Valery Dymshits: After the Fight

DSCN4942Poster: “March 18, 2018. Russian Presidential Election. Russian Central Election Commission.” || Graffiti: “This is not an election.” Dixie grocery store, Central District, Petersburg. Photo by the Russian Reader

Valery Dymshits
Facebook
March 20, 2018

After the Fight

I wrote so often about the election or, rather, the non-election, that it is time to sum up.

I admit I had hoped for a qualitative decrease in turnout, but it is true we did not manage to achieve this.

Of course, the feverish ideas (I heard them voiced more than once, alas) that if it were not for the boycott, the “forces of good” either would have returned a mystical 10% of the vote tally (whatever for?) or made it into the second round (yes, yes, I read such claims with my own eyes) have nothing to do with reality. The fact the turnout was a few percentage points less, and Putin got a few percentage points more, makes no difference at all to anyone.

Nevertheless, I continue to regard the boycott as the right choice. Here is the reason for my stubbornness.

It is self-evident the election—not the day of March 18, but the process—was god knows what, only it was not an election.

Accordingly, the feeling of disgust kept many people from voting. Disgust is a worthy emotion. But that is not my point here.

In so-called normal countries, candidates and parties fight over half a percentage point, and a threepercent difference is deemed a crushing victory or crushing defeat. In our archaic autocracy, the regime and the populace communicate with each other in a language of symbols. As soon as it transpired the Kremlin was planning to fight for a 70% turnout and 70% of the total vote tally, I immediately realized the Kremlin wanted fifty percent of all possible voters, plus or minus one percent, to come out and vote for Putin and—voilà!—a 65% turnout and a 75% share of votes cast is exactly 50% of all potential voters. Meaning the Kremlin’s statement was purely symbolic and qualitative. Qualitative, symbolic collective action was, likewise, the only possible counterargument. It largely did not come off, but there were no other gestures of resistance except the boycott. The attempt to talk back to the regime quantitatively—for example, Yabloko’s responding to the argument “we have half of all voters” with the rejoinder “but we have 10% of everyone who voted” (i.e., “you have 50%, but we have a whole 5%”)—was ridiculous. Now, if it had been possible to counter the claim “we are robustly supported by half of the populace” with the countargument “ha-ha, you have the support of no more than a third of the populace,” but, alas, it proved impossible.

It is clear the numerous violations, committed here and there by zealots who were not thinking straight, generated a certain stench on election day, but I don’t imagine they had a serious impact on the outcome. It was the outcome that sincerely floored me.

The issue of voter turnout, so hysterically raised by the regime, had nothing to do with a fear of Navalny and the boycott, but with the fact that in the absence of real suspense and real rivals, Russians would be reluctant to go out and vote for Putin, who would be elected anyway. After Navalny was not allowed to run, it was impossible to generate any suspense, so the regime combined the carrot and the stick. Russians were driven and dragged to polling stations by the gazillions.

I would like to make a slight digression. First of all, you can make people who are subordinate and dependent—state employees and employees of state corporations—vote by forcing them or threatening them. The state’s share in the economy has been growing continuously: in 2005, the state controlled 35% of the Russian economy, while it now controls around 70%. That means the numbers of dependent Russians have also been growing.

The Kremlin felt it was vital to drag lazy Russians to the polls whatever the cost. As for voting as they should, they would do that all on their lonesome. The Kremlin knew they would do it, but I didn’t. I thought more or less that people would feel their weekend had been ruined. They had been forced to go somewhere and then forced to report back to their superiors. How swinish! So these people would do something spiteful: vote for Grudinin, vote for Sobchak, vote for Yavlinsky, vote for a four-letter word.

No, since they were dragged all the way to the polling stations anyway, enticed with carrots and prodded with sticks, they voted for Putin.

This is an important albeit gloomy outcome. It means the regime relies on a not terribly active but quite considerable majority. It means the regime can do whatever it likes with whomever it likes, and will be able to do so for a long time to come.  Previously, it could do a lot of things, but not everything. Now, however, it can do anything. Strictly speaking, things have been this way for several years, but now it has been proven in a large-scale, expensive experiment. It is like in the Arabian tales: destroy a city, build a palace, jail a director, close a university, etc., just for the heck of it, just for the fun of it. This does not mean the regime will immediately start throwing its bulks around in all directions, but it can. A clear awareness of this circumstance should make us feel bleak.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Russian Socialist Movement: What Does the Presidential Election Show Us?

“March 2018. Russian Presidential Election: We Elect a President, We Choose a Future!” || “March 2018. Russian Presidential Election: Nice Scenery, Bad Play!” Photo courtesy of the Russian Socialist Movement (RSD)

Russian Socialist Movement (RSD)
Facebook
March 19, 2018

What Has the “Election” Shown Us?

It has shown us that the system for mobilizing dependent Russians (employees, servicemen, etc.) by management at all levels still functions, and that the managers in question (governors, factory directors, and heads of state-sector institutions) are still loyal to the regime. Putin’s personal power rests on the vulnerability of workers, who in Russia have been deprived of the right to strike. It also rests on the loyalty of the bureaucratic caste and corrupted business world, apathy and conformism, and control of the media.

In managed democracy’s topsy-turvy world, voter turnout and Putin’s total share of the vote are indices of political indifference, while boycotting the spectacle is a manifestation of civic activism. Elections in Russia have finally transmogrified into something like an oath of allegiance to the so-called national leader, which has nothing to do with a democratic expression of the popular will.

Undoubtedly, along with the administrative resource, the conservatism of a generation traumatized by the chaotic 1990s, the post-Crimea syndrome, and the careful casting of Putin’s opponents played their role. The Kremlin did its all to divide the forces of protest. Strawberry king Pavel Grudinin served as a scarecrow for voters who did not want a return to the Soviet Union, while Ksenia Sobchak exacerbated the fears of pro-Soviet conservatives vis-à-vis Yeltsinite liberals.

Supporters of the boycott were targeted for assaults and crackdowns. Despite the fact the Voters Strike did not produce a drop in the turnout (too many powerful forces were put into play for that to happen), non-participation in ersatz democracy was the only viable stance, the best option among a host of bad choices. Serving as polling station monitors on election day, we saw what props up both “voluntary” and forced voting. We are glad we did not support this well-rehearsed stunt with our own votes. Russia faces another six years of disempowerment, poverty, lies, and wars—but not in our name.

Only those people who were hoping for a miracle could be disappointed today. Grudinin, whose fans predicted he would make it into the second round, returned worse results than Gennady Zyuganov did in 2012. Some analysts expected that the candidate of the patriotic leftist camp would steal votes from Putin’s conservative electorate, but that did not happen. Nor did Grudinin convince chronic non-voters to go to the polls, since he did not offer them anything new.

Presidential elections, obviously, are not a focal point of politics and an opportunity for change. They are a mode of manipulating public opinion meant to leave everything the way it was.

We need a new politics that undermines the power structures making it possible to manipulate the populace in the interests of the elite. We need a politics that takes on the power of management over employees, the power of the patriarchy over women and young people, and the power of the bureaucracy over local self-government. Since electoral politics has essentially been banned, the democratic leftist movement must rely on nonconformist communities opposed to Putinism in the workplace, education and culture, city and district councils, the media, and the streets.

Only in this way, not as the result of yet more heavy-handed maneuvering by the regime or the opposition to fill the ever more obvious void of popular democratic (i.e., leftist) politics, can a force emerge that is a real alternative to the system. We are going to keep working on shaping that force.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Alexei Gaskarov: Why the Boycott Failed

Rally by Alexei Navalny’s supporters in Novokuznetsk, Siberia. Photo courtesy of sibreal.org

Alex Gaskarov
Facebook
March 19, 2018

The boycott campaign’s objective was to keep voter turnout under 50%. This would have been a clear signal the populace regarded the election as dishonest and unfair. We lost this battle, but we need to understand that not everything was smooth and cool on part of our opponents.

The prinicipal techniques for rigging the vote were as follows.

1. Reducing voter rolls. I hung out at a polling station in a Moscow Region village for a mere half an hour, and six of the twenty-two people who tried to vote while I was there were not listed on the rolls. In my hometown of Zhukovsky, the difference between the number of voters on the rolls and the growth in the town’s population between 2012 and 2018 was 5,000 people or 7% of all potential voters, meaning the voter rolls had been pruned. The point of the trick is simple. People who are unlikely to show up to vote are struck from the rolls, thus reducing the overall numbers of registered voters while increasing the relative weight of the turnout.

2. The new possibility of using the Gosuslugi.ru public services website to pick another polling station at which to vote.  This is a cool and convenient option, but it is impossible to monitor. Theoretically, the number of voters who removed their names from the rolls at their home polling stations should have exactly matched the number of voters who temporarily added their names to the rolls at other polling stations. But how was it possible to verify this when we are talking about a country the sizeof Russia? The scary part is that two polling stations, say, are located side by side. They each have the same numbers of voters on their rolls. But in one polling station, the number of people who voted with absentee ballots is 280, while in the other polling station, it is 67.

3. The massive use of the administrative resource for ratcheting up the turnout. Did you know that a quarter of all voters showed up at their polling stations before ten in the morning? There were endless scandals over the fact they were not given some calendars or other that their children were supposed to collect for school. Officials also held simultaneous polls to rate public amenities in which they used ballots with people’s names printed on them. People photographed their ballot papers at polling stations. And, of course, everywhere there were exhibitions about the great outdoors in Crimea, fairs offering cheap food, pop music, and patriotic songs about our beloved president.

The problem is that, despite the administrative resource, participating in this farce was also a choice. If people had refused en masse to follow the orders of their bosses at work to vote a certain way, they would not have been fired or deprived of their bonus pay. But the distance between the value of elections and the discomfort caused by taking a brave civic stance is, for now, so huge, it is somehow ridiculous even to appeal to it.

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

No Contest

DSCN4290“March 18, 2018. Russian Presidential Election. Our Country, Our President, Our Choice! Russian Central Election Commission.” February 19, 2018, Ligovsky Prospect, Central Petersburg. Photo by the Russian Reader

Valery Dymshits
Facebook
March 4, 2018

I am somewhat surprised to see the ongoing discussion on whether to vote in the [Russian presidential] election or not. Some people write that if you don’t vote, your ballot will be used, and so on. Meaning it is assumed in advance the election commission is a band of brigands. If this is so, however, they can do whatever they want and, most important, at any level they can enter any figure they like in their official count. What difference does it make, then, if they use your ballot or not?

Actually, there is no election. Why be involved in something that does not exist? I think it is important not only to avoid attending this strange event oneself but also to explain to everyone why they should not attend, either.

DSCN2984On this “get out the vote” billboard, recently photographed somewhere in central Petersburg, a “vandal” has lightly crossed out the word “election.” Photo by the Russian Reader

Cities with populations over a million will have voter turnouts just over 50%, says a person close to the presidential administration.

All polling is a tool for actively shaping reality. Figures are used to try and suggest a particular interpretation of events, notes another source close to the administration. In his opinion, the downturn in Putin’s support rating can be explained by a lack of activity and mistakes during the campaign.

“In reality, the figure are much lower. The actual turnout is expected to be between 55% and 60%. Putin’s result will range, depending on the region, from 50% to 65%. It will be an accomplishment if the turnout in Moscow is over 50%.”

The difference between the turnout in major cities and the provinces could be as much as 20%. Usually, on the contrary, the turnout in the provinces is between 10% and 12% greater, says another person close to the presidential administration.

What happens next depends on the whether the mechanism for penciling in votes gets turned on or not. If the election is staged with the full use of the administrative resource, something I do not rule out, it does not matter who gets what in reality. If the elections are staged fairly, Putin’s result in cities with populations over a million will be lower, while his opponents’ will be slightly higher.”

The turnout in cities with populations over a million will be between 45% and 55%, the source believes.

Source: Yelena Mukhametshina and Olga Churakova, “Putin’s Rating Has Dropped Abruptly in the Major Cities,” Vedomosti, March 7, 2018

Translated by the Russian Reader. The emphasis, above, is mine.

Lev Schlosberg: The Veil of Public Opinion

 

Lev Schlosberg is a member of the Pskov Regional Assembly and the Yabloko Democratic Party’s national political committee. Photo courtesy of Pskovskaya Guberniya Online

The Veil of Public Opinion: Russian Opinion Polling Has Become Part and Parcel of State Propaganda 
Lev Schlosberg
Pskovskaya Guberniya Online
1 March 2018

Public opinion polls are constant companions of politics and national election campaigns. In democratic countries, polls are reflections of the public discourse surrounding politicians, ideas, political platforms, and conflicts. They echo public opinion in all its fullness and thus facilitate the public discourse itself regardless of who is involved in it: the authorities, the opposition or society at large. In twenty-first century Russia, political pollsters have a different job. They are tasked with persuading society the regime is terrific and everything (or nearly everything) is going great. During elections, they are supposed to generate the illusion of nationwide support for the authorities.

Polling is a tool of political manipulation in the hands of bureaucrats. Polling data is meant not merely to testify to broad support for the authorities but also to persuade dissidents they are few and far between, to discourage them and sap them of their will.

There is a whole set of techniques behind manipulating public opinion. The findings of public opinion polls, allegedly obtained scientifically, by means of formal research methods, are supposed to convince people of their objectivity and impartiality.

Honest political polling and sociological research is something that goes on in free, democratic societies. When answering questions on a questionnaire or taking part in a group or individual focused interview, a person should be sure she can speak openly and safely, even when she criticizes the authorities.

Fear is the enemy of honest polling. In authoritarian and, especially, totalitarian societies, people are afraid of making critical statements with their names attached to them, whether that entails filling out a standardized questionnaire or answering a question openly and at length. The classic set-up is when the interviewer knocks on someone’s door or comes up to someone on the street and asks, “How would you rate Vladimir Putin’s performance? Do you support him completely, partially or not at all? To ensure the quality of our poll you may get a follow-up telephone call. Please give me your name and telephone number.”

How do you think approximtely 86% of respondents would behave? Well, that is, in fact, how they behave: by giving the “right” answer.” There are many examples of this.

Now put yourself in the shoes of rank-and-file Russians, who are regaled round the clock with tales of Putin’s 86% popularity rating by all manner of mass media: TV, radio, newspaper, the internet.  People who do not agree with the authorities but are not experienced in the nitty-gritty of politics will imagine they belong to an obvious, hopeless political minority. They are social outcasts, virtually bereft of kindred spirits.

This is the impression the people behind such political pressure polling want to achieve. A picture of absolute political domination stifles a person’s will and reduces his willingness to voice his stance and take action. This extends to getting involved in politics and voting in elections.

When a person feels insignificantly small, she is made tired and exhausted by the very feeling of her smallness and insignificance. Thoughts of emigrating often occur to people who feel they are in the minority, trapped in a political ghetto.

Political pressure polling is a new means of combating dissent, of attacking the opposition.

VTsIOM recently reported that, according to the findings of an extensive telephone poll (one of the least reliable polling methods), 81% of voters plan to vote in the March 18 Russian presidential election.

Enthusiastic nationwide support is the dream of all dictators. As people who suffer from hypertrophied inferiority complexes, dictators compensate by demanding the entire nation love, adore, and admire them. This popular love must be constantly corroborated by public opinion polls and elections.

Under authoritarian regimes, all authentic democratic institutions are reduced to imitations and desecrations, and public opinion polls are very revealing instances of this.  The mirror of society is turned into a fake painted on a blank wall.

Political pressure polling performs another vital function by setting the bar for electoral fraud.  If the polls anticipate a voter turnout of 81%, officials at all levels will work to ensure an 81% turnout. If the polls say 70% of Russians support the so-called national leader, officials will encourage election commissions at all levels to ensure he takes home 70% of the popular vote.

A vicious circle is produced. One lies begets another, and the lies generate fear and violence. To top it all off, lies generate aggression. Public opinion research serves as a means of zombifying and corrupting public opinion.

Instead of a portrait of society, we see a caricature of society.

At the same time, the authorities lose society’s feedback. They do not know or understand what people think and want, sending themselves and the entire country into a dead end. In the absence of honest polling, the authorities and society are blinded. God knows where the road could lead if no one can see the road itself and no one understands where the country is headed.

Political pressure polling is a veil that conceals the truth of events from the authorities and from society. This is quite dangerous and can produce tremendous shocks.

Until the last minute, the dictator has no clue what people think about him. Then the moment of disaster dawns. On the eve of his overthow and execution, Nicolae Ceaușescu’s official popularity rating was 95%. It did not protect him, but rather hastened his terrible demise.

Currently, Russian society lacks a reliable map of public opinion, because fear has paralyzed many people, and because when the authorities pimp an honest profession, far from all of the people who practice it remain faithful to its standards. Doing so is difficult and takes great courage.

Enveloped in such darkness, we need to understand a few things.

First, it is impossible to stop the course of history. An unfree society will yield to a free society. Our responsibility is to go in the right direction.

Second, the less the authorities know the truth, the sooner the regime will come to an end. It takes time and patience.

Third, in order to know and understand the truth, it is enough to ask yourself, “What do I think? What do I believe? What are my convictions?” Under no circumstances should you give up on yourself.

The job of free people in today’s Russia is not to lose face.

Ultimately, it will change the face of the entire country.

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

Valery Dymshits: What Boycotting the Presidential Election Would Mean

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Valery Dymshits
Facebook
January 7, 2018

Recently, discussions whether it makes sense to boycott the presidential election or, on the contrary, whether you should vigorously exercise your right to vote have been flaring up on the web ever more emphatically. I was involved in one such discrete discussion. Its instigator, Alexei Kouprianov, recommended I publish my comments as a separate post.

There are currently no presidential elections in our country, neither elections with alternative candidates nor elections with a single candidate, neither competitive elections nor non-competitive elections. There are no presidential elections at all. For the time being, there are regions in Russia that are electoral anomalies, while all other regions do the right thing, so to speak. In those regions, you need not worry how long ballot stuffing has been going on, and it is no problem to rewrite the final official vote tally reports. So, for all intents and purposes, elections have been abolished. What matters, therefore, is not Putin’s apparent impending victory. The procedure could not even be passed off as a sound sociopolitical survey, answering the question of how many folks in Russia are for the Reds, how many are for the Whites, how many are for apples, and how many are for pears.

Since no election will take place, this should tone down the debate to a certain extent. This is my call for peace and a peaceable tone among those debating involvement and non-involvement in the election. Those who will go to the polls and those who do not are in the same straits. Neither the former nor the latter will be taking part or not taking part in an election, whatever they imagine they are doing, because objectively, that is, regardless of subjective impressions, you cannot take part in something that does not exist.

You cannot take part in it, not in the sense it is forbidden to take part, but in the sense it is impossible to take part.

The only thing that remains to be seen is what behavior is preferable given the circumstances.

The people currently involved in the electoral process have never been able to get back the significant numbers of votes stolen from them nor have they been able to make this highway robbery the subject of a serious public debate. This is possibly not their fault, since the Russian judicial system is dysfunctional, but that is not my point. The existing parties and candidates will try and raise the turnout by campaigning for themselves. In this wise, the candidates and the Kremlin are pursuing the same end. Later, a final vote tally will be whipped up for them in keeping with deals made before the elections or, on the contrary, they will be conned. This is no concern of ours. That is, the well-known scenario, implemented many times before, will be reprised. In short, we have been through this before.

What we have not been through before is a serious, well-organized boycott, although they were some calls for boycotts in the past. At least there is chance to find out on the ground whether we have a chance of organizing an election boycott or not, whether it has an effect on anything or not. This, at least, would expand our experimental knowledge of the subject.

Simple mathematical calculations have shown a decreased turnout increases the percentage of votes cast for Putin. But do we care what percentage of votes are cast for him, whether it is 65% or 75%, if the final figures are knowingly false and dictated by the top bosses? In the extreme case, if only solid Putin supporters turned out to vote, he would take home 100% of the vote, and that would be utterly unacceptable, because a European leader cannot win 100% of the vote, and Putin is well aware of it.

A noticeable decrease in the turnout, one that was clearly distinguishable from the statistical margin of error, would be tantamount to saying a considerable segment of the Russian populace had concluded that elections in Russia were wanting, to say the least. This would be an important political outcome.

For the time being I leave aside additional moral perks, say, deliberate non-participation in a fictitious process, non-participation in events approved by the Kremlin, etc.

Translation and photo by the Russian Reader

P.S. Every reporter or “Russia expert” who has written or been tempted to write something like, “With an 80% approval rating, Putin should easily cruise to victory in March,” should be made to read multi-talented Valery Dymshits’s short but sweet piece on why there are no such beasts as elections in Russia and the possible political benefits of a more or less massive non-turnout to the non-election scheduled for March.

I would like to add that every such reporter and “Russia expert” should be made to read this short primer on what amounts to common knowledge in Russia right before they are fired and drummed out of the profession, but the angel in me reminds me that some people cannot help liking and supporting tyrants and imagining that lots of other people like them, especially in “inferior” countries.

That it’s accredited journalists and academics involved in this baseless condescension should not surprise you. It’s always easier to get along in life if you say and do what the majority of your so-called peers and colleagues are doing, especially if you’re mansplaining a place where you don’t actually live and about which you are really quite clueless, and you get paid to do this more or less harmful work.

I thought the attack on the Russian pollocracy that was mounted by me and several other people several years ago had begun to make a dent, that some journalists and “Russian experts” were coming to see the light that polls and elections are nearly always rigged in Putinist Russia and thus provide us with nearly zero knowledge of what “Russians really think.” But I had forgotten that most reporters are lazy and many academics are dazzled by tyrants and numbers as “scientific facts.” With Putin’s self re-election just around the bend, push has come to shove, and the unprovability of his actually nonexistent popularity has been shoved back under the rug. TRR