, although 
observers noted that YR was unable to match the mass turnout 
of the February demonstrations. 
 
10. (C)  While some saw Altay Kray court's March 23 decision 
to overturn the ruling as an encouraging sign, others argued 
that the fact that it took place only after YR jumped on the 
bandwagon was a discouraging reminder that the judiciary 
often makes decisions based on political considerations and 
instructions from the authorities.  Looking beyond the 
acquittal, YR has suggested that it is also considering 
passing legislation that would limit the use of flashing 
lights. 
. 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
11. (C)  Despite the disheartening initial ruling to convict 
Shcherbinskiy and the fact that he was acquitted on appeal 
only after YR jumped on the bandwagon, ordinary citizens did 
make their voices heard through a grassroots movement. 
Despite Kremlin efforts to coopt civil society or frighten it 
into submission, the episode demonstrates that under some 
circumstances, ordinary Russians will shed their passivity 
and try to pressure the government.  Civil society is on the 
defensive, but it is not dead. 
RUSSELL

Wikileaks

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