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The Real Russia. Today. After troll factories, testing ‘Smart Vote,’ and the worst music video ever

Source: Meduza

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

This day in history: 35 years ago, on September 10, 1984, challenger Garry Kasparov took on defending champion Anatoly Karpov in Moscow in the World Chess Championship. The match was abandoned after five months and 48 games, and replayed the next year, when Kasparov won.
  • How the Moscow government diversified its online election interference strategies this summer
  • Politicians and political analysts disagree about the impact of a new strategic voting campaign in Russia
  • A pro-government tune by two rappers is now the most hated Russian music video ever shared on YouTube
  • Here are the prisoners Moscow and Kyiv traded over the weekend
  • Opinion: Denis Volkov weighs the results of Moscow's summer protests, and Alexander Rylkin says ‘Smart Vote’ is a nightmare
  • News briefs: an award, a missing list, and clashes

Troll factories? So 2016. 👾

Shortly before Sunday’s elections to the Moscow City Duma, a mass of Russian-language news sites and social media accounts began posting about what they called “Lanovoy’s list.” The outlets all claimed that Vasily Lanovoy, a popular award-winning actor, had compiled a list of the candidates he believed should be elected to the City Duma in every precinct. The idea of such a list was not new: After opposition candidates were blocked en masse from running for the Moscow City Duma, liberal activists led by Alexey Navalny began promoting a “Smart Vote” campaign, which recommended candidates in Moscow’s precincts who were allowed to run but who are not favored by the city’s current regime. Lanovoy’s list was clearly a pro-regime alternative to the Smart Vote strategy, but there was a catch: Vasily Lanovoy soon announced that he hadn’t created the list at all. Meduza discovered that the websites and social media pages that had posted the fake list were all controlled by companies with close ties to Moscow City Hall. Our investigative division followed those ties into a rabbit hole of online state propaganda that makes troll factories look like old news.

Read about innovations in fake news here.

Navalny’s ‘Smart Vote’ for the win? 🗳️

Following elections on September 8, nearly half of the Moscow City Duma — 20 of 45 seats — now belong to members of the “systemic opposition” (registered parties and candidates that ostensibly oppose the ruling party, United Russia). Before the elections, anti-corruption, “non-systemic” oppositionist Alexey Navalny launched a special initiative called “Smart Vote,” designed to rally support for the registered candidates in each precinct with the best chance of defeating United Russia’s picks. With the results in hand, Navalny calls his experiment in “strategic voting” a “fantastic victory,” and he promises to use Smart Vote again in future elections. The candidates who actually won Sunday’s races, however, say it’s difficult to gauge the real impact of Navalny’s initiative.

Check out some of the differing opinions about this project here.

Just an awful song 👎

A new song by the rappers “Timati” (Timur Yunusov) and “Guf” (Alexey Dolmatov), where the two performers praise Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin, has become the most-disliked video ever shared on Russian-language YouTube. The song was released on September 7, two days before Russia’s capital held hotly-contested City Duma elections. At the time of this writing, the music video has more than 1 million dislikes and just 62,000 likes, with more than 3.1 million views.

Read about the song here before all copies disappear from YouTube.

The lucky few dozen 🕊️

On September 7, Russia and Ukraine each traded 35 prisoners. Two planes simultaneously landed in Moscow and Kyiv, freeing dozens of criminal suspects and convicts, among whom were Crimea filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and Russian state journalist Kirill Vyshinsky. Meduza runs down the list of exchanged prisoners.

Gaze upon the names here.

Opinion and analysis

Volkov: The summer movement is ending, but civil society keeps evolving

In an article for the newspaper Vedomosti (which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary), sociologist Denis Volkov summarizes the results of Moscow’s summer of protests, drawing on polling and focus-group studies. Volkov says recent events in the capital have “left their mark on Russian society’s attitude about the government,” and catapulted some new politicians (like Ilya Yashin and Lyubov Sobol) to the national stage. 

Volkov identifies three familiar factors in “polarized attitudes” about the protests that emerged in his sociological work: age, Internet versus television consumption, and respondent’s pre-existing opinions about the authorities. There is also polarization between major cities and more rural areas, he notes, but the strongest divides are actually within cities. However you slice it, these disagreeing groups will likely have diverging views on future political events, as well.

Focus-group studies revealed that violence against demonstrators further contributed to society’s perception (particularly among young people) of alienation from the authorities, Volkov says, and the crackdown on figures like Yashin and Sobol elicited sympathy and boosted their prominence.

Moscow’s summer protests also highlighted Russian civil society's “ever-growing infrastructure,” and showed how much has changed in the past seven years, during the heyday of the “Bolotnaya Square” movement. Even before this summer’s election protests, independent candidates mounted effective campaigns, built relationships with media outlets, and mobilized thousands of supporters using the Internet. Activists also managed impressive support campaigns for political prisoners like Meduza journalist Ivan Golunov and “Moscow Case” suspect Egor Zhukov. The protests themselves, Volkov says, were more visible and accessible than any demonstrations in Russia a decade ago.

Volkov says the movement is waning now, however, and not just because the elections are over: Supporters have grown disillusioned with the effectiveness of demonstrations. In focus groups, respondents express a lack of faith that any action they can perform — whether it’s voting, protesting, or donating — will improve anything. Many people nevertheless recognize a need to “push back against despotism” and exercise their civil rights, which Volkov says is evidence that Russian civil society will continue to learn “different tools” to protect its rights, and “civil structures” will keep developing and multiplying.

🗳️ Rylkin: Navalny blew it

In a new article for Republic, Alexander Rylkin, the editor-in-chief of EJ.ru, slams the “Smart Vote” initiative as a missed opportunity for Alexey Navalny’s capacity to mobilize voters. What does Rylkin wish Navalny had done instead? He endorses a good, old-fashioned election boycott, paired with a monitoring campaign to verify diminished voter turnout. Rylkin is confident that this could have “halved” overall turnout on Sunday, reducing it in central precincts to “within the statistical-error parameters.”

Rylkin dislikes Smart Vote because he says the opposition got little in return for paying a “monstrous price” in the form of jail time, prison sentences, and a police crackdown on demonstrators. By endorsing “surrogate oppositionists” (a mix of unreliable Communists and “Yabloko” candidates whose gains came at the expense of rejected independent candidates), Navalny arguably deprived the opposition of the chance to reject Sunday’s election results (though Rylkin never explains why this would be useful).

Going forward, Rylkin says the opposition’s only real resource, if it has any collective strength left at all, is street protests. Demonstrators should assemble in the thousands outside courtrooms, as “Moscow Case” defendants appeal their prison sentences. Intellectual that he is, Rylkin also says the opposition should try to engage “professionals” in culture and science who want to “distance themselves from the authorities.” He recommends establishing “principles of civil disregard” that he says could grow into bonafide civil disobedience. The opposition itself, Rylkin insists, needs a new code of ethics for interacting with the Kremlin. Specifically, he says the government’s opponents should refuse to participate in elections according to the official rules.

News briefs

Yours, Meduza