Although St. Petersburg could be described as politically apathetic when compared to Moscow, Russian politics never fail to put on a good show. Here are a few words and phrases to get you through the final week of elections:
Перепалка (Hitting the Fan)
On February 28th, Russia’s two presidential candidates (Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Mikhail Prokhorov) clashed in political debates. But it was the presence of Alla Pugacheva, Russia’s pop diva and a great supporter of Prokhorov’s, that made the show. Zhirinovsky is known for his eccentric public performances—witness his latest campaign video, in which he compares Russia with a lean donkey and beats it up with a whip. Naturally, it went viral in a matter of hours.
But this time he went medieval on Prokhorov, on the air, for being surrounded by showbiz stars, switching over to them the next minute. Zhirinovsky called Pugacheva a “canary” (?) and a prostitute (creative), made sure to mention her five marriages, and promised to wipe his boots on her after he wins the elections. The prima donna got her revenge with an avalanche of bitter attacks on Zhirinovsky, calling him a “clown”, “disgrace”, and “neurotic”. She even ended up implying that Zhirinovsky likes to get it on with men in those famously morally bankrupt banyas. Call in the fan cleaners: Russians haven’t seen a shitstorm on this scale since the mid-1990s.
Vladimir Churov, head of Russian Central Election Commission, wasn’t a household name until the Parliamentary Elections in December 2011. At that time, almost everyone smelled electoral fraud. However, only the head of the very body accountable for supervising elections brushed off even the most obvious evidence. Members of the opposition and other web-based watchdogs (or in Russian, khomyachocks, “lemmings”) held him personally responsible for the electoral mayhem, demanded his resignation, and even started calling him a wizard in reference to the laughably “magical” results. I’m no math major, but I think the following news photo, showing the Duma polling rates, accurately sums up the situation:
In order to prevent electoral fraud in the future, the Russian government suggested equipping all Russian polling stations with web-cameras, which would stream publicly online. Foreseeing the success of this “magical, revolutionary” endeavour, Churov even suggested the export this supervision technique to other countries. From the looks of it, works perfectly.
Схватила урну и смоталась (Grab and go)
“Putin is a thief!” and “We are stealing, just like Putin does!” shouted a group of young Ukrainian women at polling station 2079. Oh, and did I mention? They were topless. And that was the polling station used by Putin to vote 20 minutes earlier.
The women represent “FEMEN,” a group known for topless political mini-riots (unfortunately for American frat boys everywhere, the group has yet to establish an American branch). This time they attempted to steal a ballot box containing Putin’s vote (for himself, allegedly). As explained later, their intention was to persuade the international community not to acknowledge the premeditated triumph of Mr. Putin and to “step on the Kremlin rat’s tail.” The female activists—all 3 of them—were taken to the police station and are still in detention. Presumably clad.
This year’s presidential elections followed in the footsteps of last year’s, with countless acts of electoral fraud reported from every corner of Mother Russia. One of Team Putin’s favourite fraud schemes, second only to administrative pressure on public sector workers, is the Merry-Go-Round.
A Merry-Go-Round brigade is the ultimate vote for hire. College students, migrant workers and the young pro-Kremlin activists, lead by Kremlin brigadiers, get into shady cars, receive absentee voter certificates and tour the polling stations. With the help of the polling station staff, they get their certificates back after each vote, so they can go to another station and vote again. Seriously, follow the path of the voting certificate in this proof video.
A small brigade can go as high as fifty votes per operation (in “clean mode”). Their efficiency multiplies ten- to twenty-fold if they use the less-clean ballot-stuffing technique. An average brigade member’s fee is said to be 1000 rubles ( or about $34). Migrant worker brigades have been reported to go as high as 20 people, cranking up the brigade efficiency to 4000—6000 votes on full throttle.
Вброс (Stuffing the ballot box)
Another technique said to be widely practiced by Team Putin on this year’s presidential elections, is stuffing the ballot box. Often combined with the Merry-Go-Round technique, it allows maximum brigade efficiency by throwing in ten to twenty ballots instead of one. The brigade members enter the polling station with trendy messenger bags loaded with pre-marked ballots. In the voting booth, they unpack the ballots, mark the ballot they’d been given at the station, wrap it around the pre-marked ballots and head out to the ballot box. The slim pack of about twenty slips fits nicely into most box slots, while looking like a single ballot on the outside.
Recent upgrades at the polling stations have made life harder for the ballot box stuffers. Electronic boxes, now installed sporadically around the country, only accept one ballot at a time, making it a little harder to stuff quickly and anonymously. And what show it is now. Luckily for bemused study abroad student onlookers, there are only enough electronic ballot boxes to show on Russia’s two pro-Kremlin TV channels, so there is still a lot of work left for the stuffers.
Massive fraud and the omnipresence of social networks in life of your average Russian did the trick: people finally became politically active. The winter of 2011/12 is by far the most politicized season in the recent history of Russia. Walkouts of Russian opposition resulted in the establishment of a new organization called the League of Voters, intended to represent the opinions of the unhappy crowd.
One of the main ideas promoted by the league was to oversee the future presidential elections, which was only possible by becoming official electoral observers. Voters’ League opened a lot of websites (including Rosvybory and Webnabludatel), all dedicated to stopping fraud. They even created iOS and Android apps, all for the same noble cause.
Раскачивать лодку (Rocking the boat)
After Navalny coined the term “Party of Zhuliks and Thieves,” the opposition seemed to be heading towards overthrowing the government altogether. But not for long: the Kremlin copywriters fought back, and their verbal grenades were just about as clustery. One of the best ones, first uttered by Putin, was “You shouldn’t rock the boat.” “The boat,” as put by Team Russia United, represents the twelve years of economic growth, prosperity, independence, averted crisis, ever-increasing pensions, etc. all of which have vastly improved quality of life in Russia since the Yeltsin years. The slogan suggests: Russia under Putin’s rule is not such a bad place after all, and the opposition shouldn’t throw all that away for a teensy bit of fraud. The opposition responded with boat-rocking memes and folklore, including these verses from Russia’s Vasya Oblomov, Leonid Parfenov and Ksenia Sobchak.