Russia: Protesters Aim for Elected Office

This post is part of our special coverage Russia's Protest Movement.

On August 15, the Organizational Committee of the March of the Millions published an agenda for its September 15 rally on its Facebook [ru] and VKontakte [ru] pages, as well as the website of the Left Front [ru], a neo-communist political organization led by Sergey Udaltsov, one of the winter protests’ leaders. The demands of the committee are ambitious: new elections and Putin’s resignation, among others. They also include the following point:

Принимаются законы, гарантирующие местное самоуправление и прямые выборы губернаторов.

Laws are enacted, which guarantee local self-governance and direct elections of governors.

It’s a strange point to put on the agenda, given that both already exist, in letter if not in spirit. Direct governor elections are returning to Russia starting this year, as covered previously by Global Voices, while towns all over the country are gearing up [ru] for local elections this fall [ru].

Evgenya Chirikova, Russian environmental activist. Moscow, Russia. 12 June 2012, photo by Evgeniy Isaev, CC BY-SA 2.0.

In fact, another opposition leader, Evgenya Chirikova, has recently announced her decision to run for mayor of a Moscow suburb, Khimki, home to the forest she has been trying to save for the past couple of years. In her blog, Chirikova called for [ru] an information campaign waged through Twitter and other social networks, explaining:

Я не думаю, что нынешние городские власти так уж заинтересованы в том, чтобы подробно рассказывать о том, как мы предлагаем улучшить жизнь горожан.

I don’t think that the current city government is very interested in telling people about our plans to improve the lives of the citizens.

So far, Chirikova seems to be running as the candidate of a broad coalition of protest-minded politicians and activists. She has garnered support from Sergey Udaltsov [ru], Alexey Navalny [ru], Ilya Ponomarev [ru], Oleg Shein [ru] (who is lobbying Just Russia to support her), and Yabloko. Even Vladimir Milov's DemVybor [ru], which has criticized her in the past, and Boris Nemtsov [ru], who famously called Chirikova “yelping scum” [ru] in a private phone conversation, have registered their support.

Bloggers point to Chirikova’s career as a businesswoman and manager [ru], as well as her history of environmental activism [ru], arguing that she would make an efficient mayor. Of course, not everyone is excited about her candidacy. Boris Nadezhdin, a minor opposition politician, notes in his blog [ru] that she already ran for mayor once in 2009. Back then, she lost with 15% of the vote. He puts her share this time around slightly higher — at 20%.

Some claim that Chirikova is naive and incapable of compromise. Others question [ru] her ties to the United States and foreign NGOs, which would be easy for her opponents to exploit in Russia's current political climate.

Other Russia’s Eduard Limonov thinks that Chirikova would be a wonderful mayor, but that’s precisely why the opposition shouldn’t want her elected. According to him [ru], she is ideologically similar to United Russia functionaries to the point that her election would be a minor coup for the Kremlin. In a different, post Limonov complained [ru]:

Все поголовно кандидаты – представители буржуазного класса. Так быть не должно.

All of the candidates are representatives of the bourgeois class. This should not be.

Meanwhile, another Other Russia politician, Sergey Ezhov, announced his candidacy for a different position — one even more minor than the role of suburban mayor: a seat on the city council of a town populated by just 5,000 people. On his Echo Moskvy blog [ru], Ezhov explained his motivation:

одна из основных современных проблем России – отсутствие положительного опыта местного самоуправления. Именно оно дает почву для роста гражданского самосознания, без которого все попытки модернизаций сверху закончатся, вероятнее всего, провалом. […] прежде чем занять уровень, которого я, как считаю, достоин, хочу попробовать свои силы именно в роли местного депутата.

[O]ne of the main problems of modern Russia is the absence of the positive experience of local self-governance. It’s precisely the thing that gives fertile ground for the growth of civic awareness, without which all attempts to modernize from above will, in all likelihood, end in failure. […] [B]efore taking a position at the level I think I deserve, I want to try my hand precisely at being a local deputy.

If successful at the ballot box, could protesters and oppositionist politicians finally gain the experience that Russia's protesters have generally lacked so far? Or will the leap from activism to campaigning — and from netizen to citizen — prove too daunting and ultimately disenchanting?

This post is part of our special coverage Russia's Protest Movement.


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