Нарушения на выборах / Voting Irregularities

young woman confronts police officer

Audio Content: In Moscow, voters and polling site observers describe some of the odd large-group voting activity they are seeing in their precincts.
Video Content: Interior of two different Moscow voting sites.

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

Here’s a second post on the elections topic! See the previous post for information on the general results of the September parliamentary elections. This post focuses on some of the irregularities observed during the voting. The general consensus seems to be that this voting day had fewer irregularities than in 2011. Nevertheless, some apparent voting fraud was observed, and in any case there are numerous ways to influence elections well before voting actually occurs. The major Russian TV channels are more or less state-controlled and opposition parties do not get media exposure, public demonstrations require prior government approval, opposition candidates and parties are charged with crimes or administrative violations, etc. Meanwhile, a few types of voting-day fraud are well known enough to have acquired common nicknames. The most straightforward and egregious method is “вбросы,” simple ballot-box stuffing. One alarming instance of this in the city of Rostov was caught on video and widely circulated on the internet. Results for this precinct were subsequently annulled. Another method is the “карусель” or “merry-go-round.” In this procedure, voters (who for one reason or another — money, employment status — are under the control of the entity organizing the fraud) are given an already filled-out ballot. They go into the polling place and are given the same empty ballot as all voters. They then put the pre-provided ballot into the voting machine and upon exit give the empty ballot to the organizers of the fraud, who thereby confirm that the individual acted as instructed.

The potential voting irregularity featured in this post is related to a sort of absentee voting. Voters in Russia are able to vote at a site other than their home precinct if they provide a legal document called an “открепительное удостоверение” (loosely, a “detaching attestation”).

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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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Молоко, сыр и красивые телёночки / Milk, Cheese and Cute Baby Calves

Lev, calf, Russian dairy farm

Audio content: Dairy farmers and cheese producers showing off their very impressive operations
Video content: Interesting images of the countryside near Voronezh, large-scale Russian agriculture, dairy cattle, grain fields, milking systems, cheese factories

The video doesn’t allow embedding. Follow the link to watch the video at tvrain.com (no subscription needed)

With oil and other raw material prices weak, TV Rain decided to do a series on components of the Russian economy that are not based on the extraction of natural resources. They found some particularly interesting developments in the agricultural sector. The half-hour segment at the above link explores an impressive dairy cattle and cheese operation called Молвест (Molvest). The company’s operations are centered around the city of Voronezh, several hundred kilometers south of Moscow. Until recently, Molvest was only engaged in dairy processing: they purchased the milk itself from independent suppliers and turned it into finished products. But in 2012, faced with an ongoing milk deficit and unstable prices, the company decided to take a big leap into farming and become fully “vertically integrated.” From that point on, the company would raise the dairy cattle themselves, grow the feed for the cattle themselves, milk the cows themselves, and then turn the milk into cheese and yogurt at their existing processing plants. The result is the enormous and very up-to-date operation you’ll see in the video. Molvest’s decision turned out to be particularly fortuitous in the wake of the sanctions and counter-sanctions that appeared after the Russian annexation of Crimea. Sanctions currently limit the import of cheese into Russia, so there is increased demand for good domestic cheese. But the infrastructure you’ll see in the video is not cheap. The company leaders complain that they have to compete with low-priced products labeled as “cheese” but actually produced using vegetable oils.

The transcript below covers two segments. In the first, we visit the barn that houses newborn calves. When Molvest first entered the dairy cattle industry in 2012, the company imported a special breed from France that produces milk with protein and fat levels that are ideal for cheese production. The animals were very expensive and Molvest aspired to raise the cattle for themselves as soon as possible. They seem to have succeeded — you’ll see that many native Russian cows are being born every day on their farms. In the second featured segment, the TV Rain journalist visits the site where cows are milked by means of a fast and space-efficient system known as a “carousel.” The dairy cows walk into a stall on a moving carousel, and by the time they’ve traveled the whole circle the milking is done.

Language notes: You’ll see a couple words more than once. “Малыш” = “baby, little one.” “Корм” = “feed” (for animals) — recall the verb “кормить” = “to feed.” And a young cow, i.e a calf, is a “телёнок.” This is already a diminutive form, but if you want to make it even more diminutive-affectionate you can say “телёночек,” a form you’ll see in the transcript. Also, words for animal young tend to have atypical plural forms ending in -ата; “calves” is “телята.”

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Москвичи об экономическом кризисе / Muscovians on the Economic Crisis

Audio content: People in Moscow describing how how the economic crisis has affected them
Visual content: Various Russian citizens on the streets of Moscow

Through most of the 2000s the dollar-to-ruble exchange rate hovered around 30 rubles per dollar. Today the rate is 65 rubles to the dollar — which at least is an improvement on the high of 82 rubles attained in January 2016. The drastic devaluation of the ruble is one of the most visible aspects of Russia’s current “economic crisis,” the result of a combination of factors including the sanctions imposed on Russia after the annexation of Crimea and the worldwide drop in the price of oil. Of course, some are affected by the crisis more than others — see my earlier post on those who made the unfortunate decision to acquire mortgages denominated in dollars. Overall, life goes on. Goods imported from abroad, including raw materials and supplies that Russian businesses need, are now much more expensive, which hurts employment. In response, the government has been encouraging local industry to develop domestically produced replacements for foreign products – a phenomenon referred to with the neologism “импортозамещение” (“import replacement”). The ever-adaptable Телеканал Дождь (TV Rain) launched a new travel series called Ездим дома (“let’s travel at home”), encouraging its listeners to make the best of the fact that trips abroad are now much more expensive than they used to be. At least Russia itself offers an incredible expanse for exploration! The government seems to have avoided drastic cuts to the budget so far. In fact, from the domestic perspective, the devaluation of the ruble partially balances out the drop in oil prices, since the price of a barrel of oil is denominated in dollars, which can now be exchanged for many more rubles than previously. You’ll see many of these themes reflected in the video above, in which people respond to a question about how the crisis has hurt them. Some are quite concerned while others view the situation in a light-hearted way. Certainly, Russia’s tumultuous recent history has given citizens plenty of practice at adapting to the latest turns of fate.

The key part of the video is embedded above. The entire program is here (access for Дождь subscribers only).

 

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RUSSIAN TRANSCRIPT

The video, of course, has subtitles, but the transcript below includes more of the conversational particles that the speakers use.

Вопрос: Что для вас самое болезненное в текущем кризисе?

Девушка: Кошелёк чувствует.

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Немцов мост / A Bridge for Boris Nemtsov

2016Mar_Nemtsov

Audio content: Moscow residents describing what motivates them to watch over the memorial at the site where Boris Nemtsov was murdered.
Visual content: Images of the bridge memorial and of the procession on the one-year anniversary of Nemtsov’s death.

Main videos at TV Rain (interviews with the guardians of the memorial)
Additional video at TV Rain (anniversary procession)

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On the evening of February 27, 2015, the Russian politician and activist Boris Nemtsov was shot to death as he was crossing the Большой Москворецкий Мост (Large “Moscow River” Bridge), located right next to the Moscow Kremlin. Nemtsov was a charismatic figure known for his commitment to freedom in both the political and personal realms. He remained consistent in his political beliefs (classically liberal, pro-democracy and pro-free market), regardless of whether those beliefs brought him a high post in the federal government or temporarily landed him in a jail cell. Nemtsov rose to positions of political responsibility at a relatively young age. In the mid-1990s, he was governor of the Nizhny Novgorod Oblast; by the late 1990s he was a Deputy Prime Minister of Russia and then a leading figure in the Duma as a member of the free-market-oriented party Союз правых сил (Union of Right Forces).

After Putin came to power in 2000,  Nemtsov’s party gradually lost its standing, as was the case for most factions not affiliated with Putin’s Единая Россия (United Russia) party. Nemtsov had briefly voiced support for Putin’s presidential candidacy in 2000, but from the mid-2000s became one of Putin’s most outspoken critics. In 2008 he co-founded the pro-democracy movement Солидарность (Solidarity) and in 2012 joined the opposition party РПР-Парнас (RPR-Parnas). Working with allies in these movements, Nemtsov published a series of reports sharply criticizing Putin’s leadership, such as “Путин. Итоги. 10 лет” (“Summing Up Putin: 10 years”) (2010) and “Путин. Коррупция” (Putin – Corruption”) (2011). During this period he also participated in numerous anti-regime street protests and was occasionally detained by the police. Another controversial stance in the later part of his life was his support for the Western Europe-oriented factions in Ukraine; as a result, he criticized Russia’s annexation of Crimea and at the time of his death was working on an investigative report gathering evidence of Russia’s involvement in the war in eastern Ukraine.

All of this meant that Nemtsov had many political enemies at the time of his death.

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День защитника отечества / Defender of the Fatherland Day

Russian language practice from the contemporary Russian media / wreath on Defender of the Fatherland Day

Audio content: People expressing thoughts both patriotic and provocative on the occasion of Defending the Fatherland Day
Visual content: Images of Russian military pomp, political leaders from multiple parties and political regalia

In a week or two I’ll do a post featuring the remarkable marches in honor of Boris Nemtsov that happened last weekend. I’ve found lots of great video on that topic but need a chance to sort through it. Meanwhile, today’s post offers a multifaceted look at the Russian national holiday that was celebrated a week ago. On February 23rd every year Russians observe День защитника отечества / Defender of the Fatherland Day, which is the post-Soviet heir to holidays celebrating the Red Army. The holiday honors all who have served in Russia’s armed forces, but the day is also popularly viewed as a celebration of men in general, as it comes just a couple weeks before Международный женский день / International Women’s Day, marked on March 8th.

On this year’s Defender of the Fatherland Day, a number of interesting intersecting political currents were on display. Not all of them are apparent in this post’s videos, but they provide an interesting backdrop to what you’ll see here. The official state-supported celebration included parades, fireworks, the placing of a wreath on the tomb of the unknown soldier, public exhibits of military technology and family events meant to encourage national pride and promote interest in military service. But several notable non-officially-sanctioned events occurred on this day as well. Ilya Yashin, one of the leaders of the opposition party РПР-Парнас (which currently has no representation in the Duma), chose this day to present a report on Ramzan Kadyrov. Kadyrov is the leader of the Chechen republic, an ally of Putin and an outspoken, aggressive enemy of opposition political movements. With the report, titled “Угроза национальной безопасности” / “A Threat to National Security,” Yashin accuses Kadyrov of cultivating a cult of personality, fostering rampant corruption and developing a local security force that operates without federal oversight. Yashin’s presentation at party headquarters was interrupted by bomb threats and the building was vandalized with bright paint.

Kadyrov, meanwhile, also made some notable statements on February 23rd.

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