Muscovites managed to admire one of the largest and most expensive fireworks displays in recent years on Saturday evening. Crowds of people flock to squares and parks this weekend to celebrate the 875th anniversary of the Russian capital. President Putin inaugurated a new Ferris wheel with the push of a button, which is said to be the highest in Europe, but technical problems soon put off the ceremonial opening.
All this coincides with dramatic developments on the front in Ukraine. The hasty withdrawal of Russian troops in the Kharkiv province was described in official data as a “regroupment”. Reality is slowly seeping through the Russian media and seems to elude most Muscovites of partying.
“The authorities in Moscow are doing everything they can to prevent people from seeing that we are in such a catastrophic situation,” said Alexander Zamyatin, himself a council member and coordinator of about 120 independent and decisive candidates for Moscow district councils. There is little publicity on the streets here, they do their best not to burden Muscovites with it. All is well, the message, there are parks and festivals. and elections.
Since Friday, voters in Moscow have been able to vote in the first local council elections since 2017. And a frosty election campaign went almost unnoticed in Moscow. Only in the past week has leaflets appeared in mailboxes and on information boards on balconies. Polls show that many people don’t even know they can go to the polls these days. Enthusiasm is traditionally low, in 2017 participation was about 15 percent.
More than 1,400 seats are available. But while district elections usually focus on local issues, they also provide a rare opportunity to criticize Kremlin policy. Otherwise, this is not possible. Street protests have been crushed and anyone who publicly criticizes Russia’s actions in Ukraine faces criminal charges of “defaming” the Russian military or spreading “fake news”.
So the opposition Jabloko party campaigned in Moscow under the unmistakable slogan “For peace and freedom.” Some party candidates argue that in the current situation it is impossible to ignore the conflict in Ukraine and all that is going on around it and instead talk only about domestic problems.
“The opposition is divided,” Zemgatin says, and he himself is banned from participating in the elections for posting a message on Facebook in 2020. This message came from the organization of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is now an “extremist.” Some believe that elections are useless in wartime. But elections are now the only political activity through which people can express their opposition to this dictatorship. This is difficult, this is a very unusual election, because of the atmosphere and the lack of candidates. But there are still many people who have found the courage to run.’
Like Denis Zheleznyakov, a young social studies teacher and candidate in the Zhuzhino district. “I felt I had to do something, I’ve always been against passivity. I have a lot of friends who say, why are you doing this, it’s dangerous. Yes, this is dangerous, but it’s also our responsibility. Zeleznyakov is one of hundreds of independent candidates competing in Moscow.” Against candidates from the current power, who sometimes openly participate under the banner of the United Russian Kremlin, but often give the impression that they are operating independently.
Traditionally, United Russia was not very popular in the capital. “In the neighborhoods where I lived previously, it was impossible even for a candidate from the current power to win,” Zeleznyakov says. This provides the opportunity to effect change in the norm. We want to change the political situation in Russia, starting with the neighborhoods, then in the city and so on.
The battle for council benches sometimes takes strange forms. Slides showing a colorful brochure that resembles the brochure of independent candidates in his or her own district. But sometimes it goes further, as candidates share the same first and last name as their competitors, and sometimes they have a striking similarity in appearance. Anything that escapes the eyes of the electorate. This sounds like a gurgling in the margins, because opposition candidates see the greatest danger in tampering with electronically cast votes. This percentage is already much higher than in previous years.
However, that shouldn’t stop critical-minded voters from casting their ballots, says Gabluko Council member Maxim Kruglov at a book presentation in Moscow. Because even if there were many frauds, those in power could still see the true picture. They will know how the people actually voted. We can send a signal to the authorities that a significant part of Muscovites and Russians do not share their policies. It depends on us.
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