Hundreds of thousands supported anti-war candidate in Russia but he was banned from elections

Boris Nadezhdin, little known to most people in Russia, declared he was the anti-war candidate, and Russians stood in lines to support him. Screenshot from YouTube video on the Khodorkovsky life YouTube channel. Fair use.

Boris Nadezhdin and Yekaterina Duntsova happened to be the main figures of the Russian elections in March 2024, although neither of them are going to be on the ballot. On the February 8, the second anti-war candidate, after Duntsova, Nadezhdin was banned from elections.

No one had anticipated any good news around the re-election of Vladimir Putin, who has been in power (as president and — briefly — prime minister of Russia from 2008 to 2012) for 24 years. While, before the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2024, at least some glimpses of opposition media and civil society were still visible in Putin’s autocracy, the two years of ongoing repression since seem to have either squeezed every last drop dissenter out of the country or imprisoned them. All protests were prohibited, independent media and social media shut down (apart from YouTube and Telegram, there are only Russia-based social media platforms that are heavily censored).

Putin has been running his elections with fake competitors for at least a dozen years.  This time, it was going to be the same, with only candidates approved by the Kremlin being able to participate not only in the elections themselves but also the pre-election period of gathering signatures in support of candidates.

However, something went wrong.  First, a former journalist  from a very small city in Russia, Rzev, announced she wanted to be a candidate, and that she was against the Russia–Ukraine war.  In a matter of weeks, Yekaterina Duntsova became well-known to hundreds of thousands of people (mostly through the support of opposition media in exile) but she was not even allowed to collect signatures. On December 23, 2023, the Central Election Commission (CEC) blocked her from running on the ballot after rejecting her nomination documents.  For a while it seemed that unpleasant surprises had ended for the Kremlin.

Yekaterina Duntsova. Screenshot of YouTube video by DW Russian YouTube channel. Fair use

However, suddenly, a candidate who supposedly had been allowed to run alongside Putin, one of the same cohort of liberals in the 90s as Sergey Kirienko (now running Putin’s campaign) and Boris Nemtsov (murdered, allegedly on Putin’s orders, in 2015), announced he was also an anti-war candidate. Boris Nadezhdin, whether he wished for it or not, then received overwhelming support.  The Russian opposition journalists, politicians and academics in exile  asked people to support him. The opposition media in exile, even that run by politicians (such as Khodorkovsky or Navalny‘s supporters), is now playing the role of both Russian opposition and civil society.  They still have a big reach in the country through YouTube, Telegram and those tech savvy Russians that know how to use VPN.

Here is a video from TV channel Rain (Dozhd) about people standing in lines to sign to bring Nadezhdin to the election ballot.

When all ofthe opposition, united for once, announced their support,  people in Russia went to Nadezhdin’s offices (every candidate usually has a network of offices around the country to gather signatures in their support to run) to give their signatures in support of the only anti-war candidate. This was a very brave thing to do, because being anti-war is currently viewed as a crime in Russia. But this was the only legitimate way to protest without being thrown in jail, and in spite of the fact that people’s signatures were going to be given to the authorities (the purpose of gathering signatures was to give them to the Central Election Commission), they still went to stand in long lines in order to show their will: The will to end the war, release political prisoners, protect minorities, have dignity, believe that the future is possible. Nadezhdin gathered over 200,000 signatures in various regions of Russia, and many more from those living abroad.

These are some of the quotes by the people who were standing in these lines, that Holod media gathered and published, and Global Voices is republishing with permission.

Anton, 30 years old, Yekaterinburg:

Думаю, главная причина в том, что даже после самой темной ночи обязательно наступит рассвет. И есть ощущение, что перемены придут намного раньше, чем кажется, — достаточно лишь поверить.

К сожалению, среди моего ближнего и дальнего круга общения достаточно много людей отчаявшихся, которые не верят в лучшее и перспективы. Я, собственно, и сам вижу потоки негатива, постоянно транслируемого отовсюду, и понимаю внутреннюю апатию людей. Поэтому я был искренне удивлен увидеть многочасовую очередь в штаб Надеждина: людей не отчаявшихся, улыбающихся и верящих в перемены. Такое вселяет веру.

I think the main reason is that even after the darkest night, dawn will inevitably come. And there is a feeling that changes will come much sooner than it seems — it is enough just to believe.

Unfortunately, among my close and distant circle of relatives and friends, there are quite a few people who have lost hope, who do not believe in a better future. I myself see the streams of negativity constantly transmitted from everywhere, and I understand the internal apathy of people. That's why I was sincerely surprised to see a long line at the offices of Nadezhin: people who have not given up, smiling and believing in change. This gives hope.

Dmitry, 37 years old, Izhevsk:

В жизни миллионов россиян тихонечко, с каждым днем угасает уголек надежды. На свободу, на любовь, на карьеру без мохнатой лапы, на достойную жизнь. [В России] остались те, у кого не было возможности все бросить. Они обрекли себя на ежедневное ношение маски смирения. Мы потеряли друзей, мы потеряли общение, мы потеряли родину, оставаясь в ее территориальных границах.

Подпись сегодня — единственный законный способ поучаствовать в попытках изменить ситуацию и хоть немного приблизить прекрасную Россию будущего.

In the lives of millions of Russians, the spark of hope is quietly fading with each passing day. For freedom, for love, for a career, for a decent life. [In Russia], there are left those people who did not have the opportunity to leave everything behind. They condemned themselves to wear the mask of humility every day. We lost friends, we lost communication, we lost our homeland, remaining within the country's borders.

Signing today is the only legal way to participate in attempts to change the situation and at least slightly bring the beautiful Russia of the future closer.

Anna, 31 years old, Yakutsk

За два года войны я перестала замечать Z и V, свыклась с отсутствием привычных сервисов, развила в себе самоцензуру. Но, когда пошла информация о сборе подписей за антивоенного кандидата, я тут же зашла на сайт Надеждина. Оставила свой номер и, как только открылся штаб, пошла ставить подпись. Почему?

Для меня это возможность безопасно и открыто сказать свое «нет». Нет политике запугивания, нет людоедским законам. В конце концов, я гражданин РФ, представитель народа саха — у меня могут быть свои взгляды? И разве преступление о них говорить? С февраля 2022 я чувствовала угнетение, безнадегу и апатию. Я бы себя просто не простила, если бы не пошла ставить подпись. Если даже ничего не поменяется в нашей жизни, если даже все зря, разве надежда не умирает последней? Да и кандидат со звучной фамилией.

During two years of war, I stopped noticing Z and V, got used to the absence of familiar services, and developed self-censorship within myself. But when I heard about the collection of signatures for an anti-war candidate, I immediately went to Nadezhin's website. I left my number, and as soon as the office opened, I went to sign. Why?

For me, it's an opportunity to safely and openly say my “no.” No to politics of intimidation, no to cannibalistic laws. After all, I am a citizen of the Russian Federation, a representative of the Sakha people — can't I have my own views? And is it a crime to speak about them? Since February 2022, I have felt oppression, despair, and apathy. I wouldn't forgive myself if I didn't go to sign. Even if nothing changes in our lives, even if it's all in vain, doesn't hope die last?

On February 8, 2024, Boris Nadezhdin was not allowed to be on the ballot. The Central Election Commission declared that they have found alleged fraud or inconsistency in about 9 percent of signatures, while only 5 percent is allowed. This leaves the Russian so-called elections with Putin and three candidates who support him, although formally are from different ‘political parties.’ He will definitely win this political show in absence of any opposition, all the government electoral and administrative machine working for him. But the support inside the country that was shown for the anti-war candidate has already had its impact. People saw that a lot of them are against the war, and the propaganda myth about the society united in its support for Putin’s war, is just that — a myth.

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