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‘Farewell, United Russia’ Nominal opposition parties join forces to take on Russia’s ruling party in the town of Shuya

Source: Meduza

At the beginning of August, a billboard with the words “Farewell, United Russia” went up in the town of Shuya in the Ivanovo Region (population: 57,000). It was accompanied by two other billboards, with the slogans “United Russia, get out of town” and “Shuya has a future, United Russia does not!” 

A billboard with the slogan “Farewell, United Russia.” Shuya, Ivanovo Region. August 29, 2020.

These messages targeting Russia’s ruling party are part of the “Shuya 2020” campaign, which includes representatives from three nominal opposition parties: A Just Russia, the Communist Party (KPRF), and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR). The billboards didn’t last long — unknown individuals tore them down quickly. But that doesn’t change the fact that this coalition made up of both independent and party candidates has managed to nominate its representatives for 9 of the 11 single-mandate constituencies in the upcoming city council elections, which will take place on Russia’s unified voting day, September 13. What’s more, the different party members refrained from criticizing one and other when electing representatives for the coalition’s ticket. There are even a few high-profile figures among the coalition’s candidates, such as the city council’s Deputy Chairman, Dmitry Posylin — a former United Russia member, nominated by the KPRF, — and independent Sergey Zhubarkin, who was previously the head of the Ivanovo District (until he was dismissed and convicted of abuse of power). 

“We’ve had enough of fighting among ourselves in the districts! United Russia stands off to the side and applauds this spectacle. As a result, their candidates drive into the City Duma on a green light,” said the head of the Communist Party’s municipal committee, Alexey Chesnokov, when explaining the idea behind establishing the coalition to Meduza. Dmitry Mastrakov, the coordinator for the LDPR’s local branch, confirms this sentiment: “Life made us adapt this way.”

According to regional deputy Sergey Shestukhin, the head of A Just Russia’s regional branch, the different party members have united “not for, but against.” The opposition’s complaints about the municipal authorities in Shuya are standard: their patronage of friendly businessmen and unwillingness to enter into dialogue with current deputies who aren’t from United Russia. 

“We have practically no businesses left in the region, most of those [entrepreneurs] who are working get government contracts, municipal contracts, in one way or another,” Shestukhin explains.

“All right, our own would have gotten [contracts] too, but they would’ve done the work,” says the LDPR’s Mastrakov with a sigh. “The city has mountains of branches left over from pruning the trees — they’re supposed to be removed, but no one removes [them].” Mastrakov, who’s running for city council, is an entrepreneur himself: his business services gas equipment. “But it’s gotten to the point where the majority [of people] are leaving to work in other regions, here we don’t shake hands because of the opposition,” he says. 

Mastrakov believes that Shuya’s mayor, Natalya Koryagina, the leader of United Russia’s ticket, is maintaining a “flawed policy.” “This [the coalition] is thanks to her in many ways. She managed to unite the ununified. At the festivals they attacked our activists, who were giving out gifts. The city is seething, boiling, it’s on the verge of an explosion, but the regional leadership is still keeping its distance,” Mastrakov says, resentfully. 

A billboard with the slogan “United Russia, get out of town.” Shuya, Ivanovo Region. August 31, 2020.

In turn, Shuya’s administration told Meduza that the LDPR’s activists were asked to leave because they had brought flags “to a city festival, an event that’s not political.” “More has been done in Shuya in the last two years than in the previous 10–15 years, there’s never been such active participation in regional and federal programs,” the city administration added. The administration promised to comment on the opposition’s accusations about the poor quality of city maintenance, but at the time of publication they had yet to respond.

Sergey Shestukhin, from A Just Russia, explains that the coalition’s nominees have become the strongest candidates in their districts. In two of the 11 constituencies, there were no clear favorites among the systemic opposition, so the parties were competing against each other in those districts. “With candidates it’s difficult in general — people don’t believe that they can change anything, that they can get into power. Even United Russia has problems with candidates,” Shestukhin laments.

Party members say that they aren’t facing any pressure from their respective federal or regional leaderships over dividing up the districts. Although Alexey Chesnokov clarifies that the KPRF’s regional committee issued a statement denying the coalition’s existence. “The bureau of the KRPF’s Ivanovo regional committee declares that the party’s main goal is to change the existing socio-economic system, in the interests of the working people, and to return Russia to the path of socialism. But a number of individuals who call themselves a coalition are only in favor of changing the ‘players’ in a capitalist ‘theater of the absurd.’ Their path leads to the replacement of one oligarchic group with another, without solving the problems of the working people,” the statement says. 

Chesnokov shrugs in response: “How can there be no coalition? There is one and it will be for solving the townspeople's problems.”

Shuya has already seen the launch of a campaign against the opposition coalition — there’s newspapers and posters featuring portraits of the candidates with the words “Shuya has no future with us!” “We aren’t fighting this, the police don’t seem to notice the posters. Well, leave them up, at least the people will have some fun,” Chesnokov says.

The coalition’s members are worried about election fraud, especially since voting will be spread out over three days (September 11–13). “It’s very expensive to organize monitoring,” Mastrakov mentions. Sergey Shestukhin has other worries: “Now [voters] often say: ‘And what will you change in the elections? Only the street can make a difference.”

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Story by Andrey Pertsev

Translation by Eilish Hart

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