This film by Observers of Petersburg shows how such how a high turnout (74.7%) and outcome (77.7% “yes” votes) were attained in Petersburg during the 2020 Russian national referendum.
Spoiler alert! All this was made possible by six days of early voting, which were impossible to monitor.
00:59 How will the 2020 vote be remembered?
02:44 Coronavirus: voting in a pandemic
06:12 Early voting
09:28 Voting at workplaces
13:20 Voting rolls
17:49 David Frenkel’s story: how a journalist’s arm was broken at a polling station
21:35 Observers from the Public Chamber
26:09 Vote counting
31:42 Honest polling station commissions
35:24 What will happen next? The Russian national referendum’s impact on future elections
The film was produced by Yulia and Yevgeny Selikhov.
Thanks to iz0 for doing the animation.
The turnout (yavka) for last September’s gubernatorial election in Petersburg was a record low of thirty percent. Less than a year later (at the height of summer, in the midst of a pandemic), the turnout for a meaningless “referendum” on amendments to the Russian constitution (which had already been ratified by both houses of parliament and signed into law by Putin) drew a record high turnout of 74% in Petersburg, according to local political blog Rotunda. Graphic courtesy of Fontanka.ru
The turnout [yavka] in St. Petersburg for the December 2011 elections to the State Duma waos 55%.
For the presidential election in March 2012, it was 64% (Vladimir Putin took 62% of the vote.)
For the gubernatorial elections in September 2014, it was 39%. (Georgy Poltavchenko won 79% of the vote.)
For the parliamentary elections in September 2016, it was 32%.
Turnout in St. Petersburg for the presidential elections in March 2018 was 63%. (Vladimir Putin took 75%.)
The turnout for the Petersburg gubernatorial election in September 2019 was 30% (Alexander Beglov won with a result of 64%.)
The turnout for the poll on amendments to the Constitution in the summer of 2020 was 74%. (77.6% voted “Yes.”)
Rotunda is a Telegram channel on Petersburg politics run by journalists Maria Karpenko (@mkarpenka) and Ksenia Klochkova (@kklochkova). You can write to them at: rotondaa [at] protonmail.com. Translated by the Russian Reader
Filmmaker Andrey Silvestrov took this selfie with his ballot paper at his polling place in Moscow. The question reads, “Do you approve [the] changes to the Russian Constitution?” Silvestrov voted no, of course. Note the fact that none of the amendments in question is listed on the ballot paper. Photo courtesy of his Facebook page
Fortunately, Silvestrov’s “no” vote will not, one hopes, disqualify him from entering the “Million Prizes” program, as outlined on a flyer he was given by polling place officials along with his ballot paper. Voters are asked to send a “unique code” in a text message to the number 7377. Winners are promised “gift certificates” redeemable for groceries, sporting goods, and household goods, and for unspecified goods at pharmacies, cafes, museums, theaters, and cinemas. I am going to go out on a limb and predict that the “gift certificates” (if any Russian voters actually receive them) will prove worthless. Photo courtesy of Silvestrov’s Facebook page
Photographer Vadim F. Lurie took a snapshot of the referendum polling place in the courtyard in a town in the Moscow Region. Courtesy of his Facebook page. While the purported reason for such bizarre ad hoc polling places is ensuring health of voters during the coronavirus pandemic, still raging in many parts of Russia, they provide the added benefit of making it much harder for election observers to ascertain whether the referendum was conducted freely and fairly. Needless to say, “free and fair” is a meaningless concept to the Putin regime.
Journalist and political activist Ivan Ovsyannikov took this snapshot outside Polling Station No. 1641, located on the Petrograd Side in Petersburg. The placard reads, “Our country, our constitution, our decision.” Someone has pasted a sticker on the placard, which reads, “The solidarity of ones will end the dictatorship of zeroes.” This is reference to the fact that one of the proposed amendments, if ratified, will “zero out” Vladimir Putin’s previous terms as Russian president, thus allowing him to run for two more consecutive terms of six years. If this scenario comes to pass, Putin would be able to rule until 2036. His current presidential term ends in 2024.
Konstantin Yankauskas and Alexander Zamyatin, popularly elected municipal councilors in the Zyuzino District of Moscow, discuss what their constituents can do to oppose the referendum under near impossible circumstances (the coronavirus pandemic, a ban on public campaigning against the amendments, evidence that thousands of state sector employees are either being forced to vote yes or hand over their passwords for electronic voting to their supervisors, etc.) They also reflect on why the Russian opposition has been unable to run a nationwide “no” campaign despite the fact that formal and informal barometers of public opinion have shown that Putin’s popularity has been falling and that many Russians are opposed to the constitutional amendments. The discussion was broadcast live on YouTube on June 24, 2020.
“I Realized They Were Getting Ready to Throw the Election”: A Petersburg Woman Talks About How She Fought Three Days to Have the Real Vote Tally Confirmed Leokadia Frenkel is a member of the election commission in Petersburg’s Vladimirsky Municipal District, where not a single United Russia candidate was elected Sofia Volyanova TJournal September 12, 2019
Three days after Russia’s nationwide election day on September 8, the results of the municipal district council races in Petersburg had not been officially announced. In four districts where ruling United Russia party candidates did not win a majority of seats on the councils, the election commissions postponed their final meetings. In the Vladimirsky Municipal District, all the ruling party’s candidates had lost, according to preliminary vote tallies. The Yabloko Party had won twelve seats, while five seats had gone to independent candidates, and three seats to A Just Russia.
At some of the polling stations where opposition candidates were leading, election officials decided to recount the votes. As a consequence, United Russia candidates suddenly took the lead, while independent candidates were robbed of critical votes.
Leokadia Frenkel, a voting member of the Vladimirsky Municipal District Election Commission, told TJournal how she and the winning candidates prevented such vote rigging in her own district. She was forced to sleep in the district council building and was assaulted by the election commission’s deputy chairwoman, who attempted to lock Frenkel in an office.
On election day, I arrived at the Central District administration building, where our municipal district election commission is located, at seven in the morning. We invalidated ballots, then I got the papers I had to take to the different polling stations and I delivered them. I communicated with the polling station election commissions and monitored what was happening. At eight in the evening, I returned to the Central District building, where we invalidated the rest of the ballots that needed invalidating.
We did not receive a single complaint during the voting and the vote counts. Everything was completely fair and square. I had no complaints with the commission chair.
“The polling station election commission chairs will go with me, and we will enter the results into GAS [automated state elections system],” she said.
But then, during the night, someone told us all the election commission chairs had been sent home and no one had entered their vote tallies into GAS because it was down. We learned this completely by accident. I asked the secretary of the municipal district election commission what had happened, why the vote tallies had not been entered into GAS, and why the commission chairs had been sent home. She said something was broken, but we checked and nothing was broken. They were playing for time: they needed an excuse to do a recount. That was when we realized the fix was in and we spent the night in the administration building.
Why did I stay there? I was afraid they would convene the municipal district election commission without me. I wanted to be there and register my dissenting opinion if there was a recount.
The winning candidates slept there, too, because the ballots had been packed up and stored in the basement. They were making sure the ballots were not stolen. There were advisory and voting members of the polling station commissions who had done their jobs honestly and wanted to prevent electoral fraud.
The commission had left in the wee hours of September 9, saying it would reconvene at four in the afternoon. But it did not show up at four in the afternoon. We kept waiting, finally filing complaints with the Territorial Election Commission and the Central Election Commission.
We spent the whole day in the building. The very nice, hospital head of the Central District talked to us and gave us chairs so we would not have to lie on the floor. Our friends supplied us with food and water.
We spent over twenty fours in that building.
The head of the district communicated the City Election Commission’s decision to us and said all the chairs of the polling station election commissions would be gathering and all the final vote tallies would be entered into GAS.
When the chair of the commission showed up, she summoned all the polling station chairs. At nine in the evening, they started entering the vote tallies into GAS. The results were entered correctly: there was no vote rigging.
But the fact is that the chair of our municipal district election commission did not come and pick up the results. First, she said they were not ready, although they were ready. She was supposed to collect them and hold a final meeting of the commission to confirm the vote tally and the list of winning candidates. Many independent candidates and new people won seats on the Vladimirsky Municipal District Council. No one from United Russia was among the victors, so maybe they were angry or somehow affiliated with the municipal district council.
After the vote tallies were entered into the GAS, I went home and the next day I was busy with my own affairs. But the final sitting of the commission had not been held nor had the documents been collected. I telephoned the chair and asked what the matter was. So I would not worry, she said the meeting would be held and everything would be fair and square.
At nine in the morning on September 11, the candidates telephoned me and said that certain polling station commission chairs had shown up at the municipal council for some unknown purpose. So I also went to the municipal district election commission, once again asking when our final session would be held and why the paperwork, which had long been ready, had not been picked up.
The deputy chair was the only one in the office, so I asked her. I saw a paper on her desk with no date or registry number. It was a complaint, filed by United Russia candidate Igor Kartsev, who requested a recount. I realized they were getting ready to throw the election. Instead of getting ready for the final meeting, they were grooming people affiliated with them to file complaints requesting a recount, as was happening in other municipal districts, in order to steal the victory from the independent candidates.
I took the complaint in order to photograph it when the deputy chair attacked me from behind. She tried to snatch the letter from me and destroy it. There were many people present, including the candidates and voting members of our commission. One of them grabbed the complaint, which the deputy chair tried to snatch from me, in order to save it from destruction. He photographed it and posted it on social media.
The deputy chair tried to lock me in the office and prevent from getting out by holding the door shut. There was a slight tussle: I wedged my foot in the doorway, but she tried to hit me with the door so I could not get out. When she let go of the door, I escaped. I filed a complaint with the City Election Commission, explaining that I had found a strange document. I also wrote that I was afraid, since the final commission meeting had not been held, that they were planning to throw the election.
I filed a complaint with the police about the attack and the fact that the municipal district election commission had tried to destroy the documents I had turned up. And I went to the emergency room and had the doctors there document the injury I suffered when the deputy chair hit me with the door to keep me looked in her office. I ended up with a bruise on my leg, of course.
The commission is located in the building where the municipal council has its offices. The police and an ambulance were summoned. Allegedly, either someone hit someone else or I hit someone. But I could not have hit anyone because I was on the other side of the door, in an office where there was nowhere else. Complaints were filed to the effect that I had, allegedly, absconded with certain documents, but I had not stolen them. I was in the commission office and the deputy chair would not let me out. I could not have stolen the documents.
Also, the deputy chairwoman filed a complaint that someone had hit her in the hallway or something to that effect. She also had her alleged injuries documented at the emergency room, and she was taken to hospital.
I don’t know what is going on here, but it all began when the incumbent council members got a look at the vote tallies. When they realized they had lost in all the districts, they postponed the final commission meetings and the announcements of the results. First, they put off entering the results into GAS, but when the actual, correct results were entered into the system, they tried to put off holding the final commission meetings.
Holding a recount is one way of switching out ballots and substituting them with fake ballots. But they still have to be signed by two commission members, at least. They want to switch the ballots and recount the votes. What are they fighting for? They want a majority on the council. They want to prevent the independent candidates for gaining a majority on the council and then electing their own chair.
Tomorrow is the last day when they can hold the final, wrap-up session, and now social media are reporting that, allegedly, the municipal district election commissions are going to be meeting at the Central District administration building and, allegedly, the election results will be confirmed in keeping with the vote tallies that the polling station election commissions arrived at fair and square.
It is now the evening of September 11, and a rather large number of people have gathered outside the offices of the Vladimirsky Municipal District Council, including the winning independent candidates, commission members outraged by the fact that the authorities have been trying to throw the election. These people have said they will not go home because the authorities are trying to throw the election.
The winning candidates spent the whole day picketing the municipal district election commission and demanding the immediate confirmation of the results. But just now the police detained someone here. [It later transpired that a young woman conducting a solo picket protesting vote rigging had been detained. She did not have a local residence permit, so she was put into a police car, but she was released after the police checked her return tickets — TJournal.]
I came here to see what was going on. Everything is closed, but people have gathered here all the same. The candidates called local residents who signed petitions to get them on the ballot and told them the authorities were trying to steal their votes, and so these residents have also come.
The candidates are going to stand guard at the Central District administration building. As soon as they see that the chair has shown up, I will also run over there. If a recount is demanded, a report will be issued. I will send a dissenting opinion to the City Election Commission and the Central Election Commission and tell them there was vote rigging and a recount.
All the rough stuff lies ahead of us. Now, however, I don’t see anything rough happening. I see lots of young people who are determined to fight. They are proactive and positive. Of course, it would be a blow to me if everything into which we have put so much effort is declared null and void, if there is a recount and they steal the victory. But we plan to fight.
I have only positive thoughts. I did not expect the opposition to win, but win they did in all the districts. This is the first time when people who deserve to win have won. In this sense, it was fair and square. There was nothing like this in past elections. Nobody wanted to vote. Suddenly young people— the candidates, their friends and their aides—appeared on the scene, and it’s great. I have seen another world, a world of young people.
Moscow’s streets are, apparently, reserved for planet-killing traffic jams and idiotic displays of state power, like this parade of trucks by the Moscow Highway Service. Yesterday, another of the city’s municipal agencies, which are run as profit-making “state enterprises,” Moscow City Transport, won a 1.2 million-ruble lawsuit against opposition leaders and independent city council candidates for the losses it incurred, allegedly, during the July 27 protest rally in support of independent candidates barred from running in the September 8 elections. A raft of other frivolous lawsuits against the opposition is coming down the pike by way of punishing them for their persistence and their tactical victory this past Sunday. Photo courtesy of the Moscow Highway Service
Hand It Over: Court Awards Moscow City Transport 1.2 Million Rubles in Suit Against Opposition Politicians
Maria Litvinova Kommersant
September 11, 2019
Alexei Navalny, Lyubov Sobol, Ivan Zhdanov, Yulia Galyamina, Ilya Yashin, Alexander Solovyov, Oleg Stepanov, and Vladimir Milov must jointly pay Moscow City Transport (Mosgortrans) 1.2 million rubles [approx. $18,000] for the losses it incurred due to traffic stoppages during the “unauthorized” protest rally on July 27 in Moscow. Such was the ruling made on Tuesday by the Koptevo District Court on the lawsuit brought by Moscow City Transport. The defendants were unsuccessful in their attempt to demand financial documents showing the losses. They argued that public transport was poorly organized and also pointed out the large-scaled public events held by the mayor’s office in the downtown area.
Moscow City Transport filed a suit against Alexei Navalny, Lyubov Sobol, Ivan Zhdanov, Yulia Galyamina, Ilya Yashin, Alexander Solovyov, Oleg Stepanov, Georgy Alburov, and Vladimir Milov, who were involved, allegedly, in organizing the July 27 protest rally dedicated to the course of the Moscow City Duma election campaign [sic]. The plaintiff claimed that public transport ground to a halt on several streets due to the blocking of roads by people who took part in the “unauthorized” event and the company incurred losses. Moscow City Transport sought 1.2 million rubles in damages from the members of the opposition.
The hearing at the Koptevo District Court was attended by legal counsel for the defendants, including Alexander Pomazuyev (Sobol and Stepanov), Oksana Oparenko and Sergei Badamshin (Solovyov), Vadim Prokhorov (Yashin), and Andrei Tamurka (Galyamina), as well as Vladimir Milov, who was barred from running in the elections, and his lawyer Valentina Frolova. Navalny and Zhdanov neither attended the hearing nor sent their lawyers. Moscow City Transport’s lawyers refused to give their names to reporters.
Judge Vera Petrova opened the hearing by rejecting a number of motions made by the defendants. In particular, the opposition politicians had asked for a financial report from Moscow City Transport for July 2019 showing the losses, as well as the logbooks of its bus drivers. According to Pomazuyev, it was impossible to substantiate Moscow City Transport’s calculations and corroborate the alleged losses.
The defendants had also moved to have officers of the Russian National Guard and the Interior Ministry, who, they claimed, had blocked roads, named as co-defendants, but the court turned them down.
The defense argued that when it refused to examine key documents the court had taken the plaintiff’s side. Its subsequent motion, asking for the judge to recuse herself, was also denied.
During the trial, one of the plaintiff’s lawyers admitted there had been traffic congestion in different parts of Moscow on July 27 but was unable to explain why the protest rally was the reason for the lawsuit.
Moscow City Transport had identified the persons liable for its losses on the grounds that they had already been convicted on administrative charges for their involvement in the “unauthorized” rally and they had published posts on social media encouraged people to turn out for the event.
“There were endless numbers of people on the internet who encouraged people to come out for the event,” a lawyer for the plaintiff conceded, “but we chose to sue these people.”
The lawyers for the defense rejected the claim their clients had encouraged people to block streets. They presented the court with a list of the streets traveled by the buses that, allegedly, got stuck in traffic due to the protest rally in downtown Moscow. For example, Bus No. 137 travels from Belovezhskaya Street to Kyiv Station without going through downtown.
Milov told the court that the documents presented by the plaintiff pointed to “traffic congestion,” not the “blocking of roads.”
“Because of traffic jams, it took me two and a half hours to get here today. Moscow City Transport should sue the Moscow mayor’s office for its poor job of regulating traffic,” he said.
“Moscow City Transport handles the sale of transport tickets in ticket offices around the city,” he said. “Passengers put down their money and decide for themselves when to use the tickets they buy. So, you do not incur losses when buses are stuck in traffic but make money hand over fist.”
The defense argued that the Moscow mayor’s office regularly blocked roads in order to hold city-sponsored events, but Moscow City Transport had never once sued the mayor’s office for losses.
Moscow City Transport’s lawyers countered that the mayor’s office always compensated them for losses.
“If you had compensated us, we would have no claim against you,” one of them said.
Frolova reminded the court of the “burden of responsibility” borne by the public authorities.
“How are the rights of people who enjoy dumplings and pancakes [a reference to the festivals regularly organized downtown by the mayor’s office—Kommersant] any different from the rights of people who are voicing their civic stance?” she asked.
The defendants insisted on the political nature of the court case, arguing it had to do with the elections to the Moscow City Duma.
“The elections are over, people voiced their opinion, let’s get back to the law,” Badamshin said to the judge.
“The court has ruled in favor of the plaintiff,” said Judge Vera Petrova, putting an end to the arguments.
The court rejected the suit in relation to one of the co-defendants, Georgy Alburov. The money will be recovered from all the other co-defendants jointly and severally.
Several other private firms, state-owned companies, and state agencies plan to seek compensation from the opposition, in particular, the Moscow Highway Service, the Moscow subway, the taxi service, the staffing company Ancor, the car rental company Fly Auto and, as transpired yesterday, the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office.
Yet another guilty verdict and yet another hefty prison sentence.
A court has found Danila Beglets guilty and sentenced him to two years in a medium-security penal colony. Beglets was accused of grabbing a policeman by the arm when the latter was detaining protesters.
Beglets has two small children. He is a businessman and the only breadwinner in his family.
Campaign poster for Vladimir Bortko in downtown Petersburg: “Bortko: The City Has a Choice. September 8. CPRF.” Photo by Gleb Morev
Bortko Withdraws from Petersburg Gubernatorial Election, Ensuring Beglov Victory in First Round: Northern Capital’s Acting Governor Now Faces Only Two Opponents Yelena Mukhametshina Vedomosti
September 2, 2019
At a press conference, Bortko said he asked the other candidates to withdraw due to possible vote-rigging after it transpired polling stations would be opened in Leningrad Region and Pskov Region.
“If I had not withdrawn, the methods for rigging the vote would have been employed to the hilt and we would have been looking at 200,000 to 250,000 extra votes. But I don’t want to get seventeen or eighteen percent and an honorable mention for second place.”
Admitting the Smolny [Petersburg city hall] had helped get him through the so-called municipal filter, Bortko said his withdrawal had been his own spontaneous decision and that the president’s first deputy chief of staff, Sergei Kiriyenko, had tried to talk him out of it.
Meanwhile, last week, Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky wrote on Instagram that he and Bortko had discussed the idea for a new TV film about the 1812 war against Napoleon.
Bortko is the second parliamentary party candidate to withdraw from the Petersburg elections. Earlier, Oleg Kapitanov, an LDPR member of the Petersburg Legislative Assembly, accepted Beglov’s offer to take up a post in the city government. The acting governor now faces only two opponents: Mikhail Amosov (Civic Platform) and Nadezhda Tikhonova (A Just Russia).
Bortko said the Communist Party did not know about his decision. But our source inside the part said Bortko had informed party chair Gennady Zyuganov about his intentions early last week. The Communists had talked Bortko out of withdrawing but he changed his mind.
Our source admitted it was possible that Bortko had been used “without his knowledge” as “an emotional person,” but thought it was unlikely that Beglov could not have won in the first round without his help. He did not believe Kiriyenko had tried to talk Beglov out of it.
Zyuganov said the party would evaluate Bortko’s actions after the elections.
Earlier, a source close to the Kremlin told Vedomosti that Bortko’s support rating had climbed to nearly thirty percent and thus increased the likelihood of a second round.
Another source close to the Kremlin said Beglov did not have enough support to win in the first round: fewer than fifty percent of Petersburgers who were polled said they would vote for him.
Two other sources close to the Kremlin told us about the danger of a second round.
“The expectation is some older voters who supported Bortko could switch their support to Beglov,” one of them said.
Bortko’s name will now be manually stricken from the ballots. Dmitry Krasnyansky, a member of the Petersburg City Elections Commission, said the electronic ballot boxes set up at a quarter of polling stations provided for this option.
“However, this has to be done with maximum precision. If it’s a little crooked, it won’t read. It’s a real problem. In such cases, the electronic ballot box would simply be turned off,” Krasnyansky said.
One of our sources argued that, in this case, there would be “great opportunities for adjusting the final vote tallies.”
Political consultant Grigory Kazankov argued Bortkov’s withdrawal would not help Beglov in any way since Beglov was his own worst enemy.
“Beglov has no strong opponents. The situation is similar to the one faced by Governor Svetlana Orlova in the Vladimir Region in 2018. She lost to the LDPR candidate. Whether the election is legitimate or not will depend on whether it is run properly. So the question is whether the votes will be counted honestly or, as is usually the case in Petersburg, there are controversies,” Kazankov said.
Bortko’s withdrawal suits the powers that be since it will lower voter turnout. If the turnout was around thirty percent, the majority of Petersburgers who come to the polls would be pro-government voters, argued political consultant Valentin Bianchi.
“No matter what anyone says now, everyone will assume the government got Bortko to withdraw. This is a minus sign for the authorities, and for Beglov in particular. Although Bortko is a creative type, he’s a rational man. His meeting with Medinsky could be the piece of the puzzle that explains what happened,” Bianchi said.
Yabloko Candidate in Pskov Region Barred from Election for Not Crediting Composer in Campaign Videos Novaya Gazeta
August 30, 2019
A court in the Pskov Region has disqualified Yabloko Party candidate Sofia Pugachova from standing in the election for the post of head of the Novorzhev District due to the fact that the composer of the music used in her campaign videos was not credited, according to Lev Schlosberg, a member of the Pskov Regional Assembly.
“There was no copyright violation since the composer had consented to use of his piece. The original agreements, in English and Russian, were submitted to the court. The court, however, failed to react to this evidence, not even mentioning it in its ruling,” explained Schlosberg, adding there was a danger similar lawsuits would be filed in the Pustoshka District and Pushkin Hills District.
Schlosberg said the videos did not credit the composer, but when the error was caught, the videos were removed from the web and replaced with new ones.
The music in question was the Italian composer Daniele Dinaro’s Lux.
Pugachova said that Alexei Ivanov, the Growth Party’s rival candidate for the same post, had petitioned the court to disqualify her.
“They could not find fault with anything else, so they found this way of barring me from the election. The court even questioned whether the composer’s signature on the agreement was genuine. That was why we also entered into evidence a video showing Dinaro signing the agreement with us,” Pugachova said.
She argues that the court’s ruling was completely illegal and is currently preparing to appeal it.
Artplay to Hold “Posh Gubernatorial Election After Party”
Sergei Feofanov The Village
August 30, 2019
Artplay Design Center in Petersburg (Red Guard Square, 3) will hold Election Night 2019 in the wee hours of September 9, the event’s organizers have informed us. They have dubbed the event a “posh invitation-only after-party” to celebrate the city’s gubernatorial election [on September 8].
Political operatives, politicians, and celebrities [selebriti] will take part in the event. Guests will be treated to projection mapping [sic] and musical sets by Markschneider Kunst and Junkyard Storytellaz, as well as an immersive show [immersivnoe shou] involving actors “made up to look like the eye-catching residents of a communal apartment.” In addition, organizers plan to release an “electoral iguana,” which will crawl to one of four bowels representing the candidates.
Last year, Election Night was held in Moscow, and this autumn the main event will also take place in the capital, including video links with the regions. Organizers include the Russian Public Chamber, National Public Monitoring, the Russian Public Relations Association (RASO), RASO’s Political Strategists Committee, and the Russian Political Consultants Association.
Znak.com reporter Ksenia Klochkova, who writes on the Telegram channel Rotunda, told us that spin doctors working for the campaign of [acting governor and gubernatorial candidate] Alexander Beglov have their headquarters at Artplay. Activist and public figure Krasmir Vranski said that “all normal people” would be up all night contesting the elections.
The organizers claim there will be no campaigning and support for any candidate at the event. Artplay simply met certain criteria as a venue, they explained.
“22 versts to Tsarskoye Selo. 673 versts to Moscow.” An 18th-century milepost in Petersburg. Photo by the Russian Reader
Moscow Trumps Russia: How Urban Renewal Has Thrown Society Backwards Combating Russia’s “Maidan” Has Shaped the Moscow Style of Governance
Maxim Trudolyubov Republic
November 29, 2018
The events of 2011–2014—protests against rigged elections in Russia, revolutions and civil wars in the Arab world, and the EuroMaidan in Kyiv—have had a profound effect on the discussion of what constitutes desirable social change, politicizing the debate. Society and state in Russia have each reached their own conclusions.
The attitude to the steps needed to change state and society for the better has taken different shapes in the grassroots and within the elite. The grassroots have been disillusioned and disenchanted, while the elite has identified a threat. The liberal community’s heightened interest in institutional reforms in Georgia in the noughties and the prospects for similar reforms in post-revolutionary Ukraine in the aftermath of 2014 has turned the Kremlin’s attitude towards them from mistrust to outright rejection.
Talk about how make the state work for society rather than for the elite, about what a state that would be focused on ordinary citizens might be like, quietly came to naught, yielding to talk of Russian political spinning techniques, China’s big data state, urbanism, and comfortable urban environments. In other words, the talk turned to the tools the state had at its disposal rather than to the meaningful questions asked by the general public.
Russia is still a place where the rules for elections change from one election to the next, laws are written as if they were political lampoons, the conditions of doing business are as unpredictable as the weather, and no one can quickly tell you what the right of private property means. You cannot say the right does not exist, but nor can you say it does exist. In 2018, the Kremlin is even personally involved in permitting and banning pop music concerts.
It is hard to say how the Kremlin measures stability in Russia, but apparently it believes the level of stability is still high. Nearly all the regional elections went as planned. Putin’s approval rating is still above fifty percent. The oligarchs are obedient. Everything is cool. But stability of the rule of law, and the rules of the game generally, are much more important in the long run than approval ratings and managed elections. As it has pursued official so-called stability, the Kremlin has in recent years continued its demolition of institutions and the rules of the game, the things that make long-term relations in society possible, meaning that the Kremlin has tried to score short-term victories by sacrificing a stable, certain future.
Stable institutions, such as protection of property rights, enforceability of contracts, and the rules of the game, would seemingly benefit the Russian elite itself. The Kremlin publicly calls for the repatriation of Russian capital, but it is hard to believe in its sincerty. How can money be repatriated when the rulers themselves (who also often double as capitalist moguls) are always busy redrafting the laws and regulations? It is simply impossible to make plans under this regime, and this applies to the people running the regime.
Fortifying the regime in the face of a possible homegrown “Maidan” has, in fact, sidelined and archaized institutions. This is not entirely accurate, however. Simply holding identical “elections” and tightening the screws would be too negative a program. Moscow also has a positive program. It does not involve internal structural transformations, but the top-down imposition of a new “civilizational” lifestyle. In reality, this new lifestyle is rife with restrictions on movement, freedom of speech, and even freedom of music. The city of Moscow is a successful example of the new approach, which is simultaneously an old approach because it is a traditional Muscovite approach.
The Politics of Municipal Improvement
In Moscow, municipal improvement is a rejoinder in the debate about institutional change. By repairing roads, constructing a new transit system, and achieving significant improvements in municipal beautification projects and the provision of amenities, which are often regarded positively by their users, the inhabitants of Moscow, the city has ultimately been tackling several problems at the same time. On the one hand, it tackled economic problems by employing Moscow’s huge construction sector at a time when the market was saturated and property values (a considerable source of the Russian elite’s wealth) threatened to collapse. It tackled political problems: the regime had to be strengthened. Recalling its experiment with the 2013 mayoral election, Moscow rejected even competition for show when the 2018 mayoral election rolled around. Candidates who could compete with Mayor Sergei Sobyanin in terms of media interest, if not in political terms, were kept off the ballot.
The city also tackled civic problems. Moscow has built new public spaces, whose architecture and landscaping encourages people to spend more time outside and in each other’s company. Meanwhile, the federal government has passed laws and regulations that have restricted the ways these beautiful spaces can be used by the public. It was once enough to notify the authorities of a protest rally, but now they must issue permits for such events. The powers of law enforcement agencies have been beefed up. Consequently, using these public spaces for their intended purpose, as venues for spontaneous discussions of politics and life, has been rendered nearly impossible. Whether this was the plan or not, the upshot has been that one arm of the state has emancipated and complicated public space while another arm of the state has restricted people’s ability to move freely around in public space, thus institutionally archaizing public life.
Most people get their information about Moscow from the municipal government. One has to look long and hard for independent perspectives. Moscow city hall has the Active Citizen social network and numerous local news media outlets in its pocket, which mirror each other, generating a constant atmosphere of approval. The Moscow press operates like the laugh track on TV sitcoms. Viewers realize it is a sound effect, but they laugh and applaud anyway. While urban renewal proceeds apace, the news media are impoverished.
Muscovites enjoy high-quality municipal services. Sometimes, the services are of such a high quality that they anticipate people’s needs, demonstrating city hall’s technocratic sophistication. Muscovites, who used to be dissatisfied subjects, have been transformed into happy clients while bypassing the stage of citizenship and grassroots civic involvement. The effect is the same. Urban renewal simplifies and archaizes civic behavior.
Moscow’s urban renewal program was meant not only to improve municipal services and show foreign tourists the beauty of the Russian capital but also to supply an alternative to grassroots activism aimed at the changing the rules of the game. The idea was to prove everything could also be done from the top down, and everyone would be happy. New public spaces could be fashioned, but so too could new laws that would make certain uses of them illegal, and everyone would be happy. While pursuing a program of urban renewal, you could also produce a rigidly authoritarian political regime, and everyone would be happy.
The conversation about social transformation in Russia has been conducted not only with word but also with physical actions as incarnated in bricks, stones, and tiles. Moscow’s parks, streets, and squares have been used as venues for modernizing urban space while strengthening the authoritarian civic order.
Two Poles: Moscow and the Maritime Territory
Providing friendly, efficient services and amenities for the people of Moscow is a considerable, genuine achievement, but it establishes a clear decision-making hierarchy in which ordinary people occupy the bottom rungs. Now the city has been giving them gifts that would be stupid and practically impossible to refuse, but later people will have to swallow something less desirable than wide sidewalks and convenient bus service.
Moscow has made a point of the putting social rights of its residents above their individual rights. The beautification of the city and the housing renovation program (i.e., the wholesale demolition of five-storey Soviet blocks of flats and the construction of new residential buildings) have proven that individual property rights are insignificant. The vast majority (around ninety percent) of the residents of the old five-storey houses predictably and understandably decided to exercise their right to more modern living space rather than their right to private property. The proprietors of the kiosks and shopping pavilions, demolished by the Sobyanin administration, tried to defend their rights in different ways. They challenged the city’s demolition order in the courts. They agreed to demolish their pavilions themselves in exchange for minimal compensation. They filed complaints with the European Court of Human Rights. Moscow, however, fully implemented its plan to rid its streets of the ugly, “uncivilized” shops on schedule.
Sobyanin’s Moscow is the Kremlin’s most successful political project, and it would be odd not to try and transfer this know-how to the whole of Russia. The Comfortable Urban Environment program is already underway. Federal authorities have allocated 85 billion rubles [approx. $1.3 billion] over three years (less than was spent on Moscow alone), and the regions have to match these funds.
But these efforts will be mere window dressing if each of the regional capitals fails to turn itself into “Moscow” in the civic sense, into a city of satisfied consumers who never think hard about where their “comfortable environment” comes from, a place where the trains run on time, but the lives and property of its people are administered by officials guided by constantly changing rules, rules only they know.
From the Kremlin’s perspective, it would be ideal to turn every major Russian city into a “Moscow.” But how do you reproduce Moscow? Moscow attracts over half the total flow of migration within Russia. Moscow is a region that grows due to an overabundance of people, resources, and tax revenues. Obviously, officials are betting on the fact that the capital of each economic macro-region will become a miniature Moscow, i.e., it will transform the dissatisfied residents of the outlands into satisfied users of what the new, improved capitals will have to offer. This, by the way, wholly jibes with Alexei Kudrin’s idea that Russia should focus on developing twenty urban agglomerations, and with the notion that there are millions of “superfluous” people scattered around the country.
This plan for concentrating Russia’s population in particular metropolitan areas, implemented naturally and spurred by the authorities, could be described as the desire to replace Russia with Moscow, meaning with a certain number of cities that reprise Moscow’s civic functions and could superficially come to resemble Moscow as well. The city halls of the selected major cities renovate their public spaces while the federal authorities draft laws on how to use these spaces in a civilized way.
The question of the plan’s effectiveness boils down to the independence and individual “modernization” of Russians. Everyone has their own individual, professional, and social benchmarks, just as they have their own means of communication. Moscow can continue seeing itself as the sole source of enlightenment and progress, but Russia is home to many economically and civically dynamic people capable of thinking for themselves.
A recent reminder of this has been the unwillingness of people in the Maritime Territory, Khabarovsk Territory, and other regions to behave at the polls according to the schemes imposed by Moscow. The Maritime Territory, where the rigged elections model will be tested again, symbolizes a different political realm, a place that is not Moscow, an independent region with a propensity for grassroots economic activity. On one pole is Moscow with its civilizational approach to the rest of the country; on the other is the country itself, with its own spontaneous rules. Top-down Moscow-style modernization still has competitors nowadays.
Maxim Trudolyubov is a columnist for Vedomosti and The New York Times International Edition and an editor at InLiberty. Translated by the Russian Reader