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Russia: Envisioning the “Cloud Democracy” Utopia

Cloud Democracy [ru] is the title of the new book written by Leonid Volkov [ru] and Fyodor Krasheninnikov [ru], two political bloggers from the Urals region of Russia. Cloud Democracy addresses a wide audience of readers “who, despite everything, believe in progress and democracy” and displays the authors’ vision on how a system of ‘future’ democratic governance can be built with the help of online tools.

The preface of the book says [ru]:

We believe, that we witness the new era in the history of mankind – the era of limitless direct communications, which would enable the existence of fair, transparent, and just political system.

Leonid Volkov, photo by ekburg.ru, courtesy of Leonid Volkov

Leonid Volkov at Yekaterinburg city council, photo by ekburg.ru, courtesy of Leonid Volkov

The first chapter discusses current issues of democracy (and Russian democracy, in particular), the second chapter dwells on technology and available technological solutions for ‘cloud democracy.’

The most interesting part – in which the authors propose the setup for the digital governance utopia contains several key ideas:

  • Live estimation of trust towards a politician. Instead of voting every four years for a mandate, the authors propose the constant ability of citizens/users to “trust” or “not trust” their elected politicians. This would create a constant incentive for a politician to be efficient and honest.
  • Matrix-based delegation of authority. A digital citizen chooses which questions to delegate his/her vote to, depending on the nature of the question. The authors provide a detailed (yet highly debatable) multi-layer system of delegation.
  • Compulsory integrity. With every new additional level of authority, a politician would compulsorily disclose more information about their person, so that a politician would not have either the possibility or the stimulus to lie to people.

Global Voices contacted one of Cloud Democracy's authors, Leonid Volkov, and asked him few questions about the idea behind the book.

Leonid Volkov, Ph.D, is a 30 year old Russian politician, blogger, developer, and activist. Since 2009 he has held the chair of the deputy of the Yekaterinburg city council (independent). With 13 years experience in IT-development (resulting in the launch of a digital company start-up incubator in 2010), Volkov combines technical and political perspectives.

Global Voices (GV): How did you come up with the idea of the book?

Leonid Volkov (LV): It all started with eRepublik online game. Me and Fyodor played in it for year and a half two years ago or so. One of our friends had dragged us in. It was the period when lots of people from Russia were joining the game, and Russia became one of the leading political forces – it was the period of “habraboom” [a reference to “habra-effect,” a Russian analogue of the digg-effect, when someone posts a link a the popular IT-community habrahabr.ru].  Russia had reclaimed Urals from e-Hungary, a successful war with e-US started…

The reason of the success of the game is obvious: due to the absense of the real politics people tended for any outlet they could find. And the life was very active in this game, as well; Fyodor was publishing a quite popular newspaper, while I was a regular player, a farmer and a soldier, and wasn't really engaged in the political life. But I was very interested in the observation of the socio-political processes in the virtual reality.

So we remembered eRepublic (which we neglected soon afterwards) very clearly when we started to write our book – we were sure that if we describe the model of e-Democracy (and then to implement it) – people will be using it. I don't clearly remember when exactly the idea of the book appeared, it was somewhere around the fall of 2010, right after our unsuccessful campaign against the removal of the direct elections of Yekaterinburg mayor. Then, we finally understood that all possible windows of opportunity in the real politics were closed.

GV: In the debate on the role of the Internet in social change, which side is closer to you – “cyber-pessimist” or “cyber-optimist”?

LV: None. We're cyber-realists. Internet – is, first of all, means.

GV: At the end of 2010, Alexey Chadaev, political technologist of  the”United Russia” party proposed direct Internet-Democracy.” What's the difference between your project and Chadaev's proposition?

LV: “Direct Internet-democracy”  is something we're not interested in discussing. This is the extreme. What we propose is a really working model, where everyone's voice can be taken into account.

GV: People more and more think in technological terms. To “Like” a politician, to vote online. We've witnessed something similar in Perm. Is it a national trend? Or is it just a Urals regional trend? Or it's the IT-specialists way of thinking?

LV: Everything is very simple – people that work in IT and that are interested in politics like to apply technology to politics. They like to think how the mashups of the politics and technology would look like. We see that the contemporary politics choke with the technologies of the XVIII century: all these paper bulletins, ballot boxes, bureaucratic letters, etc. This is all outdated. And we don't see any real reasons, except some strange traditions, not to introduce new methods in this process. There's nothing specifically regional. Maybe there's just more freedom of thought here. But, most importantly, it is the IT way of thinking.

GV: You mention DalSlovo.ru [a crowdsourcing portal to track politicians’ promises and monitor if they are fulfilled]. Is it your project? If yes, could you tell few success stories of this project?

LV: I'm one of the co-creators of the project and its investor. The success of DalSlovo.ru is the fact of its existence. Given the fact that there's no advertisement or any special promotion, the project grows and the database of the politicians’ promises grows as well. We hope we will be able to create a project people will listen to.

GV: A lot of crowdsourcing projects have been launched recently. Do they have influence or do they just appear and have no real impact on society?

LV: So far, the critical mass haven't been reached [by such projects], but very soon crowdsourcing projects will be much more influential. The presense of such projects (and success stories inside them) makes people believe that they can change something. And this involves the people into activism. And there's no (or almost) no way back being socially active.

GV: In the system you described in the book, all the inner mechanism and the laws are thought through. But who will be controlling the creators of such system?

LV: First of all, the code of the system will be open – and this is very important in terms of control. Second, the architecture of the system will be flexible, it will be constantly changing. The system will provide the ability for the users to vote for the change of the default settings.

GV: Do you plan to translate the book into English?

LV: Yes.

Thumbnail image ‘King Cloud’ by Flickr user akakumo (CC BY-SA 2.0).

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