Political Scientist Ekaterina Schulman on Why You Should Vote
Anya Chesova and Natasha Fedorenko The Village
September 16, 2016
This Sunday, September 18, the country will vote for a new State Duma, the seventh since the fall of the Soviet Union. The peculiarity of this vote is that it will take place under a mixed electoral system for the first time since 2003. 225 MPs will be elected to five-year tears from party lists, while the other 225 MPs will be elected from single-mandate districts. Several days before the elections, The Village met with Ekaterina Schulman, a political scientist and senior lecturer at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA). We talked with her about why you should vote if United Russia is going to win in any case, as well as about the changes in store for the Russian political system in the coming years.
The Upcoming Elections
The Village: On Sunday, the country will hold the first elections to the State Duma since 2011. The social climate in the city and the country as a whole has changed completely since that time. Protests erupted in 2011, and the people who protested on Bolotnaya Square and Sakharov Avenue believed they could impact the political situation. Nowadays, few people have held on to such hopes. What should we expect from the upcoming elections? And why should we bother with them?
Ekaterina Schulman: Everything happening now with the State Duma election is a consequence of the 2011–2012 protests, including changes in the laws, the introduction of the mixed system, the return of single-mandate MPs, the lowering of the threshold for parties to be seated in the Duma from seven to five percent, and the increased number of parties on the ballot. These are the political reforms outlined by then-president Dmitry Medvedev as a response to the events of December 2011. Later, we got a new head of state, but it was already impossible to take back these promises. The entire political reality we observe now has grown to one degree or another out of the 2011–2012 protest campaign, whether as rejection, reaction or consequence. It is the most important thing to happen in the Russian political arena in recent years.
The statements made by Vyacheslav Volodin, the president’s deputy chief of staff, on the need to hold honest elections, Vladimir Churov’s replacement by Ella Pamfilova as head of the Central Electoral Commission, the departure of someone more important than Churov from the CEC, deputy chair Leonid Ivlev, and the vigorous sacking of chairs of regional electoral commissions are all consequences of the protests. If they had not taken place, nothing would have changed. We would still have the same proportional voting system, the same seven-percent threshold, the same old Churov or Churov 2.0. Continue reading ““We Have a Surrogate Democracy”: An Interview with Ekaterina Schulman”→
The most inappropriate reaction to these so-called elections is disenchantment with their outcome. Was anyone really enchanted by them? I can understand the pessimism of moderate liberals, for whom the procedure of voting is democracy’s alpha and omega, but a “constitutional change of power” is the ultimate political daydream. Even smart liberals must realize the Duma is not a parliament, and Russia is not a republic. What, then, are we to make of elections to a body that does not form the cabinet, cannot impeach the president, and, most important, gave up any pretensions to power long ago? What is demonstrated by so-called elections to a body in whose necessity over forty percent of respondents have doubts, according to opinion polls? What does it mean when people vote for parties that in their vast majority are flimflam organizations imitating political pluralism?
Nothing sounded more out of tune in the opposition’s rhetoric of recent months than the campaign slogans of liberals, hoping to cross the five-percent threshold, about effecting a “change of power” by dropping a ballot into a ballot box. Perhaps the statement made by Ella Pamfilova, chair of the Russian Central Electoral Commission, that she was “really, really sorry” not a single non-parliamentary party made it into the Duma, reflects not only her own opinion but also that of her bosses. A few rebellious voices would not have harmed a body one of its former speakers infamously dubbed “not a place for discussion.” They would have made the bureaucracy’s imitation of democracy slightly more believable.
But let us get back to the question of what these so-called elections show us. Maybe, at least, they are a cross section of public opinion, a sincere manifestation of confidence in the regime or, as the opposition is fond of claiming, an index of the populace’s “zombification”? No, they are none of these things, and that, perhaps, is the most troubling news for the ruling elite.
If, after several years of severe economic crisis, and amidst a record-low turnout, a party headed by an unpopular prime minister garners even more votes than it did in 2011, it means that elections to the Duma have finally shed their remaining links with any known social reality. It would be more soothing for the Kremlin if the votes had been divvied up more evenly among the four pro-regime parties. That would have been a sign of confidence in the political system. If Russians had sought an alternative within the current system by voting for the Communists or any other pro-Kremlin party that would have told us that faith in the Putin regime is indeed strong.
But people who vote for United Russia in 2016 are not voting for the government’s policies, the annexation of Crimea or even Putin. They vote not because they expect the elections will change things for the better, and not because they are blinded by propaganda or are especially fond of government officials. They fear a change for the worse and take part in a pre-programmed ritual, thus hoping to prevent the collapse of their usual lives. In its own way, this choice is rational, although it smacks of pessimism and conservatism. People are clinging with all their might to a crumbling stability. But what will happen when there is nothing more to cling to?
Some of the voters who did not go to the polls could have been guided by similar motives. It would be wrong to interpret high absenteeism unambiguously as passive protest. The majority realizes nothing actually depends on Duma elections. Superstitiously, involuntarily or habitually, some partake in this ritual exorcism of hardship and troubles. Others fail to partake in the ritual out of laziness, apathy or contempt. Only an indoctrinated minority literally believes in the campaign slogans.
So the only information the powers that be and we can extract from the election results is that the country is not in the midst of a revolution, and the supplies of public apathy on which the system depends have not run out yet. But as a tool of political leverage, a reflection of the confidence the masses have in the ruling class, and even as a means of studying public opinion, the Duma elections have shown their uselessness. Like routine vote rigging, their outcome is an indication of Putinism’s degradation as a political system rather than its stability.
Sveta Erpyleva Watching the Watchers
September 20, 2016
I want to articulate a few ideas about the practice of working as an elections observer from a slightly different perspective than people usually write about it. In my view, there are two things that make the practice attractive to many of us.
The first thing is the indescribable feeling of belonging to an anonymous community, a team of strangers involved in an important cause. Such communities are nearly absent in our everyday lives. We have friends and families, but that is not the same thing, of course. We have colleagues and people who share our interests. We might not know them personally, either, but we never come together with them to touch on something that affects the entire country. In this case, however, over the course of twenty-four hours we experience the same events and emotions as hundreds of other observers in different parts of the country. We share our impressions with each other in comments sections on social networks, we all stay awake for days on end, and together we quarrel with members of electoral commissions. It is a very unusual and powerful sensation. I think many people have experienced it, whether they were aware of it or not.
The second thing is the chance to feel we are not couch potato dissidents or whatever it is called, but real citizens, conscientious citizens. We voluntarily get up early in the morning, we wrestle with a large group of people on our lonesome, and we struggle mightily with fatigue. And then, naturally, we write about it, hearing in reply all sorts of compliments from loved ones and acquaintances. But that is what we expected to hear, isn’t it?
In connection with these two things, I think it is important we be aware of the following. An anonymous political community is groovy, but sometimes it is not worth getting carried away with it. Are we certain we want the exact same things as the conscientious, get-up-and-go people who seem so much like us on elections day?
I chatted with a pleasant, conscientious young man who, like me, had come of his own free will to work as an observer at my polling station. Nope, his way was not my way, I discovered. We wanted different things.
As for the second thing, it is quite simple to selflessly surrender twenty-four hours of your life to “civil society” once every two or three years and then hear lots of nice things about yourself. Meanwhile, there are people in our midst who selflessly give up several hours every day to political struggles and social activism. Ninety-five percent of that time vanishes into the mist, because that is the nature of modern politics. These people do not get any doughnuts in the guise of society’s approval for ninety-five percent of their work. I admire people like this if their views are congenial to mine rather than people who have worked as election observers. Sorry.
I am not saying you should not go work as an elections observer. I did it myself, and I imagine I will go and do it the next time round. What I mean to say is that, first and foremost, we should not look at ourselves through rose-colored glasses.
Sveta Erpylevais a sociologist who works at thePS Lab (Public Sociology Laboratory)in Petersburg. This past Sunday, she volunteered as an elections observer at a polling station in the city’s Central District. My thanks to her for allowing me to translate and publish her remarks here.
A Voter’s Strategy
Grigorii Golosov Polit.ru
September 6, 2016
Compared with previous elections to the Duma, the parliamentary elections scheduled in Russia for September 18, 2016, have a number of peculiarities. And it is not only because the elections will be held under a mixed system, proportional and majoritarian simultaneously. The 2016 election campaign is different from all previous campaigns.
Grigorii Golosov, a political scientist and professor at the European University in St. Petersburg, talked to Polit.ru about the unusual aspects of the current election campaign, its likely outcome, and alternative scenarios and strategies that the politically active segment of society should keep in mind.
It is obvious what is unusual about these elections: they are taking place in September rather than December. They were not scheduled for September accidentally, of course, but to things easier for United Russia.
The election campaign has gone completely unnoticed. In addition, it is quite short compared with the campaigns we have had earlier. It is completely obvious [the regime] is counting on the fact that it will fail to catch voters’ attention at all.
This means people are basically expected not to have political motivations to vote in these elections. What motivations could they have if they simply know nothing about the elections or who is running in them? This, in turn, means the people organizing the election campaign are counting on the fact that the bulk of voters will be people who are obliged to vote for one reason or other, or have a material stake in voting.
We essentially know what segments of the populace these are: employees of state-funded organizations; pensioners; and employees of certain major enterprises where management may be able to influence how they vote. Since their reasons for going to vote are so unpolitical, they will vote as they are told to vote, meaning for United Russia.
Given such a scenario, it follows that United Russia will receive a substantial majority. I think this year they won’t go after the really big numbers that you can achieve only by falsifying the turnout. Probably, however, the optimal scenario for the authorities would involve United Russia’s getting fifty to fifty-five percent of the proportional vote according to party lists.
In addition, it is already clear, given the fact that the electoral districts are mainly controlled by the regional authorities, that United Russia will also get an overwhelming majority of the seats in the [single-mandate] districts. Thus, in tandem with their numbers in the proportional voting part of the ballot, United Russia will again be able to control the Duma completely and reliably support the legislation drafted by the presidential administration and the government.
The alternative scenario would consist in more people coming out to vote, and some of them coming out for political reasons.
Frankly speaking, even those people who support Vladimir Putin have no particular political motivation to vote for United Russia, because Dmitry Medvedev is heading the party in these elections. He bears no responsibility for foreign policy, whose successes have been trumpeted constantly. Both Medvedev and United Russia are linked in voters’ eyes with domestic policy and, thus, with the economic situation in Russia. A considerable part of Russian society now senses that it is getting worse.
However, many parties involved in these elections exhibit no less loyalty to Putin and his foreign policies than United Russia does, and under these circumstances, politically motivated voters have no particular incentive to vote for the ruling party.
We should also not forget that support even for Putin’s foreign policy is not universal in Russia, and pollsters have always recorded a fairly considerable group of people who do not support this policy in any way and oppose Putin. Strategically, the current election campaign is meant to discourage this segment of Russian voters from going out to vote at all. They have been sent a variety of signals to the effect that voting is pointless, the elections are pointless, and they had better stay home.
Will it work? It is quite likely that it will, and so I find United Russia’s optimistic scenario more plausible. However, there will undoubtedly be a certain number of politically motivated voters turning out for the elections. How many votes the United Russia list will garner in proportional voting will depend on this number.
Regardless of the published opinion poll results, the spread could be quite wide. I would suggest somewhere between forty percent (in the event that the turnout of political motivated voters is quite high) and fifty-five percent. But this will have no significant impact on the makeup of the State Duma, because in any case it will be controlled through the single-mandate MPs. Besides, many parties who might get votes from politically motivated voters are not likely to clear the five-percent barrier for entering the Duma.
However, precisely because the outcome of these elections are politically unimportant in terms of controlling the State Duma, they could be politically important as a demonstration of Russian society’s attitude toward the authorities in general, meaning the attitude of its politically engaged segment. In this sense, I would argue opposition-minded voters should understand they can reduce United Russia’s vote total, thus showing it does not enjoy unanimous support, or they can increase it by not coming out to vote.
What should they do if they do come out to vote? If they do not dislike it intensely, they can vote for the party that has adopted a directly oppositional stance, i.e., for PARNAS. Or they can vote for a party that, while generally deferent to the authorities, exercises this deference in a particular way, i.e., for Yabloko.
Taking into account what I have said about small parties not clearing the five-percent barrier, voters can, nevertheless, vote for the small parties. If, for whatever reason, they definitely do not feel like voting for either PARNAS or Yabloko, they can vote for other small parties, even if they do not particularly like them.
It would probably be pointless to vote for parties who have no chance of garnering votes, but there is a limited number of minor parties that have some chances. I would identify the Communists of Russia, the Pensioners Party, the Party of Growth, and, possibly, Motherland. I have mentioned Motherland partly because there is nationalist feeling within society, and party because they ended up in the first slot on the voting ballot. During the free elections that took place in Russia in the 1990s, first place in the voting ballot always gave the party listed there a palpable bonus of about one percent of the vote.
It is not a matter of whether these parties are decent or not. During these elections, if they espouse genuinely oppositional views, the strategy of politically motivated voters should be based not on facilitating a particular candidate’s victory or impacting the breakdown of mandates. (From this point of view, it does not matter who gets into the Duma.) Their strategy should be based only on showing the policies now pursued by the Russian authorities do not enjoy unanimous support. And this can be achieved by doing what I have talked about.
“They Have Really Gone After Us” After returning to Krasnodar Territory, participants of tractor convoy feel the heat from the very people against whom they complained
Anna Bessarabova Novaya Gazeta
August 28, 2016
The farmers were threatened during the convoy. We will stage a second Novocherkassk massacre for you and dice you like cattle in a slaughterhouse, they were told by security officers, who after the protest was dispersed have been zealously carrying out checks of their homes and farms.
Around thirty FSB officers raided Nikolai Borodin’s farm in the village of Kazanskaya, which they turned upside down. The tax inspectorate has been looking into property owned by the relatives of protest leader Alexei Volchenko. Other men have been interrogated by the prosecutor’s office. Nina Karpenko escorted her driver Seryozha Gerasimenko, a young fellow with three small children, to the detention center. He has been jailed for three days. The other men were also issued misdemeanor charge sheets: the authorities even went to the trouble of delivering the documents to their homes. The hearings took place on the weekend (Saturday) in the Kavkazsky District. Sergei Gorbachev was jailed for five days, Slava Petrovsky, for four days, Andrei Penzin and Semyon Smykov, for three. The rest of the protesters are waiting their turn.
“Nearly everyone in the villages has been paid visits by prosecutors and police,” farmer Ludmila Kushnaryova told Novaya Gazeta. No one knows what they are looking for. Or what the charges will be, either. The pressure has not stopped.”
“I cannot believe this is happening to us, in our country. We had no idea it would be so frightening,” said Nina Karpenko. “They have really gone after us. The deputy chief of the district traffic police escorted my tractor drivers and me to the hearings. He followed us for 250 kilometers. Whatever for? There were two people working in the courthouse on Saturday: the judge and the chairman. Didn’t they have anything else to do?”
Nikolai Maslov and Oleg Petrov, two convoy participants jailed for ten days, have been transferred to Novocherkassk.
“Dad called early this morning. He said everything was alright. But who knows. Maybe he just didn’t want to scare us?” said Igor Maslov, worried about his father. “We still haven’t found lawyers for them. How much do you think they’ll gouge us?”
Alexei Volchenko’s colleagues and friends have been looking for him. He has not been answering calls to any of his phones. He is not to be found in his home village. He has disappeared. The last thing the farmers heard was that Volchenko had been fined in Rostov Region. He made it back to Kuban, where he was detained again and sentenced to ten days in jail in Ust-Labinsk. The authorities are now, allegedly, preparing to charge him with extremism.
The Russian government, the Prosecutor General’s Office, and the Russian Investigative Committee have been pretending nothing is happening in Kuban. The official TV channels have been airing election campaign spots about the ruling party’s ability to listen to people, but they have not aired any stories about the events in Krasnodar Territory. They have maintained their silence for a week.
Alexander Popkov, a lawyer with the Agora International Human Rights Group, Boris Titov, federal commissioner for the rights of entrepreneurs, former Federation Council member Ivan Starikov, and Russian Federal Public Chamber chair Georgy Fyodorov have promised to help the participants of the tractor convoy.
“Obviously, the farmers have committed no offenses, and the wild imitation of law enforcement involving riot police and arrests for a ‘rally’ in a cafe are aimed at suppressing a peaceful and reasonable protest campaign,” said lawyer Alexander Popkov. “The first thing we are going to do is file appeals, and then we are going to see whether there is any point in beating our heads against the courts in Russia or whether we should immediately file a class-action complaint with the European Court of Human Rights.”
“I have been in contact with the farmers, their wives, and their children. They are drafting an appeal, and next week we plan to hold a big press conference in Moscow,” Ivan Starikov informed Novaya Gazeta. “Their problem needs to be solved systemically. People’s land shares are being confiscated, and there are around 300,000 victims of this practice nationwide.”
According to Valentin Pyshkin, attorney for convoy participants Nikolai Maslov, Oleg Petrov, and Sergei Vladimirov, the farmers have filed an appealed against the court decisions that sentenced them to ten days in jail.
“But we won’t get an answer earlier than Monday,” the lawyer explained. “On August 26, I was not admitted to the Novocherkassk detention center and allowed to talk with my clients, because, you see, according to their internal regulations, prisoners are entitled to representation by a lawyer only from two to four in the afternoon. It is an odd rule. But at four o’clock I had a court hearing in Aksai. Rustam Mallamagomedov from the Association of Russian Carriers (OPR) was on trial. On August 24, he had gone to the police station on his own to find out what had happened to the detainees, and the police didn’t let him back out of the station.”
Truckers Ready to Fight for Farmers
Andrei Bazhutin, chair, Russian Association of Carriers (OPR):
“We arrived from Petersburg to Moscow, where we were getting ready for a car convoy through Siberia. We learned about the arrest of the tractor convoy on the morning of August 23 and changed our plans. We went to support the tractor drivers. We were stopped by police for eight hours on the Moscow Ring Road, and eight hours in Voronezh Region. Along the way, we were written up for violating Article 20.2 of the Misdemeanors Code [“Violation of the established rules for organizing or holding an assembly, rally, demonstration, march or picket” — Novaya Gazeta], but they did not stop us from traveling further.
“By the time we got to Rostov, two of our activists [who had been with the tractor convoy from the beginning — Novaya Gazeta] had been sentenced to ten days in jail, while another two had been fined 10,000 rubles. Now we are here in Rostov: we have four big rigs and some cars. We are working with the lawyers and human rights activists and trying to help the guys out. We think it is necessary to gather journalists and advance on Krasnodar Territory to draw attention to these court hearings. Center ‘E’ [the Interior Ministry’s Center for Extremism Prevention — TRR] has intimidated everyone here.
Personal income of Russians shrank by 52.2% in January 2016 as compared to December 2015. According to the report by the state statistics body Rosstat, the monthly income in January averaged only 21365 rubles (about USD $291) though only a month ago it was 45212 rubles ($614). Elena’s Models, March 9, 2016
Pollocracy continues its triumphant march across the sweeping plains and endless forests of the world’s largest country, stamping out the last vestiges of real reality there.
This astounding victory for what the FOAMsters euphemistically call “sociology” comes amidst a spate of bank license revocations by the Russian Central Bank, a hunger strike by miners at Rostov mining company King Coal, who have not been paid back wages amounting to over 4.1 million euros since May 2015, and an abortive attempt by Krasnodar farmers to drive their tractors in a convoy to Moscow to protest the parceling off of prime land by authorities in the region to big agribusinesses instead of to them.
And those are just the recent “economic achievements” that came immediately to mind when I saw those dubious poll results. There are hundreds of more such examples that I could adduce, starting with the fact that there have been more than a fewreports in the media and elsewhere about a decline in the real wages and income of Russians over the past couple of years.
Things are indeed going swimmingly for the Russian economy, and we know that is the case, yet again, because the utterly objective Russian pollsters have told us so. TRR
Elections to the State Duma and regional legislative assemblies throughout the country are scheduled for September 18, and the campaign, such that it is, is in full swing. Journalist and Yabloko Party member Boris Vishnevsky has behaved the way a real city councillor should during his first four years representing part of Petersburg’s giant Central District. So it is no wonder the ruling party, United Russia, has taken aim at him by running a loyalist like Maria Shcherbakova, longtime head of the Central District, against him in the city’s second single-mandate electoral district. And her campaign, it would seem, is pulling out all the dirty stops, confident it will never ever have to pay for its crimes. TRR
“Opposition candidate Boris Vishnevsky. Residents of the Central District! I must become a deputy in the [St. Petersburg] Legislative Assembly. To make this happen, transfer 1,000 rubles to my special election campaign account. Account no. 40810810956049000026.” The fine print in this counterfeit campaign poster creates the impression the poster was ordered by Vishnevsky himself and lists other fake details, such as the print run and the name of the print planting where the poster was, allegedly, printed, along with its address.
Friends and colleagues, especially those of you from the Central District:
The district has been pasted with fake ads, allegedly endorsed by me, suggesting that people transfer money to my election campaign account.
I think this is a reaction to my complaints against illegal campaigning on behalf of Maria Shcherbakova, United Russia’s candidate [for the seat in the Legislative Assembly currently held by Vishnevsky] and head of the Central District. Likely as not, the fake were posted early in the morning by employees of the housing and maintenance service. By the way, the number of the election campaign account is fake too, of course.
There is nothing surprising about this, friends. They don’t know how to campaign any other way and they won’t do it.
Complaints have been filed with the police, the prosecutor’s office, and the Municipal Electoral Commission.
First, don’t believe fakes.
Second, this is proof I have real support from people, and city hall is scared of me.
Third, when you see something like this, call my campaign headquarters immediately at +7 967 596 5021.
Maximum repost. People should be aware of dirty campaign tricks.
Translated by the Russian Reader
But that is definitely not how low the regime can go. That was just a party trick, so to speak.
Meanwhile, some more productive Petersburgers have produced this nifty map of the city’s subway system. Unlike all other maps of the system, and there have been plenty since it went online in 1955, this one shows the depths, in meters, of all the stations in the subway.
The deepest, at 86 meters, is Admiralteiskaya, a relatively new station, opened in 2011, and located near Palace Square and the Hermitage, as well as, naturally, the Admiralty.
What do Petersburgers do as they ascend and descend the long escalators that take them down into and up out of the underground, rides that can take over five minutes in the most profound cases? Well, they do lots of things, including reading, chatting, meditating, listening to music, etc. One thing they are not doing a lot of, I am afraid, is thinking about the upcoming elections. But that is no accident, just as it was no accident all those fake Vishnevsky campaign posters were plastered all over downtown. TRR
Source: VKontakte; thanks to Comrade DE and others for the heads-up