“We Are Racing into a Huge Pit”: The Small-Town Russian Businessman Who Publicly Opposed Putin

All that is left of the anti-Putin leaflets posted by Nikolai Korshunov

“We Are Racing into a Huge Pit”: The Businessman Who Spoke Out against Putin
Аlexander Valiyev
Radio Svoboda
26 February 2018

In the town of Verkhny Ufaley, Chelyabinsk Region, police have torn down posters cataloguing the “brilliant” outcome of Putin’s reign from the outside walls of several shops. The posters were hung there by a local businessman, who has already had occasion to fight the authorities in this way. 

Nikolai Korshunov owns six small shop in this company town 120 kilometers from Chelyabinsk. Police paid visits to Korshunov’s shops on the eve of Fatherland Defenders Day, February 23. The businessman told Radio Svoboda what happened.

Николай Коршунов (в центре) с сыном и родственником на Забастовке избирателей в Москве

Nikolai Korshunov (middle) with his son and another relative at the Voters Strike, Moscow, January 28, 2018. Photo courtesy of Nikolai Korshunov and Radio Svoboda

Nikolai Korshunov: I am very active civically. I always serve as an elections monitor during elections. I own six small shops. We sell the basics: bread, milk, etc. The stores are my venue for voicing my opinion about current events. This takes the shape of handmade posters, information leaflets.

My argument is that, since the stores are my property, I have the right to post any information whatsoever in them. The Constitution gives me that right. But I have run into opposition from law enforcement and the city hall in our town. It also happened before the 2016 Duma elections, in which Verkhny Ufaley famously voted only four of the twenty United Russia candidates into the local parliament. People read my posters very carefully. Naturally, they regard anything that is not propaganda as out of the ordinary. It is interesting because if they, say, live in one part of town and the neighborhood dairy plant has shut down, they still remember that, but if, say, a timber plant or infant feeding center has ben closed on the other side of town, they might not have heard about it at all, because it does not affect them.  But when they read the entire list, they think to themselves, “What a lot of things have happened in our town over this time.” Even since the 2016 Duma elections there have been colossal changes for the worse in Verkhny Ufaley: total poverty, unemployment, and hopelessness.

An excerpt from one of Korshunov’s information leaflets. It lists by name the Verkhny Ufaley plants, companies, businesses, and services that have closed during Putin’s eighteen-year reign. Photo courtesy of Nikolai Korshunov and Radio Svoboda

​Radio Svoboda: What was on the the posters?

I have lived in Verkhny Ufaley for a very long time. I was born and raised here. In the run-up to the presidential election I decided to make a list of things that have changed in our town during the eighteen years of Putin’s administration. What businesses and factories have closed? The town’s main employer, the Ufaley Nickel Plant closed [in December 2017]. The Metalworker Factory closed. The open hearth and wheel spring shops closed. Then all hell broke loose: the sausage plant, the dairy, the furniture factory, etc., closed. There are thirty-four items on the list, including the children’s hospital and the railroad’s inpatient clinic. Then there are the plants that are barely hanging on. I wrote about them, too, for example, the metallurgical plant where five thousand people once worked. Now it employs a maximum of five hundred to seven hundred people.

Do you think people have suddenly forgotten about what has been happening in town?

Of course they know, but it is just another reminder, a way of saying, Hey, guys, you say that Vladimir Putin has raised the country from its knees, but I don’t think that is the case. I think we are racing into a huge pit at enormous speed. I cannot answer for the entire country, but as a resident of a small industrial town, I see what has been shut down, what has been destroyed, what has been dismantled, what has been pilfered. When you go and vote, people, think a bit before making your choice.

The continuation of Korshunov’s list. Photo courtesy of Nikolai Korshunov and Radio Svoboda

​How many votes do you think Putin will pick up in Verkhny Ufaley?

He will win for one simple reason. Our town is small: everyone knows everything about everyone else, and everyone tells everyone else about everything. I will give you an example. At the employment office—our town has terrible unemployment, by the way, because everything has shut down—the boss gathers his underlings and says, “God forbid you don’t go and vote. If you don’t, I won’t pay you bonuses.” This is more or less what goes throughout state sector. So a huge number of people, maybe even dissenters, will naturally go out and vote in order to keep their miserable jobs at places like the employment office. No one will buck against the bosses. So, Putin will definitely win. Because he has the administrative resource behind him, and huge numbers of people are incapable of thinking.

The administrative resource can compel people to turn out for an election, but people go into the voting booths alone. 

They have their tricks. They can ask people to photograph their filled-out ballot paper on their telephones and send them the photos. We have been through it before. It happend during the 2016 Duma elections, and during the 2012 presidential election, when I was a polling station monitor. It’s all elementary. It’s not a problem at all. But most people have, of course, been hypnotized by television. They cannot reason, think or compare facts. When it comes to them, what the TV says definitely goes, although it is flagrant, mendacious, aggressive propaganda.

I am sure people have asked you, “If not Putin, then who?” People do not see an alternative. How do you counter them?

В таком виде полиция оставила стену магазина после своего визита
The wall of one of Korshunov’s shops looked like this after a visit from the local police. Photo courtesy of Nikolai Korshunov and Radio Svoboda

There is no alternative for one reason and one reason alone: all of politics has been purged by the administrative resource. Anyone who could compete against Putin would never be allowed to run in honest, alternative elections under any circumstances. That’s why there is no alternative. Putin’s only “opponents” are people who have definitely been appointed to the role. They stand for nothing and no one, and compared with them Putin looks like a superhero. On top of everything is the propaganda and hypnosis that reinforces the message that Putin is the most respected politician in the world, and we are the world’s mightiest country.

Do people in Verkhny Ufaley know about Alexei Navalny, his exposés, and his call to boycott the presidential election?

Most of them don’t know, of course. A particular segment knows, young people mainly, of course, because Navalny has access only to the internet, to YouTube, which is largely viewed by young people, by schoolchildren and university students. Elderly people know nothing about Navalny, naturally. They know only what the propagandists on TV tell them: that Navalny is an out-and-out thief, scoundrel, and so on.

What about middle-aged people?

Middle-aged people are probably more thoughtful, but not so very thoughtful at the end of the day. Our town is basically a village. We live in a kind of swamp. Middle-aged people are averse to risks. They work somewhere in the state sector, earn ten thousand rubles a month [approx. 142 euros], and are up to their necks in debt. When they sit around chatting in the kitchen, they support Navalny, of course. But they cannot voice their opinions actively, because they would be fired from their jobs in two seconds flat. People primarily think about themselves. Their political views come second.

A photograph of all thirty-four factory and other closures in Verkhny Ufaley during the Putin years, along with the message, “Think hard! What will become of the town between March 18, 2018, and March 2024? || March 18: Not an election, but a fraud. Don’t let yourself be fooled. Don’t go [and vote]. The Voters Strike.” Photo courtesy of Nikolai Korshunov and Radio Svoboda

How have the authorities reacted to your protests?

Our mayor is also secretary of the local United Russia party branch. During the 2016 election campaign, I hung up leaflets in my shops saying United Russia was the party of crooks and thieves. The United Russians came running and blatantly tore down the posters. Many locals approached me afterwards and said, well done, I had done the right thing, because the United Russians were high-handed, arrogant, and had lost all sense of measure. During this campaign, they have reacted differently. First, they sent young women who work in lowly positions at city hall to photograph the leaflets in my shops. Then city hall put pressure on the police, who showed up on the eve of Fatherland Defenders Day, February 23. The leaflet had been up for around two weeks by then, and from time to time I had added information to them. They showed up when I was not there and tore down everything. In one shop, they tore down a big piece of fiberglass along with the posters. There were five or six of them. They intimidated the cashiers. They took statements from them and drove away. That happened in five shops. They showed up at the sixth shop the next day. There, however, the cashier is a serious woman. She did not let them tear down the posters and called me. I arrived, and we hashed things out with them for two and a half hours. There were two neighborhood beat cops and an investigator. They were unable to tell me what laws I could have violated. I imagine they are quite unfamiliar with the Administrative Offenses Code. From time to time they would call the dispatch center for instructions. I know there is nothing illegal about my actions. Nothing will come of it, just like last time.

There was no pressure on you after the Duma elections? You were not tormented with surprise inspections of your shops?

No, there was nothing of the sort. I was written up for an administrative violation, but apparently the magistrates told the police there was no law covering leaflets. So nothing came of it, nor was any pressure put on me.

Are you planning to file a complaint against the police?

I did not complain last time, and I will not complain this time, either. It is a waste of time. There is honor among thieves.

Will you put the leaflets back up?

Yes, definitely, they are already up in some shops.

What are your plans for March 18? Will you vote?

I completely agree with Alexei Navalny. I’m going to boycott the vote. I even traveled to Moscow on January 28 for the Voters Strike. But I will definitely go to some polling station or another on election day to help prevent vote rigging.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Uvarova for the heads-up

Igor Averkiev: Elections That Kill Democracy

photoIgor Averkiev

There Are Elections That Build Democracy, and Elections That Kill It: The Tricks Is Not to Confuse Them
Igor Averkiev
igor-averkiev.com
March 13, 2018

1. If you relate to elections solely as a value, you will never grasp their essence. You will never tame them.

2. In the modern world, the presence of elections per se in a particular country is neither an achievement nor a value, except for liberal democratic fundamentalists. In the modern world, it is the political outcome of elections that is an achievement and value. In some countries, elections build democracy, while in other countries they kill democracy. In Russia, they kill democracy.

3. There are about two hundred countries in the modern world. The vast majority of them (around one hundred and eighty) hold elections more or less regularly. Around fifty countries in this vast majority are more or less classic democracies. There are another forty countries that hold elections and are more or less classic authoritarian regimes. The other hundredsome countries that hold elections are ruled by a variety of transitional, semi-authoritarian, and hybrid regimes. Meaning that elections per se do not vouchsafe democracy at all. Morever, in most of the world’s countries, people voting in elections does not produce democracy.

4. Elections are merely a social know-how that can be used by anyone for any purpose.  Know-how is a simple thing: if you wield it, you can profit from it in keeping with your interests. An axe is similar in this respect. It matters who wields it: a carpenter or a killer. In the hands of some people, elections produce a democratic regime, while in the hands of others they produce an authoritarian regime. Democracy is not programmed into electoral know-how itself. Democratic elections thus coexist on our planet with authoritarian elections: everything is decided by the person who presides over the elections. If you want elections in Russia to produce democracy, first you have to gain control of them. Elections serve democracy only when they are monitored at all phases by political forces with a stake in democracy. Nor is it only a matter of monitoring the tallying of votes.

5. Elections serve democracy only when the question of power has already been resolved to the benefit of pro-democratic forces or during an unstable transition period in which an authoritarian regime is still in power, but can longer dismiss pro-democratic forces out of hand. Therefore, in order to use elections to advance democratic interests, they must first be taken away from the old authoritarian boss. Or he must be so scared he has to take the interests of pro-democratic forces into account when elections are held. There is no other way. This is how things are done the world over, but millions of freedom-loving Russians for some reason still believe that regularly going to vote in elections presided over by someone else will in itself hasten democracy’s victory in Russia.

6. What is democracy? I won’t go into high-flown arguments, but the democracy that freedom-loving Russians like so much gels only when the country is run by politicians who have no desire to restrict political competition. They are willing, if push comes to shove, to lose elections; moreover, they are willing to accept defeat until the next elections. That’s all there is to it. That is why there is no democracy in Russia: because the people in power restrict political competition and have no intention of losing elections under any circumstances, much less accepting defeat. They are assisted in their restriction of political competition by the selfsame democratic know-how and institutions. It is just that without democratic politicians inhabiting them, this know-how and these institutions are only formally democratic, not democratic in fact.

7. The pro-democratic forces include not only the liberal democratic parties but also all political and civic organizations—leftist, nationalist, imperialist, religious, environmentalist, alternative leftist, alternative rightist, etc.—whose political interests are not bound up with Vladimir Putin’s personalist regime, who have no plans to limit political competition in Russia, and are willing, depending on the outcomes of elections, not only to come to power but also to cede power. Putin’s authoritarian regime can be opposed only by a broad pro-democracy coalition, without necessarily becoming a formal coalition. The trial version of this broad pro-democracy coalition presented itself to the country during the nationwide protest movement that kicked off in December 2011. We should not expect extremely well-coordinated joint actions from a broad pro-democracy coalition. (The “Decembrists” overplayed their hand in this respect.) It is enough to head in the same direction along more or less parallel routes, coordinating actions at certain critical points.

8. An electoral authoritarian regime, such as Russia’s, is organized quite simply. All the democratic know-how a modern country is supposed to have—elections, representation, separation of powers—functions smoothly, but not all comers have access to it. It is even simpler than that. An authoritarian regime simply does not allow potential competitors, that is, leaders and organizations, to get on their feet politically and grow organizationally to the extent they would be able to surpass the two- or three-percent minimumthreshold of votes needed for admission to the political arena. It does this by refusing to register parties, intimidating leaders, limiting freedom of speech and freedom of assembly in a pinpoint fashion, etc. If, despite everything, they nevertheless grow and thrive, they are simply not admitted to elections, as I have mentioned. In Russia, therefore, democratic procedures do not serve democracy. The soul of democracy is not know-how, procedures, and institutions, but people willing to use them in a particular way. In Russia, politicians interested in democracy simply do not make it into formal democratic politics. Thanks to the political regime built by Vladimir Putin, year after year only pro-authoritarian political forces make it into Russia’s formally democratic politics, and year after year they limit the involvement of pro-democratic forces in democratic procedures. It is a vicious circle. There is democracy, and there is no democracy at the same. Putin’s authoritarian regime is even elegant after a fashion.

9. Elections in authoritarian countries do not increase the supply of democracy, nor do they prepare the way for it, since they do not facilitate competition, do not put the opposition through its paces, and do not put rank-and-file voters in circumstances where the country’s fortunes depend on the choices they make. In authoritarian countries, elections function as a full-fledged authoritarian institution for legitimizing the regime. In authoritarian countries, elections are required only as a source of power, nothing more. Everyone involved in these elections is involved solely in legitimizing the regime. They are doing nothing else.

10. In authoritarian and hybrid countries, including modern Russia, elections have another vital political function. Elections are also an outlet for the liberal public, a valve, installed by the regime, for releasing oppositional steam and keeping opposition politicians busy somehow. The Putin regime has used elections to satisfy the need many freedom-loving Russians have to “fight for democracy” in a safe, comfortable way, a way that lets them feel like decent dissidents honestly doing their duty. Everyone comes out on top. The liberal public engages in self-actualization, and the regime does not find it frightening.

11. If the liberal democratic opposition’s sole aim is symbolic involvement in election campaigns within the authoritarian regime, but year after year the regime does not permit it to grow politically and organizationally, and does not allow it to run in elections, the opposition will gradually wither and become marginalized. This, in fact, is the kind of opposition we have nowadays. If we realize, however, that elections serve democracy only after the question of power has been decided to the benefit of pro-democratic forces, it means we need a different opposition altogether, one radically different from the opposition that has filled the niche the past fifteen years. We need a liberal democratic opposition that is not hung up on being involved in meaningless elections governed by someone else’s hostile rules. We need an opposition focused on vigorous, direct political action and a propaganda duel (a fight over values) with the regime in order to command the attention and respect of the so-called Putinist majority, those very same “ordinary people” who, when a window of opportunity opens, would at least not oppose the new, free-minded political alternative. There is a big problem with the word “new,” however.

12. The creation of a new, free-minded opposition is encumbered by the liberal democratic fundamentalism that holds sway in the minds of Russia’s freedom-loving public. One manifestation of this fundamentalism is, in fact, the irrational cult of elections: all elections are good, regardless of their political essence and their consequences. Two other burdens are the extreme political impracticality and even archaicism of today’s liberal democratic platform. Currently, we have nothing to offer people from the standpoint of a future regime. Here is a simple question. What can we offer the average Russian family, something they would really need and value, that the Putin regime either cannot give them or promise them? The keywords in this case are “really need and value.” Moreover, in the obviously adverse conditions of a post-Putin Russia, the current liberal democratic prescriptions would necessarily lead the country into new crises the very first year they were implemented and, consequently, to new outbursts of the conservative revolution. It is ridiculous to discuss this with educated people, but thinking outside the box is now more important than doing things. At very least, it is more important than running off to vote in Putin’s elections.

13. For free-minded Russians and Russian politicians, the issue today is not how to win Putin’s authoritarian elections, but how to behave and build a reputation in society today in order to win future democratic elections in which the former so-called Putinist majority would be among the voters. If you want to facilitate the collapse of the Putin regime, you need to work less with the Putinist state and more with the Putinist majority.

14. The main problem freedom-loving Russians face in the impending presidential election is not what choice to make, whether to vote or not, and certainly not who they should vote for. The main problem is that whatever choice each of us makes—to vote or not vote, to vote for Yavlinsky or Sobchak—it will have no impact whatsoever on the fortunes of Vladimir Putin and his political regime. Any electoral action we take will change nothing about the election or the regime. Judging by various opinion polls [sic], there are between ten and fifteen million of us in Russia. Even if we assume the incredible—that all of us would act in concert in this election, and thanks to our monitoring the elections themselves would be extraordinarily fair—we cannot have a significant impact on the outcome of the election, even if each of us to the last man boycotted it or we all voted for Ksenia Sobchak or Grigory Yavlinsky.

15. Everything is seemingly quite simple. In Putin’s Russia, elections have nothing to do with building democracy and vanquishing the Putin regime. Why, however, does something so evident not get through to many advocates of liberty and diversity in Russia? How did the perverted cult of mandatory involvement in all elections take hold among such a considerable segment of the Russian liberal public? There are explanations. First, many opposition politicians, speakers, opinion leader, and experts have a professional stake in Putin’s elections. Some of them try and run in these elections (the simplest way of being an opposition politician in an authoritarian regimes), while others assist the elections professionally, serve as polling station monitors, analyze the whole megillah or write about it. This entire mob would simply be out of a job, in the broad sense of the word, if the opposition-minded public did not vote in authoritarian elections. Thus, in the opposition milieu, they are the principal propagandists and agitators for the idea of voting in these demonstrative non-elections. Since, as a rule, they are the most intelligent, energetic, and authoritative people in opposition-minded communities, their opinion is quite important. Second, as I have mentioned, above, involvement in authoritarian elections (“but they are elections all the same”) has served a considerable segment of the liberal public as a safe, comfortable way to “fight for democracy,” a way that lets them feel like decent dissidents honestly doing their duty. The notion that it is foolish and nasty for an advocate of democracy to vote in authoritarian elections immediately nullifies the opposition’s semantic space, the space of election enthusiasts, plunging them into the “desert of the real.” Everything is so painful and disturbing in that desert. You have to acquire a new civic faithfulness to yourself, redefine yourself in terms of the meanings and tools of your opposition, what normal risks are, who your supporters and opponents are within the opposition, and so on. “No, it’s better to vote in Putin’s elections.”

16. On the other hand, if nothing really depends on us in Putin’s elections, is it worth persuading our allies not to vote in them? Why hassle people? Why prevent them from doing what they deem important? Because things won’t get any worse for us if they do vote in the election anyway, right? I think it is still worth pestering them. Politics, after all, depends on political sentiments and emotions, and thoughts are tangible things even when they are not true. If millions of people who hunger so much for freedom and diversity in Russia think, “How can I vote in authoritarian elections the right way, so that it benefits the opposition’s cause?” that is one kind of opposition. But if millions of people who hunger so much for freedom and diversity in Russia think, “What else, besides voting in authoritarian elections, can I do to dismantle the Putin regime and bring about the victory of freedom and democracy in Russia?” that is a completely different opposition.

Igor Averkiev is the chair of the Perm Civic Chamber. Photo courtesy of Igor Averkiev. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

For Sobchak

sobchak poster

This is literally the only Ksenia Sobchak campaign poster I have seen in Petersburg since the Russian presidential campaign officially kicked off.

The poster, which reads, “For Sobchak. For Truth. For Freedom,” was half hidden in the gateway of a residential building on a street in my neighborhood when I photographed it a week ago today.

I imagine the people working in the city’s housing maintenance and street cleaning services have standing orders to tear down any and all “visual agitation” on behalf of the other so-called candidates (each and every one of them vetted and approved by the Kremlin) running in the so-called Russian presidential election, an utterly rigged farce scheduled for this Sunday, March 18.

The world’s largest country should be ashamed to conduct important national business in such a creepy, petty fashion, but until the self-declared heir apparent to the Romanov throne and his gang of crooks and thieves are chased out of town, there can be no movement on that front, alas.

Or any other front, for their matter, even though I have lots of friends on the left here who think the country is pullulating with “social movements” unfairly ignored by the general populace. To their mind, the rank-and-file Ivans and Natashas currently gumming up the future socialist works should magically learn about these nearly invisible social movements and just as magically support them, without my friends the leftists having to build and deploy anything that resembles even the shadow of an effective grassroots political organization that could reach out to the allegedly benighted Russian rank and file, enlighten it, and give it a doable road map to a better future.

One of the few people in Russia who understands something about political organization and tactics, Alexei Navalny, has been leading a boycott of the presidential election or what he calls a Voters Strike. For their pains, the election boycott activists, most of them young Russians, have been increasingly targeted in a crackdown by Russian security services and police. The plan seems to be to put as many of them as possible in jail on trumped-up charges and keep them there until after March 18, at the least.

My friends on the left, who claim not to like Navalny for his nationalist views, but really resent him because he knows a thing or two about national grassroots political organizing, while they seemingly know next to nothing about it, although they talk about it incessantly, are in no hurry to express their solidarity with the mostly “liberal” activists who have been mowed down by the Kremlin’s dragnet. (In Russia, “liberal” is a powerful swear word employed by leftists and rightists alike.) Their sense of solidarity extends only to those people who more or less share their political views and their lifestyles.

The most shameful thing is how many seemingly intelligent Russians are sanguine about this desperate state of affairs and think talking seriously about domestic politics (although they are often, on the contrary, extraordinarly keen to talk about politics in other countries) is like holding forth in great detail at a swanky dinner party about your daily bowel movements. TRR

They Jump on Anything That Moves, Part 3: The Case of the New Greatness Movement

Arrests Made in the New Greatness Case in Moscow
Grani.ru
March 15, 2018

Arrests and searches have been made in Moscow in the investigation of the New Greatness movement. The first source to report the news was Kremlin Washerwoman, a Telegram channel associated with the security services. More detailed information was soon published by OVD Info.

The detainees included the movement’s leader, Ruslan Kostylenkov, and two female activists, Maria Lapina and a juvenile whose name has not been disclosed. They were taken to the Kuntsevo Interdistrict Office of the Russian Investigative Committee. The female juvenile detainee was escorted by her father.

It is reported that during one of the searches a list containing the names of ten members of the movement was confiscated. According to uncorroborated reports, FSB investigators were present during the search.

There is information the juvenile detainee had earlier been subjected to pressure from Center “E” (Center for Extremism Prevention), after which her employer demanded she quit her job.

Photos of the search, as published on Kremlin Washerwoman, show campaign material for the so-called Voters’ Strike, a leaflet printed with New Greatness’s platform, and a t-shirt emblazoned with anarchist symbols.

Screenshot from the Telegram channel Kremlin Washerwomen. “Searches taking place at the home of supports of an obscure organization by the name of New Greatness. The guys drink a lot and cannot pin down their views.”

After lunch, Kremlin Washerwoman posted a video showing Kostylenkov’s confession. Out of breath, Kostylenkov recites a memorized text, mentioning in particular plans for “organizing a tribunal for members of the ruling elite” and “practice in shooting and throwing Molotov cocktails.”

Screenshot of Ruslan Kostylenkov’s alleged confession. Courtesy of Grani.ru’s Twitter account

The movement’s website contains only a home page featuring a notification that the site would be launched on March 15, that is, today. It also contains a brief, two-paragraph description of the movement’s objectives.

“We are the ones who will awake a sense of their own self-worth in people and help the nations of Russian acquire the energy for reviving the spirit of victors,” reads the text. “Only together can we build a strong country the rest of the world will respect and take into account.”

At the same time, both “pro-regime” and “opposition” forces are criticized for “divvying up spheres of influence,” while “ordinary people vegetate in poverty and dishonor, having forgotten the plight of the Motherland in which they live is in their hands.”

Screenshot of the homepage of New Greatness’s website

New Greatness began posting on its VK page on December 30 of last year. In late January, the movement encouraged people to take part in a rally demanding the preservation of trolleybus service in Moscow. The capital’s mayor has gradually been replacing trolleybus lines with bus line, which has sparked protests by environmentalists.

In February, New Greatness launched a large-scale campaign to paste anti-Putin leaflets around Moscow. The movement signaled it was in favor of boycotting the presidental election. On February 25, its activists were involved in the Boris Nemtsov Memorial March in Moscow.

On February 26, a pinned post was published on the movement’s VK page that read as follows: “Our young, ambitious, and quickly growing organization needs your help. If you are finally ready for the fight and willing to sacrifice your time and strength for the sake of our Motherland’s future by working in strong team led by an energetic leader, then join us. To do that, you must live in Moscow or Moscow Region and write to the message inbox on this page. If you cannnot help out physically, help us financially!”

The message is followed by an electronic address for transferring money.

On the evening of March 14, the Telegram canal A Copper Spills posted a message that opened as follows: “Evidence that an extremist organization has been established has been uncovered.”

The post’s author claimed Center “E” investigators in Moscow’s Southeastern District had discovered that “unidentified persons” had established “a group accessible to all [VK] users, which posted information about the creation of an informal political association whose main activity is involvement in popular insurrections, revolutionary actions, and clashes with the authorities.”

“The evidence is there, but for now we’ll keep quiet about everything else. When the times comes, we will tell all,” the author of the post concludes.

Kuntsevo is located in Moscow’s Western District, not in the Southeastern District. Besides, none of New Greatness’s posts contain calls for clashes with the authorities. In this connection, it is difficult to give an unequivocal answer to the question of whether the post on A Copper Spills had anything to do with the recent searches.

Thanks to Comrade Sammakko for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

P.S. Not that anyone much cares (I’m not trying to be smug: I really don’t get the sense there are huge numbers of people either in my reading audience, Russia or the great wide world who genuinely care about any of this), but I think we can extract three takeway lessons rom the war the Russian security services and police have unleased against grassroots activists in recent months.

1. When the director of the FSB or Putin (I forget who) said the other day the FSB had “prevented” fifty or a hundred or six thousand “terrorist attacks” last year, what they really had in mind is juvenile operations and investigations like the one described in the article above. That is, perfectly harmless young people with “funny ideas” and “informal” lifestyles are turned into “terrorist groups” with a little ultraviolence from the so-called security services.

The key is to scare, threaten or torture the harmless non-terrorists into confessing their non-guilt and signing confessions before letting them see a lawyer. Then their gooses are cooked for good, because cases concerning “terrorism” and “public safety” more generally have been removed from the remit of jurors in Russia, meaning they are tried by judges who know in advance what verdicts they are supposed to hand down.

A jury of more or less intelligent people would look at the flimsy evidence and the forced confessions and be tempted to acquit the defendants. If the Bolotnaya Square defendants, for example, had been tried by juries of their peers, I have no doubt most if not all of them would have been acquitted.

2. It has become extraordinarily dangerous to call for a boycott of the March 18 presidential election. Activists who have been calling for a boycott have painted big targets on their backs, and the authorities have spent the last few months shooting at them with increasing ferociousness. Depending on their ideological leanings, the activists have been sentenced to more or less long jail sentences or branded “terrorists,” as seems to be the case with the unfortunates described in the Grani.ru article, above.

I could be wrong, but this “minor terror” alone should be enough to discredit the election in the eyes of anyone with a conscience. By voting on Sunday, you will be saying to the authorities they can terrorize with impunity anyone who criticizes elections in Russia too vigorously and loudly, although that is exactly what needs to happen.

3. The only way to beat this racket is broad-based solidarity, but as we have seen with the accused in the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and even with many of Navalny’s nominal supporters sent off to jail or beaten up for god knows what reason, people occupying different political camps are not too eager to show their solidarity.

The poor folks from the utterly harmless and helpless New Greatness movement, I am nearly certain, will elicit no solidarity or support from anyone whatsoever, except maybe the lawyers from Agora or Public Verdict, if they are lucky.

This points up the biggest flaw in the Russian grassroots democratic movement (if such a thing exists): its clannish, extremely partisan notions of solidarity. There are very few political activists who cross party lines to show their solidarity with their nominal opponents, and this is a huge, crippling problem for the anti-Putin, pro-democracy movement if it wants ever to move forward for real.

When it comes to folks like the New Greatness movement, it likely means they will be railroaded and sent off to a penal colony for ten years or twenty years without so much as anyone but their loved ones even noticing it happened.

After all, even silly, harmless people have human rights, such as the right to an attorney, the right to a proper investigation, and the right to a fair trial. TRR

The Horrorshow Continues: Svyatoslav Rechkalov Tortured in Moscow

Tg4rFSHWUeY“Free Svyatoslav Rechkalov.” Photo courtesy of the VK page Popular Self-Defense

Anarchist Rechkalov Detained in Investigation of Attack on United Russia Campaign HQ, Tortured
Grani.ru
March 15, 2018

Anarchist Svyatoslav Rechkalov, detained yesterday as part of an investigation of the attack on the United Russia party campaign headquarters in the Moscow district of Khovrino, has been remanded in custody to the Temporary Detention Center, as reported in the early hours of Thursday by OVD Info, who cited Yevgenia, a friend of Rechkalov’s who was detained at Rechkalov’s flat along with him and another person whose name has not been ascertained. It cannot be ruled out the person in question was an anarchist named Andrei, who as of Wednesday evening had also not been released from police custody.

Rechkalov informed his comrades that,when he was in the Moscow police’s investigation department, police officers had tortured him, demanding he confess his involvement in the attack. They put a plastic bag over Rechkalov’s head and administered electrical shocks to his legs.

It has not been ascertained whether Rechkalov confessed or not. Yevgenia maintains he had nothing to do with the attack on the United Russia headquarters.

Yevgenia and the unidentifed third detainee were released last night, but on Thursday they were summoned to the investigative department for questioning as witnesses.

On Thursday morning, lawyer Mikhail Biryukov reported he was going to the investigative department to obtain permission to see Rechkalov.

Yesterday, we reported that Left Bloc activist Vladimir Zhuravlov and an anarchist named Artyom had been questioned as witnesses in the case. Both men said they had no information about the attack.

In addition, security services officers searched the Left Bloc’s headquarters, confiscating all the equipment they found there and cracking open a safe. The three activists present the headquarters—Vadim Timergalin, Grigory Sineglazov, and Denis Avdeyev—were detained and taken to a police precinct. They were later released without charge.

The Left Bloc’s VK page reports officers at the precinct had “conversations” with the activists during which they repeatedly threatened them, demanding they testify against their Left Bloc comrades.

It was also noted that, during the search, a lawyer [sic] received messages from unknown accounts, messages supposedly written by the activists. They informed him they did not need his help.

Left Bloc linked the search of their headquarters and the interrogation of Zhuravlov with the ongoing campaign to boycott the upcoming Russian predisdental election. In particular, they mentioned a protest opposite the Nikulin Circus on Tsvetnoy Boulevard during which a banner emblazoned with the slogan “March 18: Tricks and Clowns” had been unfurled.

We assume that, as the presidential election approaches, the police and FSB want to intimidate everyone who has been calling for a boycott. They are justifiably afraid a low voter turnout is a danger to the political farce wrongly called an “election.” All activists involved in the election boycott are now in danger. We concede the outrageous instances of coercion could continue. However, no crackdown can force us to abandon the fight. Boycott the election! We cannot be intimidated! We cannot be forbidden! 

—Excerpt from a pinned post on the Left Bloc’s VK page

“March 18: Russian presidential election. Dissenters in the cellars of the FSB.” Image from the VK page Popular Self-Defense

The attack on United Russia’s campaign headquarters in Khvorino occurred late on the evening of January 30. Three people, including a young woman, took part in the attack. The attackers broke a window in the office and tossed a lighted flare inside. One of attackers filmed the attack on video.

Antifascists Yelena Gorban and Alexei Kobaidze were detained in the case on February 13, charged with vandalism under Article 214 Part 1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code. The crime entails a maximum punishment of three months in jail and, consequently, does not stipulate that people accused of the crime be remanded in police custody until a verdict has been reached, according to Article 108 Part 1 of the Russian Federal Criminal Procedural Code, which covers incarceration. Nevertheless, both Gorban and Kobaidze were sent to the Temporary Detention Center, as Rechkalov has been now.

However, forty-eight hours after they were apprehended, Gorban and Kobaidze were released on their own recognizance. Gorban had confessed her guilt, while it was reported Kobaidze had refused to testify, invoking his right not to incriminate himself under Article 51 of the Russian Constitution.

Thanks to Comrades AR and ZV for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

“The Rowdies Have to Be Apprehended Legally, So We Can Have a Celebration in the City on March 18, not Bedlam”

8792CD92-EE28-452C-859C-77B15F02744B_w1023_r1_sThe political performance “Clanking Chains,” March 11, 2018, Petersburg. Photo by Tatyana Voltskaya. Courtesy of RFE/RL

Petersburg Puts Oppositionists on Pause: Eight More Activists Detained
Maria Karpenko, Kseniya Mironova and Anna Pushkarskaya
Kommersant
March 13, 2018 (updated March 14, 2018)

The arrests of opposition activists continue in St. Petersburg. In the last two days, police have apprehended eight activists, three of whom ended up in police custody at the courthouse, where they had gone to support their comrades. The court has already remanded eight people in custody for their alleged involvement in a protest rally that took place a month and a half ago. At Petersburg city hall, Kommersant was told, “The rowdies have to be apprehended legally, so we can have a celebration in the city on March 18, not bedlam.”

On Tuesday, Smolny District Court in St. Petersburg sentenced three opposition activists—Viktor Cherkassov, Yekaterina Shlikhta, and Ilya Gantvarg (son of Mikhail Gantvarg, ex-rector of the St. Petersburg Conservatory and Russian Federation People’s Artist)—to ten days in jail. Police had apprehended them on Monday for involvement in the so-called Voters Strike, a protest rally held on January 28 by supporters by Alexei Navalny. Yegor Ryabchenko, who was also apprehended, was only fined.

On Tuesday, police apprehended another three activists—Vladimir Kazachenko, Alexander Kirpichov, and Darya Mursalimova, who had come to support their comrades—right in the courthouse. Mursalimova and activist Sergei Belyaev, also apprehended on Tuesday, were sentenced by the same court around 11 p.m. in the evening. Mursalimova was given fifteen days in jail for repeated involvement in an unsanctioned rally, while Belyaev was sentenced to seven days in jail and twenty hours of correctional labor.

Kazachenko and Kirpichov’s court hearing was scheduled for Wednesday.

The new wave of arrests was prefaced by a flash mob [sic], entitled “Clanking Chains,” during which ten activists marched down Nevsky Prospect in chains and prisoners’ outfits. The [performance], which took place on March 11, was held in support of oppositionists who had already been jailed.

The defense attorneys of all of the activists jailed on Tuesday plan to file appeals in St. Petersburg City Court. If the appeals are unsuccessful, the activists will be released only after the presidential election on March 18, just like the three oppositionists already in police custody on the same grounds.

In early march, the court sentenced Alexei Pivovarov, Open Russia’s regional coordinator, Denis Mikhailov, head of Alexei Navalny’s Petersburg headquarters, and Artyom Goncharenko, an activist with the Vesna (“Spring”) Movement, to twenty-five days in jail for their involvement in the Voters’ Strike.

Moreover, Mr. Mikhailov had just served thirty days in jail for organizing the same event, while Mr. Goncharenko had not attended the rally at all. He had merely displayed an inflatable yellow duck in the window of his apartment building, past which the protesters marched. St. Petersburg City Court rejected an appeal to overturn their jail sentences, despite arguments made by the defense that the “deferred punishment” for violating the rules on rallies was “politically motivated.”

The January 28 protest rally was peaceful. Police detained around twenty people, which was very few compared with previous unauthorized protests in Petersburg. Except for Denis Mikhailov, all of the detainees were released from police precincts after police had so-called preventive conversations with them. They were not even written up for administrative violations.

Our source at Petersburg city hall explained what was happening.

“The rowdies have to be apprehended legally, so we can have a celebration in the city on March 18, not bedlam.”

Thanks to Comrade NN for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

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

Free and Fair, or, The All-Russian University of Justice

Tests on Protest Rallies and Compulsory Voting in Workplaces: What Is Happening in Petersburg’s Public Sector Institutions as the Election Nears
Vladislav Chirin and Sofia Volyanova
Bumaga
March 7, 2018

In early March, a test about the law on protest rallies was distributed to lecturers in Petersburg’s tertiary educational institutions. Pupils at Petersburg schools have been forced to take the same test, while employees of schools and hospitals report they have been forced to apply for absentee ballots and vote at different polling stations under threat of punishment.

Bumaga has been monitoring the goings-on in Petersburg’s public sector institutions in the run-up to the March 18 presidential ballot. In the following article, we discuss what violations have already surfaced.

Schoolchildren Required to Pass Test about Law on Protest Rallies 
Pupils at a school in the Vyborg District told Bumaga that on March 6 all groups had been excused from classes in order to take a test on protest rallies. In particular, the pupils were quizzed on whether participants of public events had the right to bear arms and under what circumstances demonstrations could be held on Palace Square and Nevsky Prospect.

test“Tests like this have been handed out in Petersburg schools. This is only the second page of the test, featuring questions about the Field of Mars, invitations to protest rallies via the internet from persons unknown, etc.” Post courtesy of Telegram channel Somebody Else

According to senior pupils at the school, teachers removed them from their second period classes and made them stay during the break to familiarize them with the test. In the event, the teachers explained to the pupils what the right answers were.

When the pupils asked whether the test was connected with protest rallies organized by opposition politican Alexei Navalny, the teahers replied the test was being administered since a pupil at the school had been detained at one such rally and fined.

Central District School Headmaster and Vocational School Employee Talk about Compulsory Test
Svetlana Lebedeva, headmaster of Gymnasium No. 168 in Petersburg, also talked about the test. According to her, the prosecutor’s office had sent them the test, demanding it be administered to upperclassmen.

“It was by order of the district prosecutor’s office. The order was sent to Nelly Simakova, head of the Central District education department. They sent it to us. All the schools did it. The test was on Saturday, and today the pupils who were absent on Saturday took the test,” Ms. Lebedeva told MR7.ru.

On March 6, the same test was administered to students at all the city’s vocational schools, an employee at one of them told Bumaga.

MR7.ru also published a screenshot of the letter sent to educational institutions.  The letter makes it clear the testing had been administered at the behest of the city’s education committee after an urgent request from the Petersburg prosecutor’s office.

A pupil at Lyceum No. 126 has also told Bumaga that, during an event for war veterans on March 6, one of the guests took to the stage and urged attendees to vote for Vladimir Putin.

The prosecutor’s office and the education committee did not return our telephone calls.

Council of Rectors Sent Test on Protest Rallies to Lecturers at Tertiary Educational Institutions
Lecturers at Petersburg’s tertiary educational institutions allegedly received the same test about the law on protest rallies, only electronically.

Echo of Moscow reporter and Higher School of Economics graduate student Valery Nechay published a letter allegedly sent to Petersburg’s tertiary educational institutions. The letter asks university employees to take the test online “at the request of the Council of Rectors.”

letter“Dear colleagues! At the request of the Council of Rectors, staff at all educational organizations in St. Petersburg, including the Higher School of Economics, are being tested in order to determine the level of their knowledge of the laws on rules for holding and attending large-scale public events and the penalties for violating them. We strongly encourage to take ten minutes from your busy schedules and answer the questions before March 12, 2018. The correct answers will be provided immediately after you complete the test. To take the test, follow this link.” Post courtesy of Telegram channel Unexpected Joy.

The test, a link to which Nechay has published, features questions about the rights of people attending protest rallies and punishment for extremism. Some of the questions describe particular circumstances, for example, “You have been invited on the internet to attend a protest rally on the Field of Mars. The rally in question has not been authorized by the relevant executive authorities for the exact time or day listed. You are curious, however, and so you go to the rally. Have you violated the law?”

Students at Petersburg University Say They Have Been Forced to Monitor Elections 
First-year students at the Petersburg campus of the All-Russian State University of Justice have been assigned “compulsory on-the-job training” on March 18: they must attend the presidental election as grassroots monitors. They told the organization Petersburg Observers about their plight.

The correspondence published by Petersburg Observers makes it clear that if the students fail to report for duty they have been threatened with administrative punishments and bad marks in their permanent record. But if they show up for duty, they allegedly will have a day off on Monday, March 19, and be sent official thank-you letters.

observerss“Where do the fake election observers come from? On March 4, 2012 [the date of the previous presidential election] grassroots oversight was usually portrayed by pensioners and state employees. Over the past six years, however, the fake election observers movement has mastered the streams of financing, gone large scale, and become much younger. For example, first-year students at the Petersburg campus of the All-Russian University of Justice received this message from their class leader: ‘March 18 is a school day, compulsory on-the-job training, meaning that everyone will be a grassroots election observer at the polls. Sponsored by the Association of Lawyers, our university is officially taking part in the Observers Corps for Clean Elections event, so if you do not show up you face administrative penalties and a bad mark in your permanent record.’ In addition to free food and transportation on voting day, letters of gratitude and a day off from classes on March 19 have been promised to the students. Basically, this is how correct public opinion is forged: in return for a day off, free grub, and a certificate of [political] trustworthiness.” Screenshot of a post on the VK community page of Petersburg Observers for Fair Elections 

A student at the Petersburg campus of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA) has told Bumaga that out-of-town students at the academy are going to be forced to vote in the presidential election. However, he was unaware of whether the students would be encouraged for turning out or punished for failing to vote.

ranepa“Very Important Information! In the next 30 minutes ALL out-of-two students need to shoot back the following information: what resources you will use to vote in the March 18 Russian presidential election; where you will vote (at what polling station); how you will register to vote. Send it to https://vk.com/%5Bdeleted]. […] Basically, we have been asked by [illegible] to register as many people living in each section as possible to vote. Meaning that each manager is responsible for his section and, subsequently, for sending everyone off to vote. The section in which the most people vote will get the Prize Sector [a reference to the “prize” section on the spinning wheel in the Russian version of Wheel of Fortune]. Ideally, you could assemble your entire section and all go together to the district voting commission. This is a mandatory request that concerns everyone. I think it is in our interest to give our vote . . .” Screenshoots of correspondence among RANEPA students. Courtesy of Bumaga

Schoolteachers and State Employees in Petersburg Say They Are Being Forced to Apply for Absentee Ballots and Vote Somewhere Other than Their Own Polling Stations
A teacher at a school in the Central District has told Bumaga that the school’s headmaster has obliged the entire teaching staff to report to the polling station in School No. 183 [an English-language magnet school on Kirochnaya Street in downtown Petersburg] on voting day. According to her, the teachers in all Central District schools have been given the same orders.

According to the teacher, if staff fail to vote as instructed, they will be given extra work during the spring holidays, from March 26 to April 1. When the voting is over, the headmasters of the Central District’s schools will receive lists of teachers who reported to the polling station in School No. 183, the teacher said. Her headmaster added, however, the orders were “not his whim,” but that all school headmeasters had received the same orders from the “top brass.”

Instances in which the heads of state-sector institutions have tried to force staff and students to apply for absentee ballots and vote at other polling stations have been reported by Petersburgers claiming to be employed at the Center for the Social Rehabilitation of Disabled People and Disabled Children in the Krasnoye Selo District, the Center for Social Assistance to Families and Children in the Central District, the Alexander Hospital, Children’s Health Clinic No. 68, Children’s Health Clinic No. 71, the Leningrad Regional School for Culture and Art, School No. 684 [a kindergarten and grammar school in the Kirov District in the city’s south], and the Municipal Monitoring Center.

Violations Reported by Members of Several Petersburg Election Commissions 
Member of Precinct Election Commission No. 1164, located in City Hospital No. 15, have reported that Irina Nikolich, the polling station’s deputy chair, had drawn up absentee ballot declarations, based on photocopies of four voters’ internal passports, although the voters themselves were not present at the polling station, and Nikolich came to the polling station when it was not her shift.

The polling station was visited by police officers, who interviewed witnesses and submitted the evidence to the Investigative Committee.

Members of Territorial Election Commissions No. 1 and No. 14 have reported to Bumaga that in their electoral districts, precinct commissions had in several instances approved four ballot boxes for at-home voting, although only three ballot boxes are legally required. The extra ballot boxes could lead to vote rigging and ballot box stuffing.

UPDATE
On the evening of March 7, Territorial Election Commission No. 1 reduced the number of mobile ballot boxes in its district to three.

Students at St. Petersburg State University of Film and Television Complain They Have Been Forced to Vote (Updated March 10, 2018) 
A student at the University of Film and Television told Bumaga he and his classmates in the Screen Arts Department had received a message from the student leader of second-year students.

The message made it clear that the master of the filmmaking course had informed the student leader that students who did not vote would be threatened with explusion, said the source. The dean’s office had allegedly issued the orders, and all students were required to register to vote at the same polling station.

Another student at the university told Bumaga she and her classmates had received messages containing a list of five polling stations at which they had to register to vote. Information about whether a student had registered to vote or not would allegedly be reported to their department. The students were promised they would be given postcards at the polling stations that could be used to get into a private screening of the film Dovlatov, the young woman told us.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Getting Out the Vote in Arkhangelsk

Archangel LifePhoto published March 10, 2018, on the Archangelsk Life community page on the VK social network. “Photo of the Day. ‘We’re Going to Vote.’ *The common law wife of regional MP Alexander Dyatlov, chair of the regional committee of United Russia Party supporters, is in the middle.”

Darya Goloschapova
Facebook
March 11, 2018

A good illustration. Society has left women without pants and, apparently, taken the shirts off their backs. It has reduced them to sexualized objects whose sexual function is emphaized even in the civic act of voting, as remote from the bedrom as could be. But it’s cool: they are going to vote. Why are they naked? Are they going straight from the shower to vote? Then where did those ridiculous high heels come from? Did they just come down from the pole in a strip club? Why is this generally routine and uninteresting act decked out in Russia like a wedding in an archaic society? Men show off their power (see the campaign ads of “rich and successful” men supporting Putin), while women show off their naked bodies, sexual desire, submissiveness, and vulnerability.

Thanks to Bella Rappoport for the heads up. Translated by the Russian Reader

All in a Day’s Work

sdy_bxm7qd8Denis Mikhailov. Photo courtesy of the Navalny team’s VK page and OVD Info

Well-known Moscow activist Mark Galperin has been sentenced to two years probation for two videos. The videos, in which Galperin discusses a possible revolution, were deemed calls to extremism. The court forbade the activist frominvolvement in grassroots organizations for three years.

In Crimea, left-wing activist Alexei Shestakovich was transported after a police search with a plastic bag over his head. During the search, he lay on the floor in his underwear and handcuffs. Ultimately, Shestakovich was jailed for ten days.

At the same time, Crimean trade union activist Ivan Markov was detained and then jailed for ten days, but he was released ahead of schedule, as the appellate court overturned the decision to remand him in custody.

Denis Mikhailov was arrested twice for the same “crime.” The coordinator of Alexei Navalny’s presidential election boycott headquarters in Petersburg had just left the special detention center where he had spent thirty days for the January 28 Voters Strike protest rally, when he was detained, taken to court, and jailed for another twenty-five days, once again for the January 28 Voters Strike protest rally. Only in the first case, Mikhailov was tried as an organizer, while the second time he was tried as a participant.

An activist in Yekaterinburg was jailed for fifteen days after he was detained carrying a placard criticizing Putin. The placard was emblazoned with the slogan, “If you want another six years of lies and stealing, vote for Putin.” Sergei Tiunov was accused of a repeat violation of the rules for public events. He has gone on a dry hunger strike.

Source: OVD Info. The Week That Was, No. 45 (email newsletter). Translated by the Russian Reader