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Russia: Opposition Faces Online Communication Problems

This post is part of our special coverage Russia Elections 2011.

The current political protest is network-based. Many of its participants, excluded from mainstream politics, are veterans of online battles. However, as most of them are joining the protest from different perspectives, offline communication between them could have been smoother.

A union against the common enemy, rigged election results, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's political machine: this is what has brought into one place representatives of Russia's liberal, social-democratic, and nationalist forces. On December 22, 2011, we saw them creating a coalition decision for the first and, hopefully, not for the last time.

All parties are very interested in legibility (as compared to the sliding legitimacy of the ruling regime) and therefore resort to online tools that would allow to reach a new level of transparency.

Voting for the balanced representation proposed by Alexey Navalny. Screenshot from rusotv.ru

Voting for the balanced representation proposed by Alexey Navalny. Screenshot from rusotv.ru

The revolution will be both tweeted and televised

And indeed, the protesters are a lot tech-savvier and much more transparent than their counterparts. The meeting of the organizational committee of the December 24 rally that was held on December 22 was very well live-streamed by rusotv.org, an online live-broadcasting media portal.

The ability to broadcast the events of December 2011 live online has made people around the world and in Russia the spectators of a truly historical event – a gathering of some 100-150 opposition activists, who represented thousands of the netizens and millions of not-connected Russians.

The meeting was moderated by Alexey Navalny, a politician-turned-blogger-turned-political-prisoner-turned-politician. Next to him were the nationalists (including Dmitry Krylov and Vladimir Tor) and the liberals (including Boris Nemtsov and former chess champion Garry Kasparov), social-democrats, anarchists, environmentalists, unionized car owners, the Pirate Party, and many others.

The key question of the meeting was to decide who would be the host at the December 24 meeting. It was not just an organizational issue, but the question of whether the different, polarized political groups would manage to find a formula that would suit the majority of the diverse citizen groups.

Earlier, the protesters had decided they would use two tools: the Facebook voting tool and Survey Monkey [poll temporarily unavailable] to let people add their own rally speaker candidates. Problems, however, emerged with both tools.

Platform bias or ease of rigging?

Denis Bilunov, representative of the “Solidarity” movement and a person responsible for the online polls, presented the results of the popular vote. Some 83,000 users took part in the Survey Monkey poll, but the results were rather disgruntling: Alexey Navalny came in first, but right after him were a neo-Nazi nicknamed “Tesak” and a fraudster businessman Sergey Mavrodi (both received about 20 percent of the votes). Bilunov recognized them as rigged (in his opinion, the SurveyMonkey service had been abused by a vote-stuffing bot) and proposed to disregard them.

Aside from these two ‘rigged’ candidates (participants believed it was used by the authorities to discredit the voting system), the following candidates were on top of the list:

  • Yuri Shevchuk (singer)
  • Leonid Parfenov (journalist)
  • Boris Akunin (writer)
  • Alexander Belov (nationalist politician)
  • Konstantin Krylov (nationalist politician)
  • Dmitry Bykov (poet)
  • Vladimir Tor (nationalist politician)
  • Mikhail Efremov (actor)

It is important to note that in the Top 30 list, four nationalists were on high positions, while on Facebook there was none.

This led to a controversy. An anarchist who called himself Ukrop (‘dill’ in Russian) stated that these online elections “were as falsified as the official ones.” Boris Nemtsov, leader of Solidarity movement, who had been caught cursing at his political allies, supported this idea. As one representative proposed: “Let an IT guy create a program that would make 2,000 votes in a few minutes and let everyone see how easy it's to cheat online with such voting.”

The option of using SurveyMonkey in the future seemed to be recognized as flawed. Then Bilunov proposed to use either Facebook or Democracy2.ru (an e-democracy platform created by the author of “Cloud Democracy” concept Leonid Volkov). Geidar Djemal had a Bolshevik-style proposal of choosing delegates based on their “political suitability” and not on poll results.

The nationalists, however, didn't like Facebook voting, claiming there were “only liberals” there, and that the choice of the platform would have a significant impact on the outcome of the voting.

Ilya Ponomarev, one of the creators and main ideologists of the open voting, defended the results, saying that despite controversy, this was still the most massive online poll ever conducted in Russia.

Navalny formula

The option proposed by Alexey Navalny seemed to have aggregated all options expressed by the speakers. He followed those speakers who proposed a mixed approach: the majority of the speakers (mostly celebrities: actors, journalists, writers, and even the former USSR president Mikhail Gorbachev, whom he described as “inherently liberal”) are those who are on top of both the SurveyMonkey and Facebook lists, given they will attend the December 24 protest, plus the representatives from political groups: 2-3 persons from the nationalists (the speakers will be selected by Dmitry Krylov and Vladimir Tor), 2-3 from the leftists (selected by Ilya Ponomaryov and Sergey Udaltsov).

The voting, assembled after some major shouting, showed: 80 persons for Navalny's option, 32 against. The decision passed.

Those who participated decided to form a new political body that would unite the anti-government effort and continue the protests against the elections.

Rustem Adagamov, a popular blogger, remarked [ru]:

Хорошо бы всё у них получилось — у нас прямо на глазах строится новая демократия в стране.

I hope everything work out well for them – right in front of our eyes a new democracy is being built in the country.

And then he added [ru]:

Офигенно приятно смотреть на такое количество здравых, умных людей, слышащих друг друга. Это прямо новая Россия, которая мне очень нравится

Extremely pleasurable to watch so many sane, intelligent people who listen to each other. It's indeed a new Russia, which I really like.

This post is part of our special coverage Russia Elections 2011.

  • I hope Putin will do the honorable thing

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