The editors at Yezhednevny Zhurnal sat down with some of the freshly-elected representatives to the Russian opposition’s new Coordination Council to ask what they thought about the election results, the Council’s initial tasks, and what difficulties they might have to face. Theotherrussia.org will bring you several of these responses over the next several days, so stay tuned for more.
We managed to hold the election, despite extremely unfavorable external conditions. The Democracy-2 system, which Yekaterinburg programmers, led by Leonid Volkov, released this past year, proved its efficacy. There were some conflicts, of course, but on the whole the election was free and fair, because all of the decisions by the Central Electoral Committee were completely open. This stands in direct contrast to [Federal Central Electoral Commission Chairman Vladimir] Churov’s elections – it’s totally clear how and why various decisions were made. Of course, someone might want to challenge them if they don’t like them, but the entire procedure was fully transparent.
The fact that hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens went through the verification process in the online voting system (which involves agreeing to enter their passport and phone numbers) shows a growth of protest sentiment and of people’s desire to participate more actively in shaping the protest agenda. You could say that the result of this campaign, albeit a short (but still striking) one, is the emergence of a totally legitimate opposition body. The number of people who took part in this transparent process created a body that has legitimacy to speak in the name of the entire protest movement.
The obvious difficulty that the Opposition Council is going to face is that it consists of very different people with different ideologies, and that it will have, let’s say, many political newcomers. I, along with several of my colleagues – Andrei Illarionov, Andrei Piontkovsky, Boris Nemtsov, and especially the others who were also in the Other Russia movement and the National Assembly – have experience in this type of cooperation. But such people are now a minority in the Coordination Council – that’s an objective fact. It’s very important that the Council is able to overcome these dangerous problems and form a constructive agenda.
From my point of view, the most important task, besides writing regulations and organizing normal functioning for the Coordination Council, is to build up our electoral base – not just the people who vote, but and who participate in the entire process; people who want to follow the Council’s work continuously, to make remarks and proposals. They should have that opportunity. This is what we’d like to build and call the Free Russia Forum. All of these people are registered, and they should be as full participants of this process as the members of the Coordination Council are. In my opinion, the Council should hold referendums on important issues as often as possible. Tens of thousands of people, if they want, should have the opportunity to vote on some type of key issue. In the same vein, the next issue is expanding the Council beyond the Garden Ring. Of course, we do already have quite a wide regional base – only 35% of those who voted in the Council election were Muscovites, just more than a third. But it’s very important that activeness increases, so that people in the regions, where there are many potential voters, create their own coordination councils, meaning that they build up a local infrastructure.
It seems to me that the most important thing right now is to establish a system to provide people with information. In Khimki, I was confronted with the fact that the propaganda that currently flows from Channel One, NTV, and local television is effective, and has an absolutely corrosive effect on people. Our task is to make it so that they know the truth. We absolutely need to support local media in places where we plan to participate in municipal elections.
It seems to me that, because [the local media] had been destroyed in Khimki, we had low turnout, people were disappointed in everything and didn’t believe that it’d be possible to change anything. We need our own media system, since we need to be able to have an impact on people. In places where you can impact people, everything else is possible: defending human rights, defending nature, defending the rights of prisoners. If the citizens trust us, if we can get through to their hearts and minds, then we won’t have a problem calling them, for example, to come to a picket in defense of prisoners or a rally in defense of a forest.
The biggest difficulty of our time is to remain free. But whether or not it’ll be possible to negotiate is going to depend on external factors – the harder they push, they easier it’ll be to negotiate. The way things are going now, we will have a wonderful time negotiating!
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