Posts Tagged ‘elections’
On December 20, 2010, a thousands-strong crowd was protesting against fraudulent Presidential elections in Belarus. After some 100 people tried to storm a government building, Lukashenko’s riot police attacked the crowd, many were badly beated, hundreds arrested. Criminal investigation started that allowed to prosecute the rally leaders. USA and EU swiftly condemned Lukashenko and implemented sanctions against his regime.
On May 6, 2012, thousands were protesting in Moscow against fraudulent Presidential elections in Russia. After several hundred tried to break through a police line, Putin’s riot police attacked the crowd, many were badly beaten, hundreds arrested. Criminal investigation started and two opposition leaders Alexey Navalny and Sergey Udaltsov questioned. In the following days, hundreds more were arrested. Meanwhile, American and European ambassadors took part in Putin’s inauguration. President Obama called Putin, congratulated him on the Victory Day, discussed military and economic cooperation, but didn’t mention human rights.
I visited Belarus a few days ago with a group of Oborona activists. We were meeting with local opposition organizations and leaders, observing municipal elections and participating in an annual march dedicated to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster–Chernobylsky Shlyakh.
Belarussian elections are largely similar to Russian in their predefined outcome, persisting abuse of power by the authorities and even methods of fraud. Like in Russia, they use preliminary voting as a means to both increase turnout and falsify the results (since the bulletins are kept at administration offices till the election day). As much as 30% of Belarussian electorate voted preliminary, according to official data. This unbelievable figure is more than even some of the most scandalous elections in Sochi a year ago (when the Kremlin was ready to do what it takes to prevent opposition leader Boris Nemtsov from becoming the mayor). Most opposition candidates were denied registration, so they couldn’t even get on the lists–the same we see in Russia. In the end, in many district it looks like the electoral commissions didn’t count the votes at all: they simply wrote the target figures. No suprise, not even a dozen seats were won by the opposition out of 20,000+.
The rally was attended by some 1,000 to 1,500 participants including several activists of Oborona. The Chernobyl disaster caused incredible damage to Ukraine, Belarus and Russia and its consequences are still there. The march in Minsk has become a tradition since 1988; its demands concern environmental, social and political issues.
Alas, I didn’t make it to the march. I and two other Coordinators of Oborona, Maria and Alexey Kazakovs, were arrested an hour before the rally begun as we were leaving headquarters of an opposition party Belarussian People’s Front. A van stopped next to us, half a dozen spetsnaz (SWAT) troops put us into the van and left. Our friends and other eyewitnesses say that it looked more like a kidnapping than an arrest.
We were taken to the Sovetsky district police HQ and interrogated. The police were asking us, who we had met with, what was the purpose of the travel, what organization we were at, etc. etc. They threated to take us into custody if we refused to answer, but gave up after several hours. Then the infamous BT, Belarus state TV, tried to “interview” us right in the police, but were ignored. After 5-hour long interrogation police took our fingerprints, photographed us and even took DNA samples and let us go without any charges. A small crowd of Russian and Belarus activists greeted us at the police HQ doorstep.
A briefing was held last Thursday in the US Helsinki Commission (officially named the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe) dedicated to the use of microblogs and new media to promote freedom in authoritarian countries. A lot was said about Russia, and I’ll just cite Daniel Calingaert of Freedom House, who referred to a few recent examples of how we utilized Web 2.0 to spread information about electoral fraud:
Citizens in the former Soviet Union have used new media to assert their rights and to challenge abuses of power. In Russia, for example, the Internet was the primary means for drawing attention to fraud in this month’s local elections. When observers in the Moscow district of Zyablikovo found a group of individuals hired to vote for United Russia multiple times, they used Twitter and Livejournal blogs to spread the news immediately and to publish photos of the violators.
A member of that district’s electoral commission, [Andrey Klyukin] gave an online interview to describe in detail the plan behind this fraud. The interview was widely viewed on Russian YouTube and covered by several traditional media outlets. Another group of observers published video footage of a polling-station chairman in the city of Azov as he tried to mix fraudulent ballots which had already been filled in for United Russia with legitimate ballots. This video became a hit in the Russian blogosphere and prompted a criminal investigation of the polling-station chairman. Digital media spread the news of voter fraud in Russia’s local elections and contributed to a real-world response. The news triggered a public demonstration on October 12th
in Moscow’s Pushkin Square and prompted all three opposition parties to walk out of Parliament in protest.
Authoratian governments are aware of the threat that new media pose to them and they use a wide arsenal to silent online criticism, Mr Calingaert continues:
Authoritarian regimes in the former Soviet republics and elsewhere continue to repress their citizens, and this repression extends to digital media. In Russia, for example, Internet freedom has declined significantly in recent years, as bloggers have become subject to hacker attacks, legal prosecution and physical violence. Although there is no technical filtering in Russia, officials often make phone calls to pressure web hosts or Internet service providers to remove unwanted content. The director of a leading hosting company, Master Host, admitted that his company gets about 100 requests a day to remove content from inconvenient – so-called “inconvenient” Web sites.
I haven’t recently had time to blog here a lot, sorry about that. Here are some interesting things that happened in the last month or two:
1. Oborona started its English blog (not so many entries yet) and held its second summer training camp Partizan-2009 near Volga river. The camp lasted four days and was packed with training, workshops, discussions etc. Journalists and guests from other democratic organizations participated along with Oborona activists.
Here are some camp photos and a video clip (in Russian):
3. For the first time, an individual is sent to prison officially for criticizing the government. Alexey Nikiforov, an opposition leader in Yekaterinburg, was sentenced to 1 year imprisonment for “extremism”: his “crime” was organizing of several peaceful and legal public protest actions. The court considered slogans “Down with the police state!” and “I don’t want to live in a fascist state” extremism. Previously, courts used to sentence “extremists” to conditional terms, not the real ones.
4. Another court in Krasnodarsky Kray found the slogan “Freedom is not given, it is taken” extremism and ordered to ban Novorossiysk Committee for Human Rights, which used that slogan at one public action. The court decision says,
…the call to “take” freedom means that individual rights have priority over the state’s [rights]. Thus, the slogan “Freedom is not given, it is taken” is of extremist nature.
5. While Dmitry Medvedev calls (once again) to “strengthen democracy” and even criticizes political repression (abstract, not the ones that take place in today’s Russia), one of the Moscow’s busiest metro stations Kurskaya now proudly features a quotation from the Soviet anthem of 1943:
Stalin brought us up — on loyalty to the people,
He inspired us to labor and to heroism.
6. All seven Solidarity’s candidates to the Moscow City Duma were denied registration by the Electoral Commissions. In some cases, the reasons were unbelievably absurd and almost unexplainable (like lack of certain unnecessary hints in subscription forms). Even members of the “official opposition” Pravoe Delo (Right Cause) party were also denied registration. Therefore, there will be almost no competition in these elections.
Only now, thanks to the work of Sergei Shpilkin, a Russian physicist and computer programmer, do we find out the actual results of the recent presidential election in Russia.
The Kremlin claimed there was 69.7% voter turnout. Not true. According to Shpilkin, turnout was actually only 56%.
The Kremlin claimed that Dmitri Medvedev won with 70.3% of the vote, but in fact he only got 63%, Shpilkin says.
As Times Online states: ” On a reduced turnout, this meant that only a third of Russia’s 100 million voters [37.7 million of them] supported Mr Medvedev, far from the overwhelming endorsement claimed by the Kremlin.”
So, two-thirds of Russian voters withheld their support from Medvedev on election day. And it shouldn’t be forgotten that all the liberal candidates had their names removed from the ballots before election day, and many activists were prevented from political demonstrations. As reported on this blog, I for instance was drafted into the army and sent to Ryazan, far from Moscow, to be released only after the election. It stands to reason, then, that if they had been allowed to campaign against Medvedev, his final tally would have been even lower. Maybe, he wouldn’t have won at all.
This is why we believe there is plenty of reason to hope for democratic reform in Russia, if activists like us can galvanize the country in the proper way.
Early April marked a new wave of opposition coalition building. Three events took place in each of the three main political camps. Liberals gathered in St. Petersburg on 5 April, the leftists met in Moscow on 6 April and the nationalists had their convention on 12 April. The goal of each of these events was to unite the majority of political forces of the corresponding wings.
The liberal conference in St. Petersburg founded a coordinating group, whose task is to prepare the creation of a new democratic or liberal movement. This group included Garry Kasparov of United Civil Front (OGF), former and present SPS leaders Boris Nemtsov and Nikita Belykh, and St. Petersburg Yabloko head Maxim Reznik. Mikhail Kasyanov’s Russian People’s Democrat Union (NDS) movement claimed it would also join the body, as did the Oborona movement. Yabloko’s long-time leader Grigory Yavlinsky has notably ignored this initiative.