The fruit is not all rotten: Feminists’ attempt to build an alternative Russia

Can social movements change the world?

Russia’s reputation appears damaged by the events of the last year and a half. However, it is  simplistic to portray the country as a one-component-actor. Putin’s iron fist-like political behaviour  has in fact not made Russian public opinion pro-war all at once: there are remnants of an alternative  ideal1. Indeed, there is a wide variety of individual and collective actors that have, since February  2022, mobilised against the Ukrainian conflict. One virtuous example is the Feminist Anti-War  Resistance group (FAR), whose rise and empowerment was spurred by the breaking out of the  conflict. In contrast to the common trend of dissolution of several peers, what has contributed to FAR’s  success2

The social movement was born on Telegram soon after the invasion of Ukraine, formally on  the 8th of March for the International Women’s day, where a quick-release manifesto formally set the boundaries of their we-ness3. The intuitive yet committed initial setting created a functional humus to the diffusion of their impetus4. The signal that recruiters sent by means of the manifesto was clear: target Russia’s pro-war figures and involve women all over the world. 

Their actions range from sit-ins to rather risky confrontational actions, whose major example is the  aid provided by those in the Russian territory helping the persecuted by Putin’s regime5. The higher  risk of this action worked as a gatekeeper and filtered out less committed women, who could still be engaged at different levels by taking part in activities where the goal was to communicate to the external audience, made of social media and common people, about the importance of peace and of  the unjust nature of the invasion. 

This could not have been possible without a pre-existing network of activists6. This allowed them to gather some initial groups7. The further diffusion beyond their strong “comfort” ties8 was helped by those mobilisation actors who did not frame the movement as a strong ideological position, but rather stressed the broad role of women. This helped break through the walls of their echo chambers. 

In addition to the ideological plurality of recruiters9, it is relevant to underline their strict anonymity. As Kouper well highlighted in a paper published last year10, this is necessary to reduce  the risk of retaliation. Beneficially, anonymity has fostered a high degree of autonomy of local groups. This pattern allows for a high internal flexibility and the embedding of specific local issues. At the same time, a fast communication network amongst multiple groups is capable of firmly maintaining the master frame and the general focus11

Change takes time and it is hard to disentangle the effects of feminists’ activity from that of  the international pressure12. However, the Anti-War Feminist Resistance witnesses a considerable political weight, and their commitment represents an alternative profile of Russia. The FAR is not  only a case of scientific interest for strategies implemented in such a specific historical and political  situation, but constitutes a valid example of how today, against the deep crowd-wide resignation,  standing for justice is still important and doable. 

References

1 Almeida, P. D. (2003). Opportunity organizations and threat-induced contention: Protest waves in authoritarian  settings. American Journal of Sociology, 109(2), 345-400. 

2 Cfr. Sharova, V. L. (2022). Feminism as an antiwar strategy and practice: the case of Belarus, Russia, and  Ukraine. Studies in East European Thought, 74(4), 521-534. 

3 Cfr. Hunt, S. A., & Benford, R. D. (2004). Collective identity, solidarity, and commitment. The Blackwell companion  to social movements, 433(57).  

4 Cfr. Gerhards, J., & Rucht, D. (1992). Mesomobilization: Organizing and framing in two protest campaigns in West  Germany. American journal of sociology, 98(3), 555-596. They mention momentum as a key factor for a successful  mesomobilisation. 

5 Kouper, I. (2022), Information Practices of Resistance during the 2022 Russian Invasion of Ukraine. Proceedings of  the Association for Information Science and Technology, 59: 157-168.

6 Gerhards, J., & Rucht, D. (1992). Op. cit. American journal of sociology, 98(3), 555-596. In this case, they theorise  that previous networks facilitate a successful mesomobilisation. 

7 Almeida, P. D. (2003). Op. cit. American Journal of Sociology, 109(2), 345-400. The concept of holdovers elaborated  by the author is helpful to explain the phenomenon. 

8 Walgrave, S., & Wouters, R. (2014). The missing link in the diffusion of protest: Asking others. American Journal of  Sociology, 119(6), 1670-1709. 

9 Gerhards, J., & Rucht, D. (1992). Op.cit. American journal of sociology, 98(3), 555-596. 

10 Kouper, I. (2022), op cit. Proceedings of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 59: 157-168

11 Gerhards, J., & Rucht, D. (1992). Op. cit. American journal of sociology, 98(3), 555-596.

12 Lafi, N. (2017). The ‘Arab Spring’in global perspective: Social movements, changing contexts and political transitions  in the Arab world (2010–2014). The History of Social Movements in Global Perspective: A Survey, 677-702.

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Written by Giovanni Greco
Student

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