For the first time in almost two decades, Moscow authorities will not allow a Saint Patrick’s Day Parade. Every year, since 1992, the Irish community has led a street parade through the center of Moscow. Increasingly popular with Muscovites, the parade draws thousands of Russian revelers, many with their hair dyed green.
But this year, Russian officials worry that behind the emerald green lurks revolutionary red.
In this season of revolution, a St. Patrick’s Day parade could be hijacked by democracy protesters.
So city officials, who routinely clog streets with their motorcades, declared that in the interests of avoiding clogged streets, the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade would not be held. The Irish Business Club gamely offered a substitute – an indoor song fest.
Russia’s rulers are not the only ones to worry about St. Patrick-the-Subversive. Two days after Moscow, Shanghai officials also banned their annual St. Patrick’s Day parade.
In Moscow, a common dinner party game is to look at the area of the former Soviet Union and debate which of the 15 countries are most vulnerable to an Arab-style democracy revolt.
Although Russia’s ruling party had a lackluster showing in elections on Sunday, the general belief is that Russia is safe for authoritarianism, for now.
In a poll conducted nationwide last month, 49 percent of respondents said they were dissatisfied and ready to participate in a protest, a jump from 32 percent in December. But Russia’s oil is selling at $115 a barrel – 50 percent over last year’s price. This price spike has been perfectly timed for Prime Minister Putin. Facing parliamentary and presidential elections over the next year, he has plenty of rubles to jolly voters with higher pensions and state salaries.
In Russia, the Kremlin worries less about a youth revolt and than about a pensioners’ revolt.
In a reverse of Egyptian demographics, one million young Russians enter the job market each year, while 2.5 million workers exit, either through death or retirement.
The vulnerable parts of the former Soviet Union are the ‘stans’ – the six republics with young, Muslim-majority populations that take some inspiration from Cairo.
Last month, Kazakhstan, the richest and most economically successful, scheduled a surprise presidential election for April 3. The idea is to lock in the genuine popularity of the nation’s long running president, Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Kyrgyzstan has had two revolutions in five years. Tajikstan is still recovering from a civil war in the mid-1990s that claimed 100,000 lives. Turkmenistan probably has enough oil and gas billions to pacify its relatively small population of five million.
The two most vulnerable are Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, two countries with entrenched ruling families, high corruption, high unemployment and large, young populations. Transparency International’s corruption index places them at the bottom of the barrel – Azerbaijan at 134 and Uzbekistan at 172.
Uzbekistan has been ruled since 1989 by Islam Karimov. Now he is 73 and without a male heir, a key obstacle to creating a political dynasty in Central Asia. State controls, monopolies and corruption have retarded economic development and fostered huge income gaps, pushing many of Uzbekistan’s 27 million people to look for jobs elsewhere.
Azerbaijan has been run by the Aliyevs for the last 42 years — first by Heydar Aliyev, who started the dynasty in 1969 as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan.
Currently, his son Ilham runs this oil and gas rich nation on the Caspian with the title of president. Critics say a more historically accurate title would be “Khan.”
On Friday and Saturday, the protests started, spread by Facebook and Twitter. Azeri police moved in fast, arresting 150 young people around Baku’s Fountain Square, including anyone wearing a red T-shirt.
There will be no St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Baku.