Putin is afraid of any real opposition – just like he was afraid of Pussy Riot

Author: Nadya Tolokonnikova, The Guardian

He just conquered Crimea. He has proclaimed himself a unifier. But Vladimir Putin's meddling in elections is another sign that his power is not as unconditional as he would have you believe.


While Pussy Riot was sitting behind bars, dissenters worked wonders. Putin has every reason to be scared. Photograph: AK Rockefeller / Flickr via Creative Commons

After we were freed from prison, Masha Alekhina and I seriously discussed trying our hand as institutional politicians, and thought about running as regional candidates for the Moscow City Duma elections (which will be held on 14 September). But, having committed a "grave crime", we are barred from standing for election for 10 years by Russian law.

Late last month, Nikolai Lyaskin and Konstantine Yankauskas announced the launch of their candidacies for the Moscow City Duma. They are some of the strongest opposition candidates, and I've known them for years. They know how to put up a good fight.

But two days later, their homes were searched and authorities promptly charged the two men with fraud in connection to opposition leader Alexei Navalny's 2013 mayoral campaign. If convicted, the two may face up to 10 years in prison - but, until then, they can still be elected. Yankauskas, like Navalny, remains under house arrest and is denied communication with the outside world: he's not allowed any phone calls or even an internet connection. Lyaskin was released pending trial on the condition that he does not leave Russia.

Why would Putin - who just conquered Crimea, who proclaimed himself the unifier of the former land of Russia under the USSR, and who maintains (according to state opinion polls) the support of more than 80% of Russian citizens - be unable to tolerate a little trivial competition (a pair of independent opposition politicians) in even a local election? The answer is simple, and Lyaskin and Yankauskas know it: Putin is afraid of them, just like Putin was afraid of Pussy Riot.

The Moscow elections mean more to us than just any regional elections: they are the last chance in the foreseeable future to legally affect the national political agenda. The next federal elections (to the national Duma) are not until 2016, and without some opposition voice in the government - or barring a miracle - we will be doomed to the political monopoly of Putin and his friends.

Now, with less than 100 days before the Moscow City elections, the campaigns of the most powerful candidates have been undercut by criminal prosecutions. Lyaskin, however, says that the situation "just makes more work for us (and to reduce our efforts now will just not work)".

Lyaskin, Yankauskas and the third person involved in the case, Vladimir Ashurkov (who is considered to be at large), face charges that they stole $300,000 in online donations from Navalny supporters online during his 2013 mayoral election campaign. But neither Navalny nor the 16,000 people who donated to his campaign consider themselves victims.

Navalny, for his part, said, "[The authorities] decided to punish [Lyaskin, Yankauskas and Ashurkov] for what we all demonstrated together: that you can finance a large campaign, relying on the people, not the Kremlin oligarchs or black money." Investigating authorities are now questioning all of Navalny's donors - Are you aware of the political activity of Navalny? Did you participate in it, and if so, under what circumstances? - trying to find someone who considers himself a victim of this supposed scheme. But these people are not the victims.

There is something to Putin's fears. While Masha and I were sitting behind bars, these dissenters worked wonders. They flew a paraglider over the plush palaces of Russian officials - Putin's friends - outside the city, and uploaded the photos online. In a corrupt political system, their candidate Navalny nonetheless managed to take a third of the votes in the capital's mayoral election in the autumn of 2013. The efforts of Lyaskin and Yankauskas are even supported by donations from top managers and owners of leading Russian companies - and Ashurkov went into politics having held high positions in Russia's largest financial and industrial group Alpha-Group. These are not easily-silenced critics or marginalized people.

Still, Russia's recent foreign policy aggressions create higher risks for opposition forces domestically, and the background of domestic repression feeds back into the militant isolationist propaganda of the Russian media. Putin has referred to the Russian opposition forces as a "fifth column" of traitors; he's put forth the concept of a "Russian World" populated by citizens that "have a special genetic code"; and Sergey Kurginyan, Putin's political scientist and TV host on the nation's main channel, already announced the start of "World War IV", with the Ukraine and the West on the one side, and Russia on the other.

But Putin's power is not as unconditional as he wants it to appear to us - or to you. On 6 May, the day before Putin's latest inauguration, over 100,000 people took part in a demonstration while chanting "For Russia without Putin!" Today, 31 people who took part in that demonstration are currently subject to prosecution - and three new people have just been added to the case. Among the newly charged is a young woman named Pauline Strongina, who is accused of "participation in mass disorders" because of a video that shows her throwing a plastic bottle. Under Russian law, a "mass disorder" is defined as "violence, pogroms, arson, destruction of property, the use of weapons, and/or explosive devices". She faces three to eight years in prison - all for supposedly throwing a plastic bottle.

What do these charges have in common? Someone allegedly stole money from a person who does not claim to be a victim of theft. Someone is said to have thrown a plastic bottle and participated in a "mass disorder". Someone else is charged because they threw a lemon. Someone else, like us, sang a song. Those charged don't necessarily seem like they have that much in common, except that they all want the same thing: Putin out of office.

When the authorities have to crack down so hard for such small violations, it is hard to escape the conclusion that someone in our country is very much afraid. And the opposition knows that we are not the ones who have anything to fear from a protest.

Nadya Tolokonnikova, The Guardian

Источник: https://censor.net.ua/en/r290605