The After Party, or, The Electoral Iguana


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. 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.

Earlier, the band SBPCh [“The Largest Prime Number”] canceled a concert in the infamous, political scandal-plagued municipal district of Ekateringof. The band’s musicians did not want to play at a politically charged event.

Thanks to Julia Galkina for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of Newsweek. Translated by the Russian Reader



Alexander Beglov was appointed the acting governor of Petersburg or vrio (to coin the acronym for such officials who “temporarily carry out the duties” of one office or another) on October 3, 2018.

His appointment immediately sparked speculation the Kremlin had put him in charge of Putin’s hometown not only temporarily but also so he could run for the post “legitimately” in the upcoming gubernatorial election, scheduled for September 8, 2019.

As luck would have it, the seven-year reign of his predecessor, the dull but mostly inoffensive Georgy Poltavchenko, was blessed by relatively snowless winters.

Petersburg, however, is the northernmost major city in the world and, unsurprisingly, it sometimes snows a lot there in the winter. The “anomalous winter” of 2010–11, during which the local authorities could not get a handle on cleaning relatively heavy snowfalls from streets, pavements, and roofs, spurring wild popular discontent, famously led to the dismissal of then-Governor Valentina Matviyenko and her replacement by the quieter Poltavchenko.

Like all members of Putin’s clique of made men and women, Matviyenko was not punished for her failures. Instead, she was “upmoted” (my term) to the much cushier post of speaker of the Federation Council. There she has been instrumental, I suspect, in persuading the press and the public she presides over a “senate,” peopled by “senators,” not a rubber-stamp entity filled with repellent losers too big to fail who have been rewarded generous sinecures in exchange for total loyalty.

In any case, today’s would-be Russian “senate” is a far cry from the feisty and, at times, mildly separatist Federation Council of the nineties, whose members would never have been so obnoxious as to style themselves “senators” and then get everyone else to go along with this sycophantic malarkey, including opposition activists, reporters, and academics who should know better.

The winter of 2018–19 was another “anomaly,” apparently, and vrio (interim governor) Beglov made it even worse by behaving even more brazenly and clumsily than Matviyenko had done during her own “snow apocalypse.”

You would think the Kremlin would not be so provocative as to shove Beglov, who looks remarkably like Mel Brooks in his salad days, playing the “villain” in one of his hilarious film parodies, down the throats of Petersburgers on Election Day 2019, but that is the plan. All the stops have been pulled out, including a total purge of opposition candidates attempting to run for seats on the city’s district municipal councils, although these underfunded, powerless bodies that have zero say over the Smolny, Petersburg’s city hall, where Beglov and his team call the shots.

The Kremlin is willing to make Beglov the city’s “legitimate” governor over everyone’s dead bodies, as it were, alienating even more otherwise apolitical Petersburgers from the regime.

Finally and, perhaps, apropos of nothing, has anyone ever remarked on the fact that both Beglov and Poltavchenko were born in Baku in the mid-1950s? Does it snow there in the winter?

The picture, above, was taken by Kseniya Brailovskaya in downtown Petersburg during the height of the municipal collapse this past winter. As another heat wave envelopes Europe, you will probably see more of these snapshots in the coming days, especially since I have a post or two in the works about the flagrant purges of opposition candidates in Petersburg. They have mirrored similar purges in Moscow, but without sparking spontaneous unrest of the weekend before last or the heavily attended protest rally that took place in the capital on Saturday{TRR}


July 16, 2019

A friendly meeting between the heads of over twenty Petersburg media outlets and acting Governor Alexander Beglov took place in the Smolny. The meeting was cast as a campaign event at which heated discussions were not welcome.

During the first hour, Beglov cheerfully talked about all the problems he had solved. He said his priority has been to combat depression among Petersburgers. Beglov thanked, in all seriousness, the opposition for keeping him on his toes and informing him about hotspots.

Then followed several questions from the attendees. The most pointed question was, “How can we help you?” or something like that. Despite being a candidate in the gubernatorial race, Beglov was not taken aback by this offer and spent another hour outlining his plans for the near term.

The only question that knocked the vrio off his high horse had to do with the scandals surrounding the elections to the municipal district councils. Beglov said he could not intervene since he himself was a candidate.

As the meeting drew to a close, the heads of the city’s media outlets asked whether Beglov would be willing to meet with reporters in a similar format in the future. Beglov said he would definitely talk with everyone but only after September 8.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Ivan Davydov: The Russian Protest Federation

614352f5bad27acc282af798084aa5e3Protest rally in Abakan against plans to raise the retirement age. Photo by Alexander Kryazhev. Courtesy of RIA Novosti and Republic

The Russian Protest Federation: How Moscow Has Stopped Shaping the Political Agenda. Will Ordinary Russians Realize Pension Reform and Geopolitical Triumphs Are Linked?
Ivan Davydov
September 27, 2018

The people who took to the streets long ago on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square and Sakharov Avenue deserve the credit for the reinstatement of gubernatorial elections in Russia. It was a time that would be unimaginable now. There was no war with Ukraine. Crimea had not been annexed. No one had given Syria a second thought. It still makes you wonder why the Kremlin took fright then, albeit briefly. Instead of guessing, we should note it was the capital that led the national protest movement then, confirming yet again the centripetal nature of life in Russia. Over a 100,000 people attended the first two protest rallies in Moscow, on December 10, 2011, and February 4, 2012. Petersburg took second place, sending 25,000 people onto the streets for its February 2012 rally, but no one other city was even close. Protests took place in dozens of cities, including all the major ones, but the best the regions achieved was something on the order of 5,000 people in attendance. In most places, the average crowd numbered around a thousand people.

The opposition failed just like the regime. It transpired the national agenda and the agenda of Muscovites were the same thing. The farther you went from Moscow, the less people were worried about the issues exercising newspaper reporters. Least of all were they worried about their own real problems, about local issues, and thus there was no chance of changing things in Russia.

But the credit for transforming gubernatorial elections into something really resembling elections, albeit quite remotely, must go to the regions. The takeaway message is that the regime’s electoral fiasco in the regions on September 9 is a nationally significant event. The rank-and-file voters there, who cast their ballots for sham candidates from parties other than United Russia as a way of registering their disgust with the local political bosses, have turned circumstances inside out. The regions are now dictating their agenda to Moscow, as governors who seemed invulnerable only recently look shaky, and even Putin himself has been forced to break a sweat.

As befits a myth, the Moscow myth that, putting it as succinctly as possible, Moscow is not the real Russia, is not true at all. But, like any good myth with life in it, it is based on real things. As I write this column, water is gurgling in the radiators of the standard Moscow high-rise where I live, because the heating season has kicked off. It is ten degrees Celsius outside, and Moscow’s tender inhabitants would freeze otherwise. Meanwhile, all the news agencies are reporting as their top news item that a place in the queue to buy the new iPhone at Moscow stores will set you back 130,000 rubles [approx. 1,700 euros]. That is expensive, of course, but you would let yourself be seen as an outdated loser at your own peril.

Muscovites protest often, although in fewer numbers than during the fair elections movement. To outsiders, however, protesting Muscovites almost always look like whimsical people who are too well off for their own good. Everyone knows Moscow has wide pavements, new subway stations, the Moscow Central Ring, and perpetual jam festivals and nonstop carnivals on Nikolskaya Street. People who live in places where even today anti-tank trenches pass for roads, and the mayor nicked the benches from the only pedestrian street (urbanism is ubiquitous nowadays, no longer a Moscow specialty) and hauled them to his summer cottage, find it really hard to take seriously people who are up in arms over a new parks whose birches were imported from Germany, and holiday lighting whose cost is roughly the same as the annual budget of an entire provice somewhere outside the Black Earth Region. The residents of “construction trailer accretions” (you will remember that during one of President Putin’s Direct Lines, the residents of a “construction trailer accretion” in Nyagan came on the air to complain) find it hard to understood people protesting so-called renovation, as in Moscow, that is, people who protest the demolition of their old residential buildings and being resettled in new buildings. For that is how it appears when geographical distance obscures the particulars.

The regime has skillfully manipulated this gap. Remember the role played by the “real guys” from the Uralvagonzavod factory during the fair elections movement, or the out-of-towners bussed into the capital for pro-Putin rallies on Poklonnaya Hill and Luzhniki Stadium. But the gap functions as yet another airbag for the Kremlin even when it makes no special effort to manipulate it. Moscow is part of Russia when we are talking about national issues and the fact those issues are debated in Moscow as well, but since any sane non-resident of Moscow believes Moscow is no part of Russia, the big issues end up being issues that exercise Muscovites, but do not interest people beyond Moscow.

The Main Political Issue
Alexei Navalny has bridged the gap slightly. His attempt to set up regional presidential campaign offices seemed absurd since everyone, including Navalny, realized he would not be allowed on the ballot and there would be no reason to campaign. He ran a campaign anyway, and his campaign offices turned into local pockets of resistance, into needles that hit a nerve with the regime while simulatneously stitching Russia together and removing Moscow’s monopoly on national politics. His campaign offices are manned by bold young people willing to take risks and good at organizing protest rallies. Of course, even now more people in Moscow attend Navalny’s protest rallies than in other cities, but people have still been taking to the streets in dozens of cities for the first time since the fair elections protests of 2011–2012. Navalny’s campaign offices splice issues that the locals get with national issues, thus producing the fabric of real politics. When I discussed the subject of this column with the editors of Republic, one of them joked Navalny was a “franchise.” The joke has a point, but the point is not offensive.

It was Vladimir Putin, however, who really turned the tide or, rather, the federal authorities, of which Putin is the living embodiment. The pension reform has made it abundantly clear the Russian authoritarian state no longer intends to be paternalist. The state has suddenly discovered what people actually liked about it was the paternalism. Or they put up with the paternalism. It is hard to say what word would be more precise. But they did not put up with it due to its victories on the geopolitical front.

The pension reform has erased the line between the big issues, debated by well-fed people in Moscow, and the real issues that constitute the lives of real people. This is quite natural, since being able to claim Russia’s miserly pensions a bit earlier in life is more important in places where life is harder. Moscow is definitely not the worse place in Russia to live. Despite the myth, Moscow is no heaven on earth, either, but the central heating has already been turned on, for example.

So, even a dull, boring, well-rehearsed formality like gubernatorial elections has become an effective tool of protest. The regime made a single mistake, a mistake to which no one would have paid attention to a year ago. (Since when has vote rigging seriously outraged people in Russia? Since days of yore? Since 2011?) The mistake set off a chain reaction. The new single nationwide election day had been a boon to the Kremlin, its young technocrats, and its not-so-young handpicked “businesslike” governors. If the elections had not taken place simultaneously everywhere, and the fiasco in the Maritime Territory had occurred at the outset of the elections season, it is not clear how powerful a victory the no-name candidates from the loyal opposition would have scored.

Maybe Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky would have had to disband their parties for fear of reprisals from the regime, since, the way they have long seen things, there is nothing more terrifying than success, and nothing more dangerous than real politics.

A Moscow municipal district council member from the opposition can easily make a coherent, meaningful speech about how the war in Syria has impacted the clumsiness of Mayor Sobyanin’s hired hands, relaying the tile in some unhappy, quiet alley for the third time in a single year. The council member’s speech would elicit laughter, and the laughter would be appropriate. But amidst the customary laughter we need to be able to discern the main question of a reemergent Russian politics.

The issue is this. Will ordinary Russians understand—and, if so, how quickly—that the pension reform (the first but not the last gift to the common folk from their beloved leaders) is part and parcel of the mighty Putin’s geopolitical triumphs, their inevitable consequence, rather than a betrayal and a rupture of the social compact, as certain confused patriotic columnists have been writing lately?

Ultimately, it is a matter of survival for Russia and for Putin. One of the two must survive. As in the films about the immortal Highlander, only one will be left standing at the end of the day.

Ivan Davydov is a liberal columnist. Translated by the Russian Reader

“I Will Find You and Kill You”: How Petersburg Celebrated “Democracy Day”


“Whatever anybody says, especially our foes from abroad, both you and I know that we live in the most democratic country, in Russia.”

— Georgy Poltavchenko

This past Sunday, September 14, was declared “Democracy Day” in Petersburg, Europe’s fourth largest city. What this meant on paper was that the city’s Kremlin-appointed governor, Georgy Poltavchenko, swept to an overwhelming victory in his first “real” gubernatorial race, while ruling United Party crushed the opposition in elections to the city’s neighborhood councils. Then the victors celebrated “democracy” with a pop concert on Palace Square.

What this meant in practice was that Poltavchenko’s only real challenger had been peremptorily “filtered” from the race two months ago, and the melancholic KGB nonentity was left to face a quartet of stick-figure opponents almost no one had heard of before; the United Russia machine pulled out all the stops doing what it loves best—brazenly rigging elections and just as flagrantly cracking down on anyone who challenges its right to do that; and a band of foreign fascists, ultra-right-wingers, and Stalinist clowns, masquerading as “international monitors,” showed up to rubber stamp this bloody farce. No wonder Robert Mugabe backs Russia.

I received the following letter from a friend whose son celebrated “Democracy Day” by serving as a member of the electoral commission at a polling station in central Petersburg. I have translated the letter and published it here with her permission, but I have changed the names of people and places to protect “Dmitry,” “Lyuba,” and the author from further persecution and harassment.


I don’t know whether you are aware of yesterday’s elections in Petersburg. They were completely hellish.

[Our son] Dmitry was a voting member of the electoral commission at Polling Station No. 86, on Austerlitz Street. His girlfriend Lyuba had the same status at Polling Station No. 85, which was in the same building. A bunch of Dmitry’s friends worked in the same capacity at various other polling stations.

The chairs of the commissions hid from them all the time. On Saturday, the day before the elections, Dmitry went to his polling station, where he immediately faced aggression and intimidation: “We’ll have you removed from the polling station,” “Don’t you dare photograph anything,” “We’ll settle your hash later,” and so on. Dmitry demanded to be shown the certificate for receipt of the envelopes containing the absentee ballots. The chairwoman started screaming that this was a provocation. Saturday ended with the chairwoman turning Dmitry over to the police for allegedly photographing the voter lists.

Dmitry was taken to the eighty-third police precinct on the Old Barge Channel, where he was immediately released because the arrest had been illegal. I went to the precinct to get him.

Then came Sunday [election day]. Right away in the morning, Dmitry wrote to us that there had been a bunch of violations; he was again being threatened, and so forth. He was sent out with a mobile ballot box to make the rounds of the old women [pensioners confined to their homes], and while he was out, the chairwoman sent someone with two unregistered ballot boxes to a hospital. At the end of the day, the ballot boxes came back with twenty additional votes that had appeared out of nowhere, as if people had been admitted to the hospital the day before and were immediately registered as voters at this polling station. It was like this with the ballot boxes at nearly every polling station: two hundred votes apiece, cast by completely unknown people, ended up in them.

In the afternoon, I brought Dmitry coffee, because he was afraid to leave the polling station. Lyuba went out to have tea, and while she was out, two ballot boxes were carried away from her polling station: she was informed of this after the fact.

When I arrived at the polling station, they also made as if they were going to arrest me: “Who the hell are you? His mama?” and so on. I snapped at them and told them they were shameless. Dmitry and I went out onto the porch. Some security guards—not cops—came out after us, as if they were keeping track of us. They smoked and swore. We remarked to them that both smoking and swearing were administrative violations. They cussed us out. When Dmitry started filming them with his telephone, they began pushing us down the stairs, trying to snatch the telephone from Dmitry. They got the telephone from him, and Dmitry hurt his hand. (Also, one of the guards got doused with coffee, meaning that Dmitry was left without coffee.) We called the police. When they heard us doing that, the guard cooled their heels and gave back the telephone, but they had erased the video.

Then a polizei came, and Dmitry and I filed an assault complaint. The polizei said he would charge the men with an administrative violation for smoking.

I told the chairwoman that hopefully she was being well paid for everything, because otherwise I saw no point to this mayhem. To which she replied that she was glad I was concerned about her welfare.

But it got really gnarly after the polls closed. We got reports from everywhere about [opposition electoral commission members and observers] being removed from polling stations during the counting of the votes. When Lyuba’s turn came and she refused to leave the polling station voluntarily, the police were summoned and told that she had spit on a local cop. Lyuba was taken away, and like Dmitry the day before, she was just released. She has filed a bunch of complaints against everyone.

At Dmitry’s polling station, on the contrary, they didn’t start counting the votes for four hours: they were supposedly verifying the voter lists. However, the chair of the Shostakovich Municipal District Electoral Commission, a man who weighs over a hundred kilograms, would come up to Dmitry and whisper in his ear, “I will find you and kill you.” He did this several times. Dmitry was alone against twenty gangsters who insulted and threatened him.

Dmitry called us and said he was being threatened, that they were trying to remove him from the polling station for videotaping and interfering with the commission’s work. I telephoned GOLOS (in general, I spent all of Saturday and Sunday phoning and writing everywhere). The people at GOLOS [a Russian electoral rights NGO] told me I should go to the polling station. At one in the morning, Grigory [her husband] and I ran to Austerlitz Street.

Just as we got there, Dmitry rang to say he was being forcibly dragged from the polling station. A police jeep was already parked outside. Dmitry had also called the police and told them he was being unlawfully removed, but they hadn’t shown up, or rather, they showed up to arrest him.

I was talking to Dmitry on the phone, and he was yelling, “Don’t you dare arrest me, you’re breaking the law.”

The door opened, and Grigory and I saw a cop dragging Dmitry from the polling station. I ran up to the cop and told him he was breaking the law and so on. To make a long story short, Dmitry was again being taken to the eighty-third police precinct. We headed there.

Before leaving, I asked the cop a question.

“Look me straight in the eyes and tell me you aren’t ashamed.”

“I am just doing my job,” he said.

“But what about the law?” Grigory asked.

The cop began to walk away.

“Do you believe in God?” Grigory shouted to him as he walked away.

“Yes,” the cop firmly replied.

Well, then we arrived at the police station. Dmitry was almost immediately released. He also dashed off a bunch of complaints.

We got home at four in the morning. Dmitry ate and drank for the first time in a twenty-hour hellish day. Then we were online until six in the morning watching as his electoral commission kept putting stuff up and erasing and rearranging it. They didn’t even have the obligatory large summary vote tally.

Dmitry’s friends were practically removed from all the polling stations [where they served as electoral commission members and observers]. One friend, Eduard Dubinsky, who was a candidate for the municipal council in the Kamenka district, was arrested for allegedly resisting the police. He spent the night in jail, and the next day a court sentenced him to a five hundred ruble fine. So Dmitry got off lightly. But we are waiting for responses to all his complaints.

P.S. We also found out that there were around two hundred ballots in the unaccounted ballot boxes at Dmitry’s polling station that were secretly sent out and brought back from the hospital, but it is impossible to verify who filled them out and how. Twenty-one of these ballots were allegedly filled out by people who had been admitted to the hospital the day before. It is unclear how they could be entered onto the voter lists. In fact, it couldn’t have been done legally. Plus, now Dmitry has checked and spotted the fact that another one hundred additional voters appeared up out of nowhere. He found this while looking over the final report. Meaning that approximately three hundred fake votes were added to the tally at his polling station. That is roughly fifty percent added to the total. Now I understand why the commission was so aggressive and didn’t allow the results to be known, and whey they were looking for an excuse to kick Dmitry out.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Image courtesy of

The Shipping Forecast

While Manifesta 10’s “public” program sets all that is left of progressive humanity (i.e., the contemporary art world) on fire with its overly provocative metallic Xmas tree, actual public and political life stubbornly and unattractively creaks on in the city that progress and progressive humanity have forgotten, Saint Petersburg, former capital of All the Russias.


This life is of no interest to almost anyone, practically, even in Petersburg itself, so take what follows the way I and many other radio listeners the world over consume the beloved “Shipping Forecast” on BBC Radio 4: as a series of pleasant but ultimately meaningless vocables that have absolutely nothing to do with the way we self-satisfied landlubbers lead our rich, perfectly dry lives.

Gubernatorial and municipal district council elections are scheduled for September 14 in Saint Petersburg. However, even before the pretenders began formally declaring their candidacies this month, many observers, including liberal journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza, argued the fix was in, and the Smolny would never allow any serious opposition to the incumbent (the unelected Kremlin appointee Georgy Poltavchenko) or whatever other candidate the Kremlin might suddenly choose to run for the job.

And indeed that is what has happened. Perhaps the only (mildly) oppositional candidate with the popularity and support to make the race real, Oksana Dmitrieva of A Just Russia party, was nixed before she got to the starting blocks. She did not pass the so-called municipal filter: formal approval of her candidacy by a minimum of 156 district council deputies.

I could not find any report about any of this monkey business in English, but hilariously I did find a badly translated statement from the ruling United Russia party angrily denouncing Dmitrieva for having the temerity to suggest there was something fishy about her failing to get through the filter and demanding an apology from her.

Well, sayonara, fair Oksana. We, the enlightened Petersburg “public,” barely knew who you were anyway, so we won’t miss you.

However, really serious candidates, like Takhir Bikbayev of the “Greens Ecological Party,” a man whose name is synonymous in the minds of Petersburg voters with all things environmental and progressive, (that’s a joke: I really have never heard of him before nor, I gather, has anyone else), easily passed through the dreaded filter.

Meanwhile, opposition candidates are being purged right and left from the district council races or otherwise prevented from registering. One such victim of Putinist vigilance is Fyodor Gorozhanko, a well-known local grassroots housing rights advocate, who was dismissed from the elections after United Russia complained he had “misled” voters who signed a petition supporting his candidacy. A court has upheld the complaint.

How exactly did Gorozhanko “mislead” voters? On the standard-issue petition sheets voters sign to get candidates on the ballot, there is a blank where the candidate has to state whether he or she is “employed” and where. Since Gorozhanko works as a volunteer aide to Petersburg Legislative Assembly deputy Maxim Reznik, he crossed out the word “employed” and pencilled in what he does now in lieu of gainful employment. This is how he “misled” voters. Gorozhanko plans to appeal the court’s decision…

Man, this local politics shit is so, so boring. I am going to switch on the “Shipping Forecast” and wait for a contemporary artist to make another provocative statement in public space about public space and history. Now that will be something to talk about.

P.S. While I was gussying up this post, incumbent Georgy Poltavchenko officially declared his candidacy. He will face stiff competition on September 14 from Irina Ivanova (CPRF), Konstantin Sukhenko (LDPR), Takhir Bikbayev (Greens), and Andrei Petrov (Motherland). I think it’s safe to say the vast majority of Petersburg will have never heard of any of these candidates except for Poltavchenko, of course, although Ivanova and Sukhenko are deputies in the city’s legislative assembly.

Oksana Dmitrieva (A Just Russia) and Anatoly Golov (Yabloko) were refused registration. Dmitrieva has claimed that Poltavchenko pressured municipal deputies into not supporting her candidacy and has filed complaints with the prosecutor general’s office and the central electoral commission.