Выборы в Госдуму / Russia’s Parliamentary Elections

Moscow voter

Audio Content: A journalist quizzes voters on their choices.
Visual Content: Images of Moscow voters, voting precincts, ballots and machines.

Video available below or in a higher-quality version at TV Rain (subscription required).

On September 18 Russians turned out to elect representatives (депутаты) to the lower house of the national parliament (Государственная Дума, Госдума). Actually, turnout (явка) was quite low, around 48 percent, a circumstance generally viewed as favorable to the party in power because it means that their supporters (some of whom are pressured to vote) end up carrying greater weight. This election was carried out using a hybrid system. Half of the Duma representatives (225 of them) were chosen according to closed party lists, similar to the “parliamentary” style of democracy used in Canada and many Western European nations: voters select a party and seats in the Duma are allocated proportionally according to the votes each party receives. This is referred to as voting “по партийным спискам” (by party lists). The other 225 representatives were chosen as individuals particular to a district, similar to how the United States votes. This is referred to as voting “по одномандатному округу” (by single-mandate district). This system allows for ticket-splitting: one can vote for one party overall but support a candidate from a different party for one’s individual “single-mandate” district.

In this video, the TV Rain journalist Pavel Lobkov visits voting precincts in several elite neighborhoods in the center of Moscow and asks people how they voted. (The introductions to each section, where he provides statistics for each neighborhood, are great listening practice for numbers.) Lobkov also converses briefly with Andrei Zubov, a well-known historian and Duma candidate from an opposition party. Muscovians tend to give more support to opposition parties than do voters in the regions, so you’ll hear a variety of parties mentioned in the video.

Although Putin’s party is by far the dominant force, Russians can choose among several other options.

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Алексей Навальный на митинге / Aleksei Navalny at an Opposition Rally

Russian language practice from the contemporary Russian media - Navalny at rally in Marino

Audio content: A rousing political speech by leading opposition figure Aleksei Navalny
Visual content: Navalny speaking on stage

Video at tvrain.ru
20 September 2015

Aleksei Navalny has been in the news again lately as his organization Anti-Corruption Foundation / Фонд борьбы с коррупцией has been aggressively targeting Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika / генеральный прокурор Юрий Чайка. The Foundation recently produced a film charging that Chaika’s sons have ties with violent criminal organizations in the Krasnodar region, and the resulting scandal has garnered considerable attention. This is just the latest campaign by Navalny, who has a long history as an anti-corruption activist and opposition politician. It’s difficult to sum up Navalny’s activity in just a few sentences. He is best known for founding the above-mentioned website and non-profit foundation that seeks to expose corruption in Russian business and government. He has also run for office – in 2013 he received 27 percent of the vote in an election for mayor of Moscow, which is a much higher percentage than is usually received by politicians not affiliated with the dominant United Russia / Единая Россия party.

Navalny has also been the defendant in more than one criminal case. In late 2013 he was convicted of having embezzled funds from a state firm during his time as advisor to the governor of the Kirov region, and received a five-year prison term that was soon commuted to a probationary sentence. He is also currently under investigation for fraud committed against the Russian branch of the cosmetics firm Yves Rocher, and his brother Oleg is in prison for convictions related to this case. Most human rights organizations view these charges as unfounded and conclude that the criminal prosecutions of the Navalny family are part of an effort to suppress political dissent in Russia. As a convicted criminal, Navalny is now legally prohibited from running for office in Russia, but he continues to organize and speak at opposition political rallies. Although he is one of the most well-known and popular opposition figures, his support among opponents of Putin is of course not universal. He has been criticized for nationalist views.

Today’s video gives you a taste of Navalny’s persona and political convictions.

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Выступление Путина в ООН / Putin’s Speech at the UN

Visual content: Putin speaking to the UN General Assembly in New York
Audio content: Excerpts from Putin’s speech that illustrate some typical motifs of his foreign policy perspective

Video from Первый канал
28 сентября 2015

In late September 2015 Putin addressed the General Assembly of the UN at its 70th session–which coincides with the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, a milestone that has been extensively marked in Russia. Putin’s speech was timed to occur during evening prime time in Moscow. This speech is a great illustration of Putin’s international relations outlook on so many levels. As usual, Putin exhibits finely honed rhetorical skills. He has an excellent knack for placing himself on the moral high ground (in words at least) while taking advantage of every chance to criticize the Western powers, and particularly the US, for any failings or self-centered evils of their own foreign policy (and, in other contexts, of their domestic policy, political system etc.). No matter what policies Russia is pursuing, Putin makes his approach sound humane, reasonable and high-minded. Throughout his speech, Putin never mentions the United States explicitly, but he is very clearly refering to the United States at many points during his speech. Also note that Russia began bombing Syria shortly after this speech was given, so one role of the speech is to explain and justify Russia’s upcoming actions.

In the first segment excerpted below, Putin stands up for the important role of the UN as international mediator and criticizes those entities who act without prior UN approval (as the US sometimes does–but of course Russia also ignores international consensus in its actions in Crimea, Ukraine and Syria).

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