Last Sunday, during the Russian parliament Duma election, Russian voters found themselves voting for the same old pro-Kremlin parties, to the surprise of precisely no one. Fourteen parties took part in Sunday’s elections, yet only four made it into the Parliament: United Russia, the Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia—contrary to what the name suggests, not liberal, nor democratic—the Communist Party and the Fair Russia, with an overwhelming 50 percent share going to Putin’s United Russia. The rest of the parties fell short of the five percent of the total number of votes needed to pass the legal threshold.
The final results, available Monday morning, are as follows:
Putin’s United Russia—54.28 percent, Communist Party—13.45 percent, Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR)—13.24 percent. Opposition parties: Yabloko party—1.89 percent, Green party—0.75 percent, PARNAS party—0.7 percent, Maria Baronova, Independent—lost.
Opposition parties were once again ignored by the voters.
Things changed drastically since the hey-day of 2011, when the Russian opposition was able to marshal tens of thousands of angry demonstrators to the Moscow streets. Nowadays the opposition is on the run. Zhanna Nemtsova, daughter of late Boris Nemtsov, the ex-vice-Prime-Minister of the Yeltsin government went to Germany and works for the Russian TV version of Deutsche Welle. Maria Gaidar, daughter of late Yegor Gaidar, the Chairman of the Russian Government, just renounced her Russian citizenship from Ukraine, where she went a year ago. World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov and LGTB activist Masha Gessen found their refuge in New York, ecologist Evgenia Chirikova—in Estonia.
And the list goes on and on.
Members of the Russian opposition have been killed, imprisoned, harassed, beaten on the head with a chessboard. They have been hit with eggs, cakes, brilliant green, and even feces by anti-liberal pro-government activists.
The assaults have a long history.
In 2005 in Moscow, chess champion Garry Kasparov was hit with a chessboard on his head. The attacker first asked for the Champion’s autograph, but then attacked him from behind yelling “I love you as a chess player but you went into politics!”
Last April in Moscow, writer and opposition intellectual inspirer Lyudmila Ulitskaya (The New Yorker called her “a voice of moral authority”), was doused with a green disinfectant. The same month, in Novosibirsk, anti-corruption crusader Alexey Navalny was thrown condoms filled with some white substance. (In Russian, the word for condom” is a synonym for a “traitor.”)
This month, Vladimir Kara-Murza of the PARNAS party, received a blow with a raw egg under his left eye in Nizhniy Novgorod, which left a big shiner. A year before, he said, the Russian secret service tried to poison him.
And all of them, including the number one PARNAS’ party Mikhail Kasyanov, were hit in the face with cakes at some point.
Yulia Latynina, popular talk-show host of the Echo of Moscow radio station, suffered the most. On her way to work several days ago, she was attacked by two people on a motorbike who doused her with feces all over her head and body. “I was doused with shit,” she announced in her radio program shortly after the attack. “Especially on my head – later, I had to wash my hair for half an hour. I walked for three kilometers to work, all covered with shit. The attackers yelled at me something like ‘You put shit on the country, we will put shit on you!’ The cabbies declined to give me a ride because I was covered with shit all over, I respect their attitude since they just did not want to wash their cabs for three hours after me.”
“I don’t really care if I was doused by shit,” she added defiantly. “The anti-regime struggle will go on.”
She did not consider the attack on her as government sanctioned actions, but still connected it to “fourteen or fifteen attacks on activists in Moscow or St. Petersburg.” “If the attackers are not stopped, there will be dead bodies,” she predicted, “and Vladimir Putin, not her, will be the one in big shit.”
She has a point. Prominent oppositionists like Anna Politkovskaya or Boris Nemtsov were killed in Moscow, although there has been no proof that their assassinations were directed by the Kremlin.
But the most painful wounds for the opposition have been self-inflicted.
The liberal PARNAS party (or Party of People’s Freedom), created by late Boris Nemtsov, found itself in the center of a sex scandal this spring which helped its pro-Kremlin opponents to re-brand it into PORN-ASS party. Its leader, ex-Prime-Minister of Russia Mikhail Kasyanov, was recorded on video having sex with female party assistant Natalia Pelevina and discussing with her the party’s strategy.
Footage of the encounter is still available on the Internet.
Natalia Pelevina, Mr. Kasyanov’s lover and party comrade, became notorious again after the sex scandal. Not wanting to wait for the opposition’s overwhelming victory, she jumped headlong into a project of ‘transitional justice’ or creation of the black list of the current Russian troops “involved in the crimes against humanity” in Chechnya in particular. The list is intended to be given to the European authorities so they can swiftly arrest the perpetrators as soon as they cross Russian-EU border. Not every Russian supports this and PARNAS’ popularity suffers.
Serious projects did not distract Mrs. Pelevina from often being in a jolly mood, which is reflected in her photos posted on her Facebook page:
One of her breasts is about to roll out from underneath her half-buttoned shirt, but the caption says “To sleep – at night? Before the elections?” “You have such pretty eyes,” commented one of her FB guests.
Representatives of other opposition parties and oppositionists who were running as independents, often did not lag behind Pelevina in their campaigns.
Maria Baronova was an independent opposition candidate. She did not hide the fact that she had been financed by the exiled oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Putin’s number one enemy, known in Russia as ‘Hodor.’ The creative pictures of her being almost—and totally naked were aimed at young supporters. She tried to project herself to voters as independent, liberal, smart and educated. On one of the pictures she holds signs that cover the top and underbelly of her naked body, the caption reading: “Hello, my name is Masha Baronova, ask me about everything!” By the time of the elections, her voters knew that she was 172 sm. tall and weighed 55 kgs.
The other pictures of her—much more intimate—were stolen from her computer by unknown hackers and put online:
The common theme of different opposition parties in Russia is the fight against “scoundrels and thieves” in Putin’s United Russia. During the election campaign, it became clear, to the disappointment of liberal Russians, that there had been plenty of ‘scoundrels and thieves’ among anti-Putin oppositionists as well.
Some years ago, both oppositionists and anticorruption activists launched The Dissernet project with the idea to expose the plagiarists among politicians of the ruling pro-Kremlin parties. The enthusiasts, with the help of computer, program analyzed the dissertations of the politicians with the goal to find the stolen paragraphs and pages from other people’s work.
To the bewilderment and shock of the public, the plagiarists were found not only among the candidates from United Russia or Communist party or pro-Kremlin LDPR, but, also among candidates of the Yabloko Party (three plagiarists out of 29 candidates holding PhDs), PARNAS—one plagiarist out of four candidates with PhDs running in this election.
Ilya Ponomarev, ex- Russian Duma parliamentarian from Just Russia party, has been living in self-imposed exile in Ukraine right now. In his beloved Russia he is arrested in absentia for stealing $650,000 from the Skolkovo Foundation which is a principal source of finances for the Skolkovo Innovation Center, Russia’s feeble answer to Silicon Valley.
Ponomarev believes that the criminal case against him was fabricated and that he received this money as a payment for the single lecture he had given at the Scolkovo Foundation. His critics would remind him that at that moment of the highly-paid event Mr. Ponomarev did not have even undergraduate diploma. Later, when he got his coveted degree, his major was not in programming or engineering, but state and municipal government. In addition, he has been refusing to put the text of his lecture online to challenge his critics.
Alexey Navalny, the main leader of the opposition movement in Russia, and his brother Oleg were accused by Yves Rocher Company in 2012 of fraud and money laundering, charged and sentenced—Alexey received a suspended sentence of 3.5 years, while his brother was sentenced to prison time.
Some observers believe that the criminal case against the Navalny brothers was politically motivated. In the case of the Governor of Kirov region Nikita Belykh, ex-leader of the opposition Right Forces Party, they have been talking about ‘selective justice’. At the end of last July, Belykh was arrested in the posh Moscow restaurant with a suitcase with 400,000 Euros in cash. Police said that the money was graft from the German businessman to secure friendly attitude from Mr. Belykh’s administration in Kirov.
In the beginning, Belykh laughed at the police officers who were counting the cash, saying that he had no idea the money appeared in his suitcase- was the cash placed there by the police? He stopped laughing when the infra-red light revealed traces that the money made on his hands—the cash was sprayed with special substance in advance after the German businessman informed the police of the advances by the Kirov Governor. Suddenly, Belykh recalled that he indeed took the cash but strictly with the purpose to build a church in Kirov.
Belykh is an exception, because, generally, it would have been hard to find church-goers within the ranks of the opposition—unless they go in there to catch Pokemon.
Arkady Chaplygin, candidate for Yabloko party from St-Petersburg, decided to go catch Pokemon in the Kazan Cathedral of St-Petersburg, major cathedral of the city, as part of his campaign. His ‘action’ was meant to be his – and his party’s – ‘answer’ on the detention by police of scandalous blogger Ruslan Sokolovsky, who put online his own adventures on catching Pokemon in the main Cathedral of Ural city of Ekaterinburg, built on the spot of the execution of the last Russian tsar and his family.
“Unfortunately, I was not able to catch the most rare Pokemon that it is possible to catch there – Jesus, but what can I do? Some say he does not exist,” blogger Sokolovsky lamented in his Youtube video, “[but] fuck your mother, how beautiful it was [around]”.
The blogger was charged with insulting the feelings of the Orthodox believers, which the candidate from the Yabloko party Chaplygin considered to be at odds with the freedom of expression.
Yabloko, or “Apple” (the party’s name was influenced by the Beatles label), is the oldest opposition party with the same leader—Grigory Yavlinsky, 64 years old. No matter how hard he has been trying, Russians still cannot forget that he was an economic adviser to Mikhail Gorbachev in the glory days of perestroika, when he came out with the program titled “500 days.” Five hundred days that were needed to transform Communist Soviet Union into capitalist Russia.
Now, a quarter century later with Russia still not completely transformed, the majority of Russian voters don’t want “to feed him and need him when he’s 64.”
Nor do they want to do this for any other current oppositional parties which are stuck in the past or mired in scandals and corruption, as last Sunday’s elections results demonstrated.