Daily Archives: February 17, 2007

In Neo-Soviet Russia, the Political Parties Vote for YOU!

Reader Steven Montgomery tips us to the following piece from the New York Times’ Russia correspndent exposing the sham nature of neo-Soviet elections. The Times reports:

Two candidates in local elections here in March, a soccer star and figure skating champion, have no known intention of giving up sports for legislative politics. If they win, as they almost certainly will, their Kremlin-friendly parties, not the voters, will choose the candidates to fill their seats.

An opposition party was kicked off the ballot for forging signatures but given little chance to prove otherwise. Government-controlled television has effectively barred parties except those loyal to President Vladimir V. Putin from the airwaves.

The elections here on March 11, like those in 13 other regions, will preview coming national elections in which voters’ choices will be severely limited at best. “Democracy?” asked Vladimir I. Fyodorov, a leader of the Communist Party here, which faces an uphill task of winning any seats to the city’s 50-member legislature. “I would not call the process under way in our country democracy.”

Here, as on the national level, Mr. Putin’s Kremlin has left little to chance or surprise.

At the Kremlin’s urging, Putin foes and independent analysts say, Parliament has raised the threshold for parties to win seats, eliminated minimum turnout requirements, abolished district elections in favor of party lists, and eliminated the option of voting “against all.” A new law on extremism would ban a candidate from criticizing his or her opponent, or anyone actually in office.

The Kremlin has also made it more difficult for political parties to form and register. According to officials, the Justice Ministry refused to qualify 15 of the 32 that applied last year, and other, largely inactive, parties faded into history.

That measure, like most of the others, has an ostensibly reasonable and democratic purpose: to simplify and clarify the rules of elective politics. To critics, though, the Kremlin has simply assured the smooth re-election of pro-presidential parties.

“It would be like if California had an election and only five Republican Parties could run,” said Maksim L. Reznik, head of the St. Petersburg branch of Yabloko, a liberal party.

The city election commission disqualified it after declaring that a sample of the 40,000 signatures on the party’s voter registration application contained forgeries. The party was given two days to disprove a handwriting expert’s conclusions by producing signed affidavits and copies of passports for hundreds of would-be voters.

By early February, with the elections barely a month away, Yabloko had also been barred from the ballot in two other regions, Orel in west central Russia and Leningrad, which surrounds St. Petersburg, in what party officials called an attempt by the Kremlin to weaken it further.

Another liberal party, the Union of Right Forces, was knocked off the ballot in Vologda, Pskov and Samara. The Communist Party faced challenges in several regions, including Tyumen and Dagestan, but ultimately qualified after protests.

In all, parties were denied registration in 17 instances. The only three parties that faced no problems were United Russia, Just Russia and the Liberal Democratic Party, all pro-presidential.

In Russia, as elsewhere, all politics is local. Yabloko’s leaders argue that their banishment here in St. Petersburg resulted from their opposition to the city’s governor, Valentina I. Matviyenko, a devoted supporter of Mr. Putin.

Yabloko’s three members in the city legislature were the only ones who voted against Mr. Putin’s reappointment of her as governor in December. They have also led a public challenge to plans by Ms. Matviyenko and Gazprom, the energy giant, to build a skyscraper on the banks of the Neva River.

Party officials and political analysts, though, have detected a national trend in the pressure on opposition parties. “They would like to reduce uncertainty as much as possible,” said Vladimir Y. Gelman, a political scientist at the European University at St. Petersburg.

The goal, he and others said, is to bolster United Russia, which now controls the lower house of Parliament and is called “the party of power,” by forcing out smaller parties like Yabloko. At the same time, the Kremlin hopes to create a loyal counterweight in Just Russia, a party created by the merger of three smaller parties and led by a staunch Putin supporter, Sergei M. Mironov.

“Just Russia is the only real opposition currently,” Mr. Mironov said recently, campaigning in the icy cold at a small park here, where he unveiled a new merry-go-round. “The others are just playthings.”

Oleg A. Nilov, the party’s regional chairman, acknowledged that political debate had withered in Russia since the emergence of United Russia. Just Russia, he said, will become a populist challenger, taking the side of the poor, the pensioners and the workers who have shared far less of Russia’s new energy-fueled boom than most. That stance, though, extends only to the local legislature and the lower house of Parliament, the State Duma.

“We are saying that on the level of the State Duma there should be real competition,” he said in an interview in the party’s headquarters, which displays large portraits of Mr. Putin. “The executive power exists on the next level.”

On that level, he added, “there should be unity.”

Vadim A. Tulpanov, the incumbent chairman of St. Petersburg’s legislature, dismissed criticism of Yabloko’s registration troubles, calling them self-inflicted. He said the election simply reflected the natural evolution of Russia’s young democracy, with the old parties like Yabloko and the Communists losing their popular appeal.

“Gradually in Russia, as I understand it, a two-party system is being created, like in America,” he said.

For now, the two main parties have distinct advantages: access to the airwaves, which are government controlled, and to campaign financing. Private donations to parties became risky after the prosecution of Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, the former chairman of Yukos Oil, after he openly supported political parties in the Duma.

A result of the uneven resources is visible on the streets here: posters and billboards of United Russia and Just Russia are ubiquitous, the others largely absent. Another advantage of incumbency has been the city’s refusal to allow Yabloko and other parties to hold protests or other rallies.

Roman S. Mogilevsky, a sociologist and pollster with the independent Agency for Social Information, said he found optimism in Russia’s development. “I don’t think there are many who are against elections,” he said, as though the question of holding them at all remained in doubt. “Even in the Soviet Union there were elections. The level of freedom, though, depends on whom you ask.”

Violence in Chechnya Continues Apace

Opposition Candidate Shot

MAKHACHKALA, Russia, Feb. 14 (Agence France-Presse) — A local legislative candidate was shot in the head Wednesday in the southern Russian region of Dagestan less than an hour after making a campaign speech on television here, a police spokeswoman said. Eduard Khidirov, the head of the Dagestani branch of the nationalist party Patriots of Russia, was in serious condition, the spokeswoman said.

Robert Amsterdam Exposes Neo-Soviet Attack on Khodorkovsky Defense Team

Robert Amsterdam reports:

Today we are posting an exclusive 9-page PDF of the latest motion filed by Karinna Moskalenko in regards to the ongoing harassment, gag orders, acts of intimidation, false statements, and interference on behalf of the Russian authorities toward counsel in this case.

Given this fundamental disregard for an individual’s right to properly defend himself, I believe the conduct of the procuracy of the Russian Federation in this case can be compared to that of an organized criminal group, one whose activities should be condemned by every prosecutorial organization that attempts to uphold the rule of law.

The Kremlin is clearly applying some lessons learned from the first round of attacks on Khodorkovsky and Yukos. Lesson No. 1 – when you want to want to carry out a highly unlawful show trial of a political prisoner, do so out of the public eye. For this reason the upcoming hearings will be taking place in the farthest reaches of Siberia, where the cancellation of a single flight can eliminate all observers (it is a violation of Russian law to hold the hearings in a different venue than the location of the alleged misconduct). Lesson No. 2 – when you want to invent perposterous new charges, make sure the media is barred from the proceedings. For this reason the next round of proceedings will be held inside the Chita Isolator prison facility, which will be able to deny the right of entry to anyone it chooses. Lesson No. 3 – when you want to make these ridiculous charges stick, begin an aggressive campaign of slander against the character of the defendent while at the same time prohibiting his lawyers from discussing the charges. For this reason, the procuracy has forced the Khodorkovsky defense team to sign a variety of strict non-disclosure agreements, which function as gag orders while the procuracy is free to speak to the media openly about the baseless allegations.

If there remains any question whatsoever about the immense importance of Mikhail Khodorkovsky to Russia and the rest of the world, consider carefully the enormous illegitimate lengths that Russian officials have gone to in order to bury the truth, hide evidence, and stifle public debate. If they had a real case to try, none of this would be necessary.

The arbitrary arrests of both Yuri Schmidt and Karinna Moskalenko coming into and leaving Chita, simply to do their job of defending their client, are largely symbolic of the fraud and deception that has come to characterize the Russian procuracy. As someone who has worked under this environment of intimidation and hostility toward lawyers, I strongly urge all those in the legal sector reading these words to contact every professional organization of which they are members to denounce this unacceptable conduct, and demand security and fair treatment toward all lawyers working on politically sensitive cases in Russia.

LR on SL

Check out La Russophobe‘s recent interview over at Siberian Light, where she responds to questions from senior Russian blogger Andy Young about the state of the bloggery, Russia and its prospects. Feel free to leave your comments and welcome Andy back to the blogosphere after a hiatus (and feel free not to abuse his generously open comment policy).

Annals of Shamapova

A reader has directed LR’s attention to the fact, as reported by Radio Liberty, that

The world’s top-ranked female tennis player, Maria Sharapova of Russia, has donated $100,000 to aid recovery from the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear disaster. Sharapova made the announcement at a news conference at United Nations headquarters in New York, where she was also made a UN goodwill ambassador. Sharapova, whose family lived not far from Chornobyl at the time of the accident, said she hoped the money would help rebuild schools, hospitals, and sports facilities near the site of the accident. The explosion at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine in April 1986 was the world’s worst civilian nuclear accident. Its long-term health effects are still unclear, but the UN has predicted it will cause up to 9,000 extra deaths from cancer in the most affected areas.

Apparently, some idiot Russophiles think this speaks well of Maria. Many thinking Russians, of course, may be annoyed that Sharapova chose to make her donation to the Ukraine instead of to Russia. At least, she’s trying to remedy (two decades after the fact) a problem caused by Russia, so it may serve to reduce Russophobia in Ukraine to some extent. They may also be perturbed by the fact that the only way a Russian celebrity gets to be a high-profile Goodwill Ambassador is by . . . moving to the United States.

Her level of personal generosity is quite unimpressive, too — at least for those capapable of basic math. Sharapova is the 62nd highest-paid celebrity in the world, and Russia’s highest paid celebrity by a wide margin. She has an annual income of $18.2 million. By donating $100,000 Maria has surrendered 0.5% of her annual income. That’s like a person who earns $100,000 per year donating $500 to charity (actually, any economist would tell you that 0.5% of income means far less to a millionaire than to an ordinary person because of what’s still left over afterwards, so the actual burden on Maria is even less than this suggests). What’s more, if we look at the beneficiary side of the transaction, it is estimated that there over 4 million people in the Ukraine, Byelorussia and western Russia still live on contaminated ground. So Maria has donated an impressive 2.5 cents to each one for cleanup work (or, about $100 to each person who will perish in an horrible way from the contamination according to the UN estimate — is she covering their funeral expenses?).

And apparently, Sharapova wasn’t willing to cough up a cent until she could receive the title of “Goodwill Ambassador” in return. In fact, there’s nothing to say that her sponsors have not fronted her the donation in order to gain the publicity so as to increase her fortune from endorsement even more exponentially — so it may not have cost Maria a single cent, and may in fact profit her to the tune of millions. A real humanitarian would at least have gone so far as to have made the delivery in Ukraine, drawing the camera’s attention to the plight of oppressed people there, victims of the Soviet era of oppression. But apparently, Maria has little if any desire to actually set foot upon her homeland if she can avoid it.

Meanwhile, though she has risen to #1 in the world for a second time, Maria has yet to ever win a tournament while number ranked one and her 2007 has been full of humiliating losses to lower-ranked players. In other words, she’s a classic Russian: all illusion, no substance. One must admit, though, that the illusion is flashy and eye-catching, just like all those military parades through Red Square in the days of Brezhnev. So ironic, that the country responsible for those mighty spectacles now no longer exists.

But above all, what’s absolutely f-a-s-c-i-n-a-t-i-n-g about this is that LR had no intention whatsoever of bringing up the subject until several Russophile wackos (who’ve been banned for lying and spamming the blog) did so. These are the very same morons who criticize LR for talking about Sharapova, claiming (dishonestly) we are “obsessed” with her. Yet they bring up the subject.

One can only heave a heavy sigh and say: And so it goes in Russia.