What is happening in Russia?

The lack of freedom

President Vladimir Putin has been ruling over Russia for more than sixteen years, longer than any president before. He was able to make changes to the Russian constitution, allowing him to remain president and rule until the year 2036. The Russian government remains highly criticized for its lack of human rights. Throughout his presidency, Vladimir Putin has slowly but surely limited the freedom of the people in all forms, whether it is the freedom of assembly, opinion, speech, or self-expression. It can be said that under his authority, Russia has developed into a repressive system.

A rally demanding internet freedom in Moscow in April last year. Alexander Nemenov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A rally demanding internet freedom in Moscow in April last year. Alexander Nemenov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Internet and media freedom has also been a growing concern in the Russian Federation. The Government blocks websites, bans, and censors content that is deemed illegal, unwanted, or unnecessary to be seen by the Russian public. In 2019, a new law was passed criminalizing ‘disrespect’ for the Russian society, meaning that people cannot speak ill of the way the country operates or of the current government, which put an end to the few remaining legal forms of protests in the country, as well as deeming activists as enemies of the state. To add on, any non-profit organizations and individuals who publish printed, audio, audiovisual, or other materials while receiving money from foreign countries or news organizations had to register as foreign agents.

Alexey Navalny

Alexey Navalny is a Russian politician and now an anti-corruption activist who has become the biggest threat to Vladimir Putin, fearlessly emerging as his opposition leader. Navalny has become the pillar of hope for the people of Russia who want a better future for their country. He has given them the courage that was lost over the years to speak their minds, protest, and contribute to change in the country.

The opposition leader’s incantation of “Do not be afraid!” does not mean “There is nothing to fear.” Photograph by Peter Kovalev / TASS / Getty

Navalny and his team have produced groundbreaking investigations in the form of documentary films on Youtube, revealing the deep-running corruption and exposing the way Putin orchestrates and maneuvers a whole nation while building his wealth on the tax money of the people.

Link to their most viewed investigation

 

Last year Russian security forces allegedly tried and failed to assassinate Alexey Navalny by poisoning him with a nerve agent. After his five-month recovery in Germany from the poisoning, he returned to Russia, where he was immediately arrested by the authorities based on questionable charges. This chain of events led to hundreds of protests supporting Alexey Navalny erupting in over 60 Russian cities, something that had never happened before. They were of course met with police brutality and arrests of civilians.

 

‘Smart Voting’

On September 17th a three-day parliamentary election took place in Russia, which once again showed that the country had ceased to be a democracy. The ruling political party has been United Russia since the early years of Vladimir Putin’s presidency and it holds the most seats in the State Duma while being funded by Putin himself. Every time the election takes place, the Russian authorities are rightfully accused of fraud.

Supporters of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny attend a demonstration organized by the group ‘Art of Rebel’ outside the Russian embassy in London, Britain, 21 April 2021

How does ‘smart voting’ work?

The idea is to vote for others who have the best chance of beating representatives of United Russia. ‘Smart Voting’ is a project that Alexey Navalny and his team have been working on since 2018. To see a thorough explanation of how the process works, check the youtube account linked above, for a full video explanation. It is an online service designed to promote candidates that have the best chance to defeat those who are being supported by the Kremlin. Therefore, people with access to the ‘smart voting’ platforms were told who to vote for in their region, resulting in a ‘least worse’ candidate option being voted into the parliament and lessening the representatives of United Russia, but did it work?

 

To the surprise of nobody, any chance of a free and fair election had already vanished before polling stations opened across Russia. Most genuine opposition candidates were barred from running in the months leading up to the election, with others being imprisoned or forced into exile. The Russian internet was cleaned of dissenting voices, and the last remaining non-regime media outlets were silenced.

Before the vote even began the ‘smart voting’ app was removed and not available for download on the Google and Apple stores in Russia. IT companies had been warned that refusing to remove the app would be seen as illegal interference in the vote. Anyone who promoted the apps was arrested for “extremism”, which is a blatant violation of the right to freedom of expression.

During the course of three days of voting there were allegations of massive electoral fraud, including ballot-box stuffing and threats against election observers and even videos of the observers being forcefully removed from the voting stations. People were also seen shoving papers into voting boxes in a video that went viral on the internet.

Mr Navalny and his associates had urged Russians to vote tactically, in many cases for Communist Party candidates who they believed could defeat United Russia incumbents. This hasn’t stopped the Kremlin’s party from capturing a sizeable chunk of the next parliament.

A woman examines Navalny’s Smart Voting app on her cellphone in Moscow, Russia, Sept. 17, 2021. (EPA Photo)

What were the results?

But Alexey Navalny’s tactics and the plan did accomplish significant results. The results point to a change in United Russia’s approval ratings. In the months leading up to the election, public support for the party fell to 27% nationwide. According to a leaked internal poll from March, 55 percent of Moscow residents claimed they would vote for opposition candidates. In terms of the election itself, the people that managed to access the ‘smart voting’ app in time or get the names of the favorable candidates from other sources, did make a difference. In that election, 20 candidates sponsored by Navalny’s campaign won, reducing the number of United Russia members in the 45-seat assembly from 38 to 25. This is a very small, but meaningful victory that shows that Alexey Navalny and his team’s tactics are making a difference and giving the people hope for a brighter future.

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