Lev Schlosberg: Why Russian Democrats Should Vote on March 18

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“They want a turnout for Putin that is as huge, wild, and unnatural as a giant hogweed plant.”

Voter Turnouts: Who the Russian Authorities Want to See at the Polls and Who They Do Not Want to See
Lev Schlosberg
Pskovskaya Guberniya Online
March 12, 2018

On March 18, Vladimir Putin plans to become president of Russia once again. The unnatural political system created under his rule is not meant to produce any other outcome.  Realizing this, many people do not want to vote in an election whose outcome is a foregone conclusion. The anger and desperation of these people can be understood and explained. Nevertheless, we must take part in the procedure [sic] scheduled for March 18. We must take part because the tally makes a difference. You can lose on points, but you cannot lose by a knockout, because life could depend on those points.

Amidst increasing stagnation, only the numbers of dissenting citizens whose votes were officially recorded by election commissions, albeit in a dishonest election, can protect dissenters from such things as physical harassment and destruction.

It is all too obvious and extremely dangerous.

Putin will never change. He will not become kinder or smarter. He will not repent for his misdeeds. He will not become a believer in democracy. He will not begin defending the rights and liberties of his fellow Russian citizens.

Putin is a cynic. Like all cynics, he understands only thing: strength. In elections, this strength consists, in the most literal sense, in numbers, in votes.

Russia is tired of Putin. Putin himself is tired of Russia and, in this sense, he is particularly dangerous. He does not inspire people. Votes for Putin are votes cast not enthusiastically, but votes cast in despair. “If not Putin, who else?” people wonder aloud. But no one else in Russia gets round-the-clock press coverage.

In order to protect himself from all risks, Putin has purged the political arena and poured it over with concrete. Any living thing that pushes it way up through the concrete lives despite the system Putin has built. But these living things cannot grow to their full height. Democracy is impossible without the sunlight of liberty. It exists in the old Soviet national anthem, but not in real life in Russia. Putin and freedom are incompatible, because he is a product of unfreedom.

Putin’s likely victory in the upcoming election is as tedious as the man himself, who has long contributed nothing new to Russia and the world except flagrant military threats.

The government’s desperate campaign to get out the vote in the presidential election is founded on the understandable, humdrum intentions of officials, which are in full keeping with the big boss’s desire to paint a ballot, whose outcome was announced before the election, as the result of sincere grassroots enthusiasm.

People forced to watch and listen to this bacchanalia might imagine that voter turnout in this election is the most important objective pursued by officials.

“Our” Voter for “Our” President
Does this mean the Russian authorities want all voters to turn out on March 18, whatever their political preferences? No, it does not mean that at all. The Russian authorities desperately want Vladimir Putin’s voters to show up for this election and no one else. They want a turnout for Putin that is as huge, wild, and unnatural as a giant hogweed plant. Everyone who prevents them obtaining this unnatural percentage of votes are superfluous when it comes to the election. The authorities do not want to see them at polling stations. They will tolerate only the convinced supporters of the other registered candidates, whom they cannot stop from voting.

The omnipresent official election advertisements and the propaganda message that you can vote wherever you want on March 18 are bound to nauseate all decent, self-respecting people. They are a carefully planned and professionally implemented tactic on the part of the authorities. They are like a missile with multiple warheads.

This dull and simultaneously aggressive advertising is meant to help the authorities drag voters obedient to Putin out of their houses on March 18. Such people really do wait for the authorities to tell them what to do, where to go, and what box into which to drop their ballot papers. Programmed by the lies and violence of total propaganda, they reflexively execute direct instructions. So, the authorities have a single objective: to reach out to these votes whatever the cost, through all the windows, doors, attics, cellars, and cracks state propaganda is able to penetrate. This means directly zombifying people whose antennas, so to speak, are tuned to the regime’s transmitter. The authorites send a command to people capable of picking up simple, repetitive signals: go and vote.

Likewise, the deliberate promotion of the election in this digusting manner is meant to turn off people from voting who are independent, self-sufficient, and critical of the regime. Unfortunately, it really does prevent them from voting. Such people do not like being shepherded anywhere, much less to polling stations.

The regime thus kills two birds with one stone. It gets the electoral partisans loyal to Putin out to vote and radically reduces the turnout of democratic voters.

We encourage our people to vote and discourage their people from voting. This is the recipe for so-called victory.

It is sad to see millions of energetic people, sensitive to insincerity and fraud, falling into this primitive psychological trap.

It is sad to see democratic politicians, who will be the first to succumb to the hardly virtual mudslide generated by the absence of democratic politics in Russia, vehemently campaigning for a so-called voters’ strike, which absolutely satisfies the authories. It as if these democratic politicians had lost the capacity to understand events and their consequences, because they are calling for democratic voters to sit out the election, rather than people planning to vote for Putin, Zhirinovsky or Grudinin. This is a self-inflicted wound, a provocative call for democrats to eliminate themselves.

It is unacceptable to let the authorities exploit you as a useful idiot, as the Bolsheviks cynically did with the intelligentsia back in the day.

If democrats sit out elections, they are absent from politics as well.

You Don’t Want a Second Round?
State-driven polling in Russia has become part of the system of state propaganda and popular deception. It is the loyalist “public opinion” polls that have forecast a turnout of 81% of eligible voters, Putin’s share of the tally reaching the desired 70% threshold, and the votes cast for all his opponents squashed into a gamut that runs from 0.1% to 7%.

In reality, as borne out by other public opinion polls whose results are not made public, the voter turnout in many regions of Russia will barely crawl above the 50% mark, which should be expected amidst public apathy and socio-economic crisis, while Putin’s share of the tally will not be much higher than 50%, and a second round-like scenario has been predicted in many cities, meaning Putin will receive less than 50% of the vote there. Even the loyalist pollsters at VTsIOM have reflected this turn of events. Putin’s support rating has been falling throughout the election campaign and will keep on falling, because the public manifestation of alternative political views undermines Putin’s monopoly. Things are getting serious.

What should the democratic voter do in these circumstances? Go vote and support a democratic candidate, thus reducing the share of votes cast for Putin and increasing the number and percentage of votes cast for democrats and democracy.

No one know the numbers of democratically minded citizens there are currently in Russia. Only general elections can show how many there are, but the majority of democratic voters have rejected voting in general elections a long time ago. They continue to refuse to vote nowadays, thus throwing in the towel and relieving themselves of all responsibility for what happens to all of us.

Not only that, but it also makes makes the chances of democratic politicians extremely low in elections. We thus find ourselves in a classic vicious circle: no voters > no results > no voters.

As D’Artagnan said, a thousand devils. How can this be incomprehensible to educated, informed people? But, as we can see, it is incomprehensible.

I cannot fail to remind readers that democrats have learned how to win Russian elections such as they are now. The know-how that was on display in Karelia, Petersburg, Pskov, Yekaterinburg, Yaroslavl, and Moscow has shown that when a large amount of hard work is invested, voters are energetic, and voting is strictly monitored, democrats can win elections. Yes, it is hard. But we do want to win, don’t we?

Does Putin have a plan for Russia?

Yes, he does. On March first, he laid out his plan to the entire world. His plan is as simple as an old grammar school primer: guns instead of butter, and grief to dissenters. Grief to consenters, too, however. It is just that they have not figured it out yet. Putin is the president of war.

Is there anything that can stop or at least limit Putin in his maniacal willingness to sacrifice not only our country but also the entire world to his virtual reality?

There is only one thing: the votes of Russian citizens who disagree with him.

Operation Fiasco
If democratic voters do not turn out to the polls on March 18, the consequences will be  enormous. Not subject to any political restrictions, dependent on the bureaucracy and the security services, listening only the counsel of imperialists and Stalinists on the back of the election results, Putin will cross the line, perhaps more blatantly than he himself intends to right now.

If there is a fiasco on the democratic political flank as the result of the presidential ballot, everything will be caught up in it, both those who voted and those who did not vote. There will be a single political pit for everyone, a mass grave for soldiers killed in war.

In conditions of unfreedom, all that people who do not want violence can do is vote for freedom while the possibility still exists.

Because if it transpires that next to no one wants freedom, the changes that occurr in Russia will be extreme, sending us in a free fall towards the unforgettable Soviet Union, which perished in political and economic paralysis only twenty-six years ago, but which is currently undergoing a political reincarnation.

Will the March 2018 election be honest at least when it comes to tallying the votes? On the whole, no, but the percentage of rigged votes is fairly well known. In approximately fifteen regions of Russia, the so-called electoral sultanates, election results have nothing to do with how citizens vote. In those regions, the final official tallies are simply fabricated, giving the authorities around 10% of the votes of all voters on the rolls nationwide.

In other regions, however, the results do depend on how people vote to a greater or lesser degree. After massive civic outrage over the results of the 2011 parliamentary elections, vote rigging has become much harder, thanks in part to tougher laws.

Who achieved all this? The Russians who went to protest rallies in defense of their votes. The 2011–2012 protests were primarily a civic protest of voters whose votes had been stolen. That is why the authorities took it seriously [sic], and it lead to reforms in the voting system. Criminal penalties for so-called carousel voting were adopted after the protests.

What can supporters of the voters’ strike defend at a protest rally? Nothing. They did not vote. What impact can they make by not voting? None at all. They do not have any arguments, because they have no votes or, rather, they gave up their votes.

Who will notice the 10% of voters who do not go to the polls on Sunday? No one. The numbers will not be recorded anywhere. But it would be impossible not to notice the 10% of votes cast by democratic voters, since they will be recorded in the official final vote tallies. The ballot paper is the citizen’s main weapon.

No one will take into account the people involved in the voters’ strike. But it will be impossible to ignore the votes of four, five or six million people.

Russian democrats have one main objective in the 2018 presidential election: to show that we exist, that we do not agree with Putin’s politics, and that we see Russia’s future differently. This means defending ourselves, our loved ones, friends, and comrades, giving ourselves and the entire country the chance for a normal future, a chance that war will not break out, a chance for peace, a chance to save the lives of people who are still alive.

Elections are a public action, an expression and movement of the popular will. They are the only peaceable means of regime change. Often, things do not work out in single step. But we cannot stand in place. We have to keep moving.

The Russian regime will not change on March 18, 2018, unfortunately. But on that day millions of democratic voters in Russia can save the country’s and their own chance for freedom.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust

P.S. Sometimes it’s useful to carefully rehearse and examine arguments that strike you as just plain wrong—in this case, the argument that “Russian democrats” (whoever they are) will surrender their place in Russian “politics” (as if there is politics in Russia) if they boycott the presidential ballot scheduled for this Sunday.

This argument is made by one of Russia’s smartest cookies and bravest democratic politicians, Lev Schlosberg, in his latest column for Pskovskaya Guberniya Online.

Unfortunately, Mr. Schlosberg is reduced to such a queer combination of sophistry and outright bullying that one recalls the remark Tolstoy supposedly made about the writer Leonid Andreyev: “He tries to scare us, but I’m not frightened.”

This is not to say that the political conjuncture in Russia is not objectively frightening. But Mr. Schlosberg’s argument that the “ballot paper is the citizen’s main weapon” rings hollow when even he admits the extent to which vote rigging and coercion will be big factors in Sunday’s vote.

Finally, Mr. Schlosberg urges Russian democrats (let’s assume they really exist) to vote for “democrats” in the presidential election, which immediately begs the question, What democrats does he mean? Grigory Yavlinsky, the de facto leader of Mr. Schlosberg’s own Yabloko party since its founding in 1993 and a man who has run for president so many times I’ve lost count? Or does he mean Ksenia Sobchak, Vladimir Putin’s real-life god-daughter? She talks the good talk once in awhile, but under what real democratic “procedures” were she and the perennial Mr. Yavlinsky nominated to run for president? Meaning by what democratic majorities?

And this is the real problem. There is no democracy in Russia not because of the villainy of Putin and his satraps, although of course they really have done everything in their power over the last eighteen years to make Russian undemocratic.

The real problem is so-called Russian democrats either have no idea what democracy really entails or they’re all too willing to sell the farm for a penny so they can get the chance to run, with the Kremlin’s approval and vetting, of course, in rigged elections whose outcomes are foregone conclusions.

Can a serious man like Mr. Schlosberg really imagine that a few more percentage points here or there for Ms. Sobchak and Mr. Yavlinsky will genuinly serve as a bulwark against the hell that will be unleashed after March 18, when Putin imagines he is invincible and has yet another six years to do as he likes?

What a naive if not utterly specious argument. TRR

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