The Real State of Russia Today

fullsizeoutput_215fRussia is a great place for pipelines, dirt, weeds, and skyscrapers, but it is hell on its people. Photo by the Russian Reader

Natalia Vvedenskaya
Facebook
September 17, 2019

Some of my friends say the regime will collapse soon, while others argue it is only picking up a head of steam. It occurred to me yesterday that we mistakenly use the word “regime” when talking about the processes taking place in our midst. A regime can last a very long time, and crackdowns, no matter how ridiculous or chaotic, are not symptoms of its demise.

Since ancient times, the state has had only two fundamental functions: defending borders and administering justice (making laws). Everything else—medical care, education, pensions, and bike lanes—is a recent superstructure. Political regimes can be different, from totalitarian to democratic, and they can forego treating people when they are ill, teaching them, and paying them pensions while still maintaining stability. But it must perform the basic functions; otherwise, it stops being a state.

In Russia, on the contrary, one of these foundations has been completely destroyed over the past decades. I am not talking about crackdowns. There has never been any justice either for so-called dissidents or people who randomly fall victim to the state apparatus. People understood this in the Soviet Union, and they understand it now: you fight the law, and the law whacks you upside the head. The majority of Russians do not dispute the state’s right to crack down on the opposition or meddle in the affairs of other countries.

I am talking, instead, about ordinary life and everyday justice, about what we find in the Code of Hammurabi, the Law of the Twelve Tables, and Yaroslav’s Law—about the promises the state makes to citizens, about the fact that you cannot just be beaten, robbed, and wrongfully accused for no reason at all.

And what about Russia? What should we think when, for example, as a friend told me, a youth gang orders food deliveries and then beats up and robs the delivery people, and they have been running this scam for nearly a year, but the police simply refuse to do anything about it? When a person cannot find protection from his bully of neighbor, who shoots at his windows? When you go to court because traffic cops confiscated your driving license for no reason and then solicited a bribe to give it back to you, and the trial drags on for a year and a half? When you even win the case but the time you spent on it was worth much more in monetary terms than the bribe itself?

I made a point of giving more or less innocuous examples. Any of us knows several such stories. What is the point of doing public opinion polls and asking people whether they trust Putin? Ask people whether they trust the Russian courts and Russian law enforcement agencies. Their answer will show you the depths of the disaster. The Russian state has forfeited its basic function, and so we are slowly returning to the state of nature. Scattered tribes roam the landscape, and whether you are safe or not depends on the biceps of your fellow tribesmen. Strong communities can defend their members, while loners and weaklings die off.

The current outrage at the prison sentence handed down to an actor is not about crackdowns, but about the degradation of the state’s basic functions. This protest will only grow because the state has been vanishing before our eyes. All that remains are armed men who have monopolized power. What will be next? No one knows.

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Andrey Tchabovsky
Facebook
September 17, 2019

Our Motherland

We returned from a conference in Kyzyl (Tuva).

Two Germans, a respected professor, and his wife and colleague, had supplied the event with its international credentials. For over twenty years, they have invested both their money and their labor in research in Tuva. They had become fans of the place. They had made friends. They were friends to numerous local zoologists and zoologists from other parts of Russia. The professor is an honorary member of the Russian Theriological Society, an affiliate of the Russian Academy of Sciences. For the conference, they minted very nice commemorative medals, paying for them with their own money, to present to their respected Russian colleagues.

Local officials of the Russian Ministry of Science and Higher Education did not let them into the conference at the university and deleted their papers from the conference program. They were not even allowed into the building, all because of Kotyukov’s decree about interactions with foreign scientists. It is clear the decree can and should be roundly ignored regardless of whether it is legitimate or not. It is equally clear that many people will not ignore it because of the stupid need to stay on the safe side and, so, the decree will do what it was meant to do.

It is an utterly shameful disgrace.

Thanks to Natalia Vvedenskaya for her permission to translate and publish her remarks. Thanks to Victoria Andreyeva for bringing Andrey Tchabovsky’s remarks to my attention. Translated by the Russian Reader

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Hand It Over

moscow highway serviceMoscow’s streets are, apparently, reserved for planet-killing traffic jams and idiotic displays of state power, like this parade of trucks by the Moscow Highway Service. Yesterday, another of the city’s municipal agencies, which are run as profit-making “state enterprises,” Moscow City Transport, won a 1.2 million-ruble lawsuit against opposition leaders and independent city council candidates for the losses it incurred, allegedly, during the July 27 protest rally in support of independent candidates barred from running in the September 8 elections. A raft of other frivolous lawsuits against the opposition is coming down the pike by way of punishing them for their persistence and their tactical victory this past Sunday. Photo courtesy of the Moscow Highway Service

Hand It Over: Court Awards Moscow City Transport 1.2 Million Rubles in Suit Against Opposition Politicians
Maria Litvinova
Kommersant
September 11, 2019

Alexei Navalny, Lyubov Sobol, Ivan Zhdanov, Yulia Galyamina, Ilya Yashin, Alexander Solovyov, Oleg Stepanov, and Vladimir Milov must jointly pay Moscow City Transport (Mosgortrans) 1.2 million rubles [approx. $18,000] for the losses it incurred due to traffic stoppages during the “unauthorized” protest rally on July 27 in Moscow. Such was the ruling made on Tuesday by the Koptevo District Court on the lawsuit brought by Moscow City Transport. The defendants were unsuccessful in their attempt to demand financial documents showing the losses. They argued that public transport was poorly organized and also pointed out the large-scaled public events held by the mayor’s office in the downtown area.

Moscow City Transport filed a suit against Alexei Navalny, Lyubov Sobol, Ivan Zhdanov, Yulia Galyamina, Ilya Yashin, Alexander Solovyov, Oleg Stepanov, Georgy Alburov, and Vladimir Milov, who were involved, allegedly, in organizing the July 27 protest rally dedicated to the course of the Moscow City Duma election campaign [sic]. The plaintiff claimed that public transport ground to a halt on several streets due to the blocking of roads by people who took part in the “unauthorized” event and the company incurred losses. Moscow City Transport sought 1.2 million rubles in damages from the members of the opposition.

The hearing at the Koptevo District Court was attended by legal counsel for the defendants, including Alexander Pomazuyev (Sobol and Stepanov), Oksana Oparenko and Sergei Badamshin (Solovyov), Vadim Prokhorov (Yashin), and Andrei Tamurka (Galyamina), as well as Vladimir Milov, who was barred from running in the elections, and his lawyer Valentina Frolova. Navalny and Zhdanov neither attended the hearing nor sent their lawyers. Moscow City Transport’s lawyers refused to give their names to reporters.

Judge Vera Petrova opened the hearing by rejecting a number of motions made by the defendants. In particular, the opposition politicians had asked for a financial report from Moscow City Transport for July 2019 showing the losses, as well as the logbooks of its bus drivers. According to Pomazuyev, it was impossible to substantiate Moscow City Transport’s calculations and corroborate the alleged losses.

The defendants had also moved to have officers of the Russian National Guard and the Interior Ministry, who, they claimed, had blocked roads, named as co-defendants, but the court turned them down.

The defense argued that when it refused to examine key documents the court had taken the plaintiff’s side. Its subsequent motion, asking for the judge to recuse herself, was also denied.

During the trial, one of the plaintiff’s lawyers admitted there had been traffic congestion in different parts of Moscow on July 27 but was unable to explain why the protest rally was the reason for the lawsuit.

Moscow City Transport had identified the persons liable for its losses on the grounds that they had already been convicted on administrative charges for their involvement in the “unauthorized” rally and they had published posts on social media encouraged people to turn out for the event.

The defendants and their lawyers wondered why they had been singled out given the fact that numerous people had either been detained at the protest rally or posted about it on social media.

“There were endless numbers of people on the internet who encouraged people to come out for the event,” a lawyer for the plaintiff conceded, “but we chose to sue these people.”

The lawyers for the defense rejected the claim their clients had encouraged people to block streets. They presented the court with a list of the streets traveled by the buses that, allegedly, got stuck in traffic due to the protest rally in downtown Moscow. For example, Bus No. 137 travels from Belovezhskaya Street to Kyiv Station without going through downtown.

Milov told the court that the documents presented by the plaintiff pointed to “traffic congestion,” not the “blocking of roads.”

“Because of traffic jams, it took me two and a half hours to get here today. Moscow City Transport should sue the Moscow mayor’s office for its poor job of regulating traffic,” he said.

“Moscow City Transport handles the sale of transport tickets in ticket offices around the city,” he said. “Passengers put down their money and decide for themselves when to use the tickets they buy. So, you do not incur losses when buses are stuck in traffic but make money hand over fist.”

The defense argued that the Moscow mayor’s office regularly blocked roads in order to hold city-sponsored events, but Moscow City Transport had never once sued the mayor’s office for losses.

Moscow City Transport’s lawyers countered that the mayor’s office always compensated them for losses.

“If you had compensated us, we would have no claim against you,” one of them said.

Frolova reminded the court of the “burden of responsibility” borne by the public authorities.

“How are the rights of people who enjoy dumplings and pancakes [a reference to the festivals regularly organized downtown by the mayor’s office—Kommersant] any different from the rights of people who are voicing their civic stance?” she asked.

The defendants insisted on the political nature of the court case, arguing it had to do with the elections to the Moscow City Duma.

“The elections are over, people voiced their opinion, let’s get back to the law,” Badamshin said to the judge.

“The court has ruled in favor of the plaintiff,” said Judge Vera Petrova, putting an end to the arguments.

The court rejected the suit in relation to one of the co-defendants, Georgy Alburov. The money will be recovered from all the other co-defendants jointly and severally.

Several other private firms, state-owned companies, and state agencies plan to seek compensation from the opposition, in particular, the Moscow Highway Service, the Moscow subway, the taxi service, the staffing company Ancor, the car rental company Fly Auto and, as transpired yesterday, the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office.

Translated by the Russian Reader

School Daze

olimpiada_po_himii(21)Moscow schoolchildren were smart enough to win the All-Russian Chemistry Olympiad in 2017, but the Moscow police department thinks they are not smart enough to know and speak their own minds when it comes to politics. Photo courtesy of Mos.ru, the official website of the Moscow mayor’s office

Policewoman Tells Moscow Schoolchildren “You Are Kaput” and Threatens Criminal Charges If They Attend Protest Rallies
Mediazona
September 6, 2019

​On condition of anonymity, a pupil at a school in Moscow has told Mediazona that today, during a lesson, a woman in a police uniform who identified herself as an inspector for minors came to his class. She threatened the schoolchildren with criminal charges if they attended protest rallies and said they would be unable to go to university.

Our source recorded the policewoman’s monologue on his telephone.

“As you know, protest rallies have been going on here in Moscow. People who attend them face administrative charges for this and then criminal charges. When people say they just happened to be in the same place, it makes no impression on me. I just put them on the watch list, and they get visits not only from beat cops but also from detectives,” she says at the beginning of her speech.

The policewoman then says she plans to put children on the watch list without bothering to figure out what happened.

“I do not care whether you there or not there, whether you went to a rally or were on a ‘stroll,’ whether you were just going to the toilet or not. I am going to put you on the watch list and that is that: you are kaput,” she says.

On a second recording, made in a parallel class at the same school, the policewoman goes into more detail about the dangers of being placed on the watch list of the police’s commission for the affairs of minors.

“When you are put on the watch list you can forget about your future and your plans for the future because you will not be able to get into any university. I am not talking about not being able to buy cigarettes or [inaudible] on a park bench. This is really serious. [. . .] I think your parents could also have a rough time at work. And basically, it is no fun being on the watch list, something everyone finds out later. Because we alert everyone that their employee’s child has been put on the watch list for this reason and that,” she says.

The school’s deputy headmaster then addresses the pupils.

“The main thing you have to understand is that the people who try to get you involved in this are just manipulating you. They could not care less about your civic stance. You are just numbers to them. They count you up and say that a hundred people, a thousand people came out for the rally. During the war, people like this were called ‘cannon fodder,'” he says.

“Remember that every so-called stroll in quotation marks—because, unfortunately, all children say they were strolling there—can bounce back on you in the sense that your entire educational trajectory and all your plans can be ruined very bitterly. We just worked together to try and save a pupil in the eleventh form after this situation because he was planning to go to a higher education institution connected with the law enforcement authorities. A lawyer was hired to defend him and he managed to get the charges dropped because the kid really had participated in so many academic competitions that it played a decisive role. But I would not wish what he went through on anyone. So don’t do it. Be smart and realize that the money they [inaudible] will later turn into tears of blood shed by your parents in the form of heavy fines,” he says.

According to our anonymous source, the preventive talks took place in the ninth and tenth forms at his school. He speculated they had probably taken place in other forms, too.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Three Years in Prison for Touching a Policeman’s Helmet

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Kirill Zhukov was sentenced to three years in prison for touching a Russian National Guardsman’s helmet. Photo by Yevgeny Razumny. Courtesy of Vedomosti

Number of Guilty Verdicts in the Moscow Case Reaches Five
Anastasia Kornya and Svetlana Bocharova
Vedomosti
September 5, 2019

On July 27, 2019, during an “unauthorized” rally in support of independent candidates to the Moscow City Duma, Kirill Zhukhov raised the visor of a helmet worn by a Russian National Guardsman. Yesterday, September 4, he was found guilty of violence towards a government official, as punishable under Article 318.1 of the Russian Criminal, and sentenced to three years in a medium-security prison colony. The verdict said that Zhukov, acting intentionally and fully aware he was dealing with a government official who was performing his duties, struck him a single blow to the head with his left hand in an attempt to tear off the helmet, causing the victim physical pain.

State investigators conducted a special forensic test establishing, allegedly, that even a slight, upward blow with the hand to the helmet’s visor causes the head to tilt back and the strap to make full contact with the skin in the chin area [sic].

Zhukhov, on the contrary, tried to prove he had only waved his hand in front of the guardsman’s visor since he wanted to draw his attention to a woman injured during the rally. But the court reacted to his testimony “critically.” As the judge explained, Zhukhov’s purpose in testifying in this way had been to mitigate the severity of his crime.

On Wednesday, the Meshchansky District Court sentenced Yevgeny Kovalenko to three and a half years in a medium-security prison colony. He was found guilty of violence against two law enforcement officers. Allegedly, he pushed one of the officers and threw a garbage can at the other.

“Fully cognizant that the man before him, Tereshchenko, was performing his duties, [Kovalenko] pushed him on the right side of the torso with both hands, causing him to lose balance and fall from the height of his own height [sic] on the granite steps and experience physical pain,” the verdict stated.

Continuing to act with criminal intent, Kovalenko grabbed National Guardsman Maxim Saliyev by the body armor with both hands, abruptly pulling him and dragging him towards himself and thus causing him physical pain. After Tereshchenko pushed Kovalenko away, Kovalenko grabbed a trash receptacle and threw it at the guardsmen, hitting Saliyev in the lower back. According to the verdict, the guardsman experienced not only physical pain when falling but also emotional suffering since, at that moment, he remembered he had to perform his duties [sic].

During the trial, Kovalenko explained he had not intended any harm. He had only tried to frighten off policemen who were beating up protesters. However, the judge said the court was skeptical of his claims. They were refuted by the evidence in the case file and were an attempt to avoid punishment.

“The court notes the consistent and purposeful nature of the defendant’s actions, testifying to his criminal intent to employ violence,” the verdict stated.

The judge emphasized that arguments about police misconduct could not be considered during the trial and were not evidence of the defendant’s innocence.

Kovalenko’s defense counsel Mansur Gilmanov pointed out that the crime with which his client had been charged was a crime against the normal functioning of government. It thus followed that beating up peaceful protesters was one way in which the government normally functioned, he argued.

Svetlana Bayturina, Zhukov’s lawyer, called the sentence handed down to her client unprecedentedly severe: usually, such cases had resulted in fines for defendants or, at most, suspended sentences. The speed with which the case was investigated and tried was also unprecedented: the investigation took three days; the trial, one. Bayturina promised the defense would appeal the verdict and intended to take the case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

This was the second “judgment day” for arrested protesters. The day before, blogger Vladislav Sinitsa was sentenced to five years in prison for posting a tweet the prosecution had described as a call to harm the children of law enforcement officers. Technician Ivan Podkopayev was sentenced to three years in prison for spraying pepper spray in the direction Russian National Guardsmen, while businessman Danila Beglets was sentenced to two years in prison for grabbing a policeman’s arm. Their cases were tried under the special procedure: neither man denied his guilt.

Gilmanov noted there was no significant difference between the sentences given to defendants who made deals with the prosecution and those handed down to defendants who pleaded not guilty. This testified to the fact the verdicts were political. The sentences were decided by more senior officials and legal nuances did not matter much, he argued.

Protesters arrested and charged under Article 318.1 after a similar “unauthorized” rally in Moscow on March 26, 2017, were given much lighter prison sentences, between eight months and two and a half years. For example, Stanislav Zimovets, convicted of throwing a brick that hit a riot police commander in the back, was sentenced to two years and six months in prison, while Dmitry Krepkin, who kicked a riot policemen’s hip or his billy club, was sentenced to eighteen months in prison. Only Andrei Kosykh, convicted of punching one policeman’s helmet and kicking another policeman in the neck and lower jaw, was sentenced to three years and eight months in prison, but he was convicted under Article 318.2, which covers violence that could result in death or grievous bodily harm.

The sentences in the so-called Moscow case have been roughly the same as those handed out in the Bolotnaya Square Case in 2012, only this time the protesters had not resisted law enforcement officers at all, political commentator Alexei Makarkin noted. According to him, the sentences in the current cases were dictated by the new rules of the game.

“Whereas before if someone hit a policemen in the teeth and damaged the enamel, he would do hard time, now people are getting similar, slightly shorter sentences for lifting the visors on riot policemen’s helmets, while people who grabbed a policemen by the arms are getting two years in prison,” Makarkin said.

In the Bolotnaya Square Case, the official charges looked more serious, Makarkin argues. The confrontation on the square was much rougher. In some ways, it harked back to the 1990s, when people fought with policemen without incurring such long sentences, he noted.

“The Bolotnaya Square Case marked a new phase. We realized the state had made it a rule that if you raised your hand against a police officer, you would go to jail. If a policeman raised a hand against you, he would be commended,” Makarkin said.

This time, the security forces also wanted to punish a certain number of people, but they failed to put together a new Bolotnaya Square case.

“So they decided anyone who had raised their hand and somehow touched a policeman should go to jail. But since they failed to dig up anything serious, they chose from what they had to work with,” Makarkin said.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Max Stropov: The Cop’s Sacred Body

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Max Stropov
Facebook
September 3, 2019

The trials in the so-called Moscow case, in which protesters have been charged with violence against “law enforcement officers” and sentenced to hard time in prison for touching policemen or Russian National Guardsmen, are yet another vivid illustration that violence is not even remotely the issue. The case more resembles lèse-majesté, “doing wrong to majesty,” a modern form of the crime of offending the dignity of sacred authority.

One of the most immediate and common incarnations of this power in the Russian Federation is the Cop’s Body, which has been endowed with more and more mana and has become increasingly taboo. Since the center of power is a void, the ring surrounding the center, the annulus, the sphincter—which, in fact, is the Cop’s Body—has increasingly gained weight. (The numbers of policemen and other “law enforcement officers” in the Russian Federation have been multiplying.)

The Cop’s Body is impersonal, non-individual, and plural. When they are cracking down on demonstrations, law enforcement’s so-called foot soldiers behave like a herd of animals or a swarm of insects. Their faces are concealed. As Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov has argued, they are not citizens.

“In the line of duty,” when “enforcing the law,” their body is transformed into the law’s body. We could also argue, on the contrary, that the law itself is abstract. It means nothing. It acquires reality and efficacy only in the Cop’s Body, which also has no direct connection with the identities of the policeman who constitute it.

Attempts to out and name otherwise anonymous riot cops encounter such resistance not because the cops could get killed, but because they violate the sacredness of their Body.

As for the “physical” and “emotional” trauma they suffer, allegedly, when protesters throw paper cups at them, this trauma is purely symbolic since non-individual, plural, and impersonal power also suffers.

Generally, then, the Cop’s Body does not suffer nor, probably, does it ever die.

Such is the theology of the police. This summer, it would even seem Russian cops have surpassed Russian priests in their sacredness.

Thanks to Max Stropov for his permission to translate and publish this text. Image courtesy of Max Stropov. Translated by the Russian Reader

Al Jazeera’s Love Affair with Militant Russian Orthodox Fascist Homophobe Vitaly Milonov

milonovRussian Orthodox fascist and homophobic terrorist Vitaly Milonov is Al Jazeera’s go-to commentator on Russian current affairs. Photo by Sergei Fadeichev. Courtesy of TASS and the Moscow Times

This is how the “progressive” media works.

I accidentally woke up at five o’clock this morning to discover Al Jazeera’s program The Stream wanted me to be on their panel discussing the Moscow elections and protests at 10 p.m. Moscow time this evening.

The only problem was that, aside from a young researcher at Columbia who seemed okay, the other two panelists Al Jazeera had invited were Vitaly Milonov and Maria Baronova.

I spent most of the morning and part of the afternoon persuading the producer who contacted me that inviting Milonov on their program was like inviting David Duke or Alex Jones.

Would she like to see them on her program? I asked her.

No, of course not, she said.

The problem was that she had no idea whom to invite nor did the young researcher from Columbia. (Which is kind of amazing, too, since the subject of her research is protests and civil society in Russia, but I won’t go there.)

The producer asked whether I could suggest people whom she could invite on the panel.

I could and I did. I sent her a long list that included Leonid Volkov, Grigorii Golosov, Alexander Bikbov, Greg Yudin, Elena Mukhametshina, Maxim Trudolyubov, and Ilya Matveev, along with their social media or email addresses.

Any of them, I explained, would make a great panelist, not because I necessarily agreed with them about everything, but because they knew the subject inside and out.

After that, the producer asked me to record a short “video commentary,” which as she explained, would be used in the show.

I choose to speak, briefly, about the Article 212 Case defendants, some of whom were sentenced to harsh prison terms today and yesterday, while some of them had all charges against them dropped and were set free.

When I sent the producer the video, I asked, since several hours had passed by then, who would be on the panel, finally.

Had she managed to invite any of the people I had suggested?

Almost five hours have gone by with no reply from the producer.

Only forty minutes ago did I look at the show’s page and discovered that everything I said and wrote to the producer had been utterly pointless, to wit:

[…] Putin has been in power for 20 years and is due to step down as president in 2024. Many younger demonstrators have never experienced Russia under a different leader, and they and others are pushing to take their country in a more democratic direction. This backdrop helps explain why officials are working hard to contain Moscow’s protests. But whether what’s happening in the capital will spread to the rest of Russia remains up for debate.

In this episode we ask, will protests change anything in Russia? Join the conversation.

On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:

Vitaly Milonov @Villemilonov
Member of the Federal Assembly of Russia

Maria Baronova
Journalist at RT
rt.com

Yana Gorokhovskaia @gorokhovskaia
Researcher at Columbia University

In the midst of all that has been happening in Moscow, one of the world’s most respected news organizations has decided their viewers need to hear from a world-famous militant Russian Orthodox fascist homophobe and a certifiably crazy woman who went from working for Open Russia one day to working for Russia Today the next.

This is a complete travesty.

Oddly, the producer said that Gorokhovskaia, too, had “reservations” about appearing on the same panel with Milonov and Baronova.

She should have had them. // TRR

P.S. As I have also discovered, this was Milonov’s second appearance on the program.

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Anti-Gay Russian Lawmaker Disrupts Opening of LGBT Film Festival
Moscow Times
Oct. 25, 2018

State Duma deputy and notorious anti-gay crusader Vitaly Milonov reportedly attempted to shut down Russia’s only LGBT film festival on its opening night Wednesday.

Milonov, a lawmaker from the ruling United Russia party, has earned a reputation for his inflammatory anti-LGBT rhetoric and is best known for spearheading Russia’s ban on “gay propaganda.”

The St. Petersburg-based Fontanka news website reported that the deputy, accompanied by six men, physically blocked the entrance to the Side by Side film festival on Wednesday evening.

In footage posted online, the lawmaker is heard accusing festival-goers trying to get into the venue of participating in an unsanctioned demonstration.

“Dear citizens, you know yourselves that you are perverts; you need to disperse,” he is heard saying.

“We are Russian people who are on our home soil. And you’re not. Your motherland is Sodom and Gomorrah,” he adds.

According to the festival’s organizers, Milonov claimed that a hostage crisis had unfolded inside the cinema and called the police.

Prompted by Milonov’s call, police officers reportedly evacuated the building. According to Fontanka, around 400 filmgoers who bought tickets were unable to attend the screenings planned for Wednesday.

“The first day of Side by Side was interrupted in an outrageous manner and eventually disrupted by State Duma deputy Vitaly Milonov,” the festival organizers were cited as saying.

Milonov denied that he had alarmed the police about a possible hostage crisis, saying that he came to the event because he believed it may have been “violating Russian law.”

The festival organizers rejected Milonov’s claims that they had broken Russia’s “gay propaganda” law — which bans promoting LGBT values among minors — as minors were not allowed to attend the festival.

Side by Side, Russia’s only annual LGBT film festival — now in its 11th year — has in the past been threatened by government officials and nationalist activists.

The organizers said that the festival would continue as planned this week, despite what they described as Milonov’s “illegal actions.”

Is Smart Voting So Smart?

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Experts Disagree on Effectiveness of Smart Voting: Some Candidates Recommended by Navalny Could Win, But the Strategy Has Split the Opposition
Yelena Mukhametshina and Svetlana Bocharova
Vedomosti
September 4, 2019

On Tuesday, politician Alexei Navalny published on his website a list of candidates running in the elections to the Moscow City Duma, scheduled for this Sunday, September 8, whom he has recommended for “smart” voters. They are invited to visit the website and enter their home address to see the name of the recommended candidate in their voting district.

The list covers all forty-five voting districts in Moscow and includes thirty-three Communist Party candidates, five candidates from A Just Russia, all three Yabloko Party candidates who have been allowed to stand in the elections, and one independent candidate.

In particular, in District 5, where ex-MP Dmitry Gudkov was not allowed to stand, Navalny has recommended voting for Anastasia Udaltsova (Communist Party). In District 37, where the Yabloko candidate, Elena Rusakova, was disqualified, he urged voters to cast their ballots for Nikolai Gubenko (Communist Party), the Moscow City Duma’s incumbent deputy chair. In District 43, where Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer at Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, was not allowed to run, he advised people to vote for Yabloko candidate Sergei Mitrokhin. Finally, in District 45, where Ilya Yashin, head of the Krasnoselsky Municipal District Council was disqualified, Navalny has recommended supporting Magomet Yandiyev from A Just Russia.

The smart voting strategy argues that opposition-minded Muscovites should vote in a consolidated manner for the recommended candidates in order to prevent as many covert and overt United Russia party candidates and other pro-regime candidates from being seated in the City Duma as possible. The idea is to seat forty-five different MPs in the City Duma.

As Navalny explained, “Five or six will be okay, one to three will be just great, and the rest won’t be from United Russia, at least.”

All of United Russia’s candidates and candidates supported by the mayor’s office are running as independents in the current elections. As our sources close to the mayor’s office and the party explained to us earlier, this was due to United Russia’s low popularity ratings in the capital.

On Tuesday, TV Rain quoted Valery Rashkin, leader of the Moscow branch of the Communist Party, as saying they intended to welcome Navalny’s call to vote for Communists in most of Moscow’s voting districts. When he was asked how the party’s national leadership would react, Rashkin said the Moscow branch was independent.

Political scientist Yevgeny Minchenko pointed out there were candidates in Navalny’s list who already had a good chance of winning. It was doubtful, he argued, whether Navalny’s recommendations would have a direct, large-scale impact on their vote tallies.

“The number of activists who are willing to respond to Navalny’s recommendations is not great,” Minchenko said.

In addition, there was the question of how to measure the effectiveness of the recommendations since it would be impossible to establish reliably why people voted the way they did, argued Mincheko.

The situation was a delicate one for the Communists, he noted.

“They have been trying to tune Navalny out any way they can,” he said.

Since the Communists were stronger electorally than Navalny, it was more advantageous to him to enlist them as his ad hoc allies.

Minchenko did not expect the regime to crack down on the candidates recommended by Navalny.

Judging by the attention rank-and-file voters have been paying to the current showdown, according to Levada Center polls, smart voting could prove to be the kingmaker in most voting districts, political scientist Abbas Gallyamov argued.

“People are wound up, not so much because of the refusal to register opposition candidates, but because of the aggressive actions of the security forces. The percentage of voters who show up to the polls as a way of voicing their protest will be quite high,” he said.

Many of the candidates supported by Navalny were not at loggerheads with the regime, but neither were they “regime people,” Gallyamov added.

“As soon as they feel they have the backing of real voters, especially protest voters, they will quickly become self-sufficient and the authorities will have to negotiate with each of them,” he said.

Smart voting had split the opposition, separating its more radical members from the moderates, noted political scientist Alexei Makarkin.

“The more radical politicians have the same principle: the worse things are, the better. If a Stalinist ends up in the Moscow City Duma, that would be okay, too. In reality, however, such people are usually quickly co-opted by the regime,” he said.

Besides, Makarkin said, Dmitry Gudkov and Mikhail Khodorkovsky had published their own lists of recommended candidates.

“Smart voting has not helped consolidate the opposition. It has generated more conflict among people whose relations were already far from sunny,” he said.

In addition, there were problems with specific candidates recommended by Navalny. For example, his list included Leonid Zyuganov, grandson of regime loyalist and Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, said Makarkin.

Navalny’s recommendations would not do the Communist Party any harm, nor did Makarkin anticipate crackdowns against the party members on his list.

Image courtesy of Back in River City. Translated by the Russian Reader