The recently-concluded Duma elections in Russia have western media outlets in such a tizzy of self-fulfilling prophecy that you would think the opposition had actually won. In fact, although United Russia’s share of the vote slipped a little, it still (as usual) polled more than double the result of its next closest competitor, the Communists. It’s also worth remembering that United Russia still garnered better than 10% higher support than the 37.6% it gained in its first appearance, in 2003. Still, as I mentioned, western sources – almost dribbling in their excitement – now see fit to differentiate between the “Soviet Communist Party” and the New Communists, signalling their willingness to see Genady Zyuganov and the KPRF running the country if only he will defeat Putin. How very far, and by what strange pathways has America come since the xenophobic Joe McCarthy thundered, “Any man who has been given the honor of being promoted to General, and who says, ‘I will protect another general who protects Communists,’ is not fit to wear that uniform, General.” Back then, Communists were unambiguously the enemy; now, they’re the Russophobe’s best hope. Indeed, politics makes strange bedfellows.
Exemplary of what has become her signature spit-in-Russia’s-face style, Julia Ioffe spoke disparagingly – before the vote – about “a lot of people talking about going out to vote just to vote for somebody, even if the vote is falsified in the end just as a way to exercise their right and to at least participate”, as if it were a sad and wasted effort by a few despondent people who went out to just blindly push a ballot in a box so they could pretend they were voting in a real democracy. In reality, the Duma election voter turnout was better than 60%. To put that in perspective, in the last 3 U.S. midterm elections only two states (Minnesota and South Dakota) have ever broken 60% turnout, and the national average has not broken 40% since 1970. Voter turnout in Russia blows the doors off that in the USA and the United Kingdom, where it is sometimes embarrassingly in the 20’s.
The spicy vignette Ms. Ioffe offers about some previous unspecified St Petersburg municipal election, in which the first voter allegedly put his ballot in the wrong box and the box had to be unsealed and…surprise!! there were already 3 ballots in it, is just foolish. Is that how ballot-box stuffing works? Shady types just pop by throughout election day, sneaking extra ballots by threes and fives into the box? Come on.
Has Ms. Ioffe ever voted? That’s not how it works, anywhere – does she imagine there’s a different ballot box for each candidate, and you just put your ballot in the box marked “Kasyanov”, or whatever? What the fuck is “secret ballot” about that? Sure make them easy to count, though, wouldn’t it? In fact, procedures are set up so the voter can’t do something stupid like that, and there’s only one ballot box at each voting station. Russian election law specifically describes the procedure (I realize this is presidential electoral rather than municipal law, but the process does not significantly differ) in the event a voter believes he or she has made a mistake, and cutting open a sealed ballot box to give the voter back their ballot is, ha, ha…. sorry – decidedly not one of them. Besides, what kind of fool would go to all the trouble of circumventing election monitors and potential international observers, to boost the vote for his favourite party by 3? How stupid does she think Russians are? I’m surprised someone supposedly as worldly as Ioffe would believe such horseshit. Perhaps it’s because she wants to believe it. But since her entire premise for suggesting the vote this time will be falsified is based on this nonsensical knee-slapper, then she is demonstrably wrong. Still, for such a short article, she managed to pack a lot into it; the suggestion that voting is a waste of time since it is meaningless serves to suppress the vote and discourage voters from turning out, while including the mandatory “party of crooks and thieves” tag reflects western efforts to help it catch on, although it is nowhere near as popular in Russia as such sources pretend. It need hardly be said that any Russian journalist who pulled a stunt like that in the United States during the midterms would be on a plane back to Moscow faster than she could say “Borscht”, freedom of the press be damned.
Well, let’s take a look at some other reactions. This “may mark the beginning of the end for Putin”, crows CNN. That’s despite noting that Russians’ disposable income rose by 10% a year between 2000 and 2008, and that it was the global financial crisis and not Putin that put an end to that. My, yes, I’d certainly be eager to put the boots to any leader who raised my disposable income by an average 10% a year. However, the author is at pains to point out that Putin still enjoys the approval of 67% of Russians and that his “regime is unlikely to collapse anytime soon”. Yes, about 2024, I’d imagine. See you, Putin, you bastard. Meanwhile, our paint-chip-eating friends over at the Caucasian Emirate are delirious with joy, quoting The Nobody Formerly Known As Garry Kasparov, who spoke from the relative safety of The Telegraph. Putin is just like Al Capone, we learn. Also that Russia has 100 Billionaires but no roads, which begs the question how Garry Kasparov got out of Russia. He must be quite a hiker, or else he has his own helicopter. Seems kind of silly to have airports in a country with no roads, comes to that. If you look here, Garry, at the fourth photo down, you’ll see a Russian road. Well, more of a highway, really – six lanes of it.
Oh, and for anyone who was still a bit on the fence regarding Litvinenko’s cause of death, you heard it here: Putin killed him during Russia’s nuclear terrorist attack on Britain in 2006. No, I didn’t make that up. You can’t make this stuff up.
Going back to the “beginning of the end for Putin” theme, Open Democracy takes a crack at explaining how an electoral result that sees the victorious party get more than double the votes of its closest competitor is actually its death knell. “By the standards of Western democracies”, Nicu Popescu wants us to understand, “falling just short of the 50% mark after three years of global economic crisis and 12 years in power would be a stellar victory. But in Putin’s Russia this is a serious setback for two main reasons. First of all, the elections were neither free, nor fair. Evidence of ballot stuffing is already swirling around the internet, and the election campaign was heavily biased in favour of United Russia.”
First of all, Nicu; evidence of ballot stuffing is not swirling around the internet – allegations of ballot stuffing are swirling around the internet. Evidence is what you have when you can prove it. Although the OSCE Preliminary Report made passing mention of “indications of ballot box stuffing”, that’s the kind of thing you say when somebody has reported ballot box stuffing, but has not provided any concrete proof at all. And many such reports to the OSCE monitors were from activists. If Egypt, Libya and now Syria taught us nothing else, they should have taught us (a) activists will tell any story they think they need to in order to get NATO involved in a rebel putsch, and (b) NATO is eager to believe activists, and isn’t really too sticky about substantiation.
Indeed, there were reports of provable instances in which employers or other authority figures appeared to pressure subordinates to vote a certain way. Those individuals should be punished appropriately – the higher the status, the sterner the sentence. However, that philosophy should hold wherever such attempts to tilt the playing field occur. The USA even has a specific law which forbids it, called the Hatch Act. Bush administration officials threw the Hatch Act on the floor and pissed on it – figuratively speaking – more than 100 times. Please note this finding is based on more than 100,000 pages of evidence. Was anyone punished? Now that I mention it, no. The New York Times agrees the Bush White House “routinely” violated election law. More recently, the strange scenario of Alvin Greene surfaced in South Carolina, in which it looks strongly as though Greene was recruited by the Republicans to run as a Democrat against nutty-as-a-fruitcake Republican Senator Jim DeMint. The obvious winner there would be DeMint and the Republicans, as Greene – an unemployed African-American with a pornography charge pending -would theoretically drive votes to DeMint. Unethical? You tell me. Let’s not pretend Russia is the only place where party figures make an effort to skew the vote. The big difference is, Russian attempts to interfere in or comment upon American election practices are pretty close to non-existent.
Everyone’s favourite Russian grandpa, Mikhail Gorbachev, says violations were so widespread that the vote should be annulled and an election do-over held (Oh, me!!! Pick me!!! The Orange Revolution, Ukraine, December 2004). Until somebody else wins, of course, at which point it would be proclaimed free and fair to a fault, the cleanest election ever. I have to confess I love Gorbachev, although nobody in Russia really pays much attention to him any more – he’s just so dotty and bipolar. Here, for instance, is Mr. Gorbachev back in 2009: “In the West, the breakup of the Soviet Union was viewed as a total victory that proved that the West did not need to change. Western leaders were convinced that they were at the helm of the right system and of a well-functioning, almost perfect economic model…the dogma of free markets, deregulation and balanced budgets at any cost, was force-fed to the rest of the world…But then came the economic crisis of 2008 and 2009, and it became clear that the new Western model was an illusion that benefited chiefly the very rich. Statistics show that the poor and the middle class saw little or no benefit from the economic growth of the past decades.
That’d be the system he’s now advocating be force-fed to Russia. And while he’s all about the protests and reform now-now-now, he told The Independent in June only last year that “…in general, I think we went too fast. A country with our history should have taken an evolutionary course. I said reforms would need 20 or 30 years…Of Yeltsin’s chaotic final months, when state industries crumbled and the quick and well-connected got staggeringly rich, he mourns, “Destabilisation became the number one problem.” Tell the one about the day the first television set came to the Soviet Union, Grampy; I love that story.
Which brings me to Golos. A few days ago, nobody had heard of this organization – now, they’re the big story of the Russian elections; puny, defiant Golos, who stood up to the Russian bear in defense of electoral freedom, and was of course unjustly punished for its courage.
However, Golos was reined in not only at the request of the ruling party, but also following “pressure from the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) and the A Just Russia party”. Both supported UR in a lawsuit that charged Golos violated Russian election law. Director Lilia Shebanova’s laptop computer was seized because she refused to allow Customs personnel to check it at the airport as requested, and it probably has nothing to do with the legal action that found Golos guilty and fined the organization; those charges revolved around its website.
By now, most everyone is aware Golos is a wholly western-funded NGO, receiving support grants from USAID and European democracy-promotion agencies. What you may not know is that Golos lists among its partners, on its website, the National Democratic Institute and the National Endowment for Democracy. These battle-hardened engineers of regime change in the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the Rose Revolution in Georgia are not candypants hand-holders; no, Sir – when they want regime change, they don’t wait around for the government to step down: they make it happen. Any doubt that the west’s intent in this and the upcoming presidential election is nothing less than the toppling of the Russian government should be dispelled by the “tweet” sent by former failed presidential candidate, darling of the Sunday talk-show circuit and general busybody who never knows when keeping his piehole shut would be the wisest course, John McCain; “Dear Vlad (McCain’s ignorant assumption of the diminutive for “Vladimir”), The Arab Spring is coming to a neighborhood near you.”
The protests, which are being fueled by social networking sites Twitter and Facebook in what has become a blueprint for western NGO’s and “regime change consultants”, are unlikely to go anywhere this time. It’s too cold right now, and the strength of the “movement” is greatly exaggerated in the western press, as has also become a hallmark of regime change. But the west is obviously serious about it, and it is likely to reach a crescendo in March for the presidential elections. Really it’s a no-win for the targeted government, because as soon as they take steps to protect the country, the western papers scream about”loyalist” military thugs emptying heavy machine guns into crowds of women and children while the majority of the military – repulsed by the regime’s heartless tactics – deserts to the rebels. Doesn’t matter if it’s true, as long as it mobilizes opposition. The end justifies the means, as they say in the regime-change business.
I’m moved to recall the sentiments expressed by Kirill in comments to Anatoly’s post, “A Quick Note on Russia’s Duma Elections 2011” at Sublime Oblivion; “ They are going to have to change Russians, not just the regime if they want a poodle…Also, browbeating Russians about how un-west they are is the ticket to success in electoral politics.”