The Municipal Election in Moscow: Amateur Politicians Against Silence

The importance of the elections cannot be overstated. They testify to the underlying ferment in Russian society.

She is a twenty-one-year-old student at Lomonosov Moscow State University and is famous for hanging the plaster models of her breasts on the walls of six buildings, which are going to be demolished as a result of the controversial renovation program launched by the Moscow authorities. This is a part of her political campaign. Her name is Lucya Stein. Stein is one of the candidates in the municipal election taking place in the capital of Russia on September, 10th, 2017.

The renovation program was a continuation of the policy started under the previous administration of the Russian capital. The idea was to bring down all five-story apartment blocks built in the middle of the 20th century, and in return provide their tenants with brand-new apartments for free. The problem was that many of the buildings added to the demolition list were decent and expensive property in the center of Moscow, and people were not willing to be relocated to the suburbs. At the same time, the tenants of other buildings in disrepair who had been begging for new apartments for decades were ignored and excluded from the program.

Lucya is not ashamed of using her body for political goals. According to her public statements, her gesture refers to a well-known Russian idiom commonly used at the time of war that says that one is ready to sacrifice her life by putting herself in harm’s way. “Once a woman’s breast has already been a symbol of the revolution, depicted in Liberty Leading the People painting by Eugène Delacroix at the time of the 1830 French revolution. It is time to pull it out of pornographers’ hands and resurface it as a symbol of the protest,” Lucya told Afisha magazine in June.

“I have been interested in politics for awhile. I participated in the protests and wrote articles about them. Now I want to move from words to actions, and the municipal campaign is a great opportunity for me. At least, I have tried to solve the problems,” Lucya describes her campaign experience. “For instance, I have realized that anti-semitism still exists in Russia and I was the object of an attack. Surprisingly, I have gone through it much easier that I could have imagined.”

Municipal election campaigns on this level do not usually attract the attention of a wide audience, due to the predictability of the outcome. In the past, there was no significant resistance at the grassroot campaign level. The non-parliamentary opposition did not actively exercise campaign techniques, partially because of a scarcity of funding and human resources, partially because of limited access to major TV networks (which are still government-owned), and partially because of the general population’s disbelief in the victory of their candidates.

The situation changed after the mass street protests against electoral fraud in 2011-2013, which followed the presidential and parliamentary campaigns. It was the moment when people without professional political background decided to run for electoral offices. The only available option for them was municipal elections; unexpectedly, a number of candidates have won.

Vera Kichanova, a former journalist and political activist for the Libertarian Party, is one of those independent candidates who got the mandate. “I was elected in 2012. Three years later, I stepped down from the office and moved to Kiev. I was inspired by what had happened there at the Maidan Square. I started working with for the team of the Ukrainian reformers and took a fellowship at Oxford to study government management. Overall, I believe I also played a role in increasing the interest for participation in self-governing in Moscow. The more independent municipal deputies we have, the better it is. Now I would not run for the same office but I respect those who do it a lot.”

The present situation is of a similar nature, but the phenomenon of brand new names on the political stage is much broader.

Earlier this spring, Moscow scene was rich with mass street protests. Tired of abstract mottos about Putin resigning, the opposition movement switched to the other angles of the same conversation. This time, its leaders called for a fight against corruption at multiple government levels and against the controversial reconstruction program in Moscow.

Many observers criticized this new strategy, pronouncing the death of the protest movement, until they realized that the spring protests brought the next generation of activists to the streets. These new faces of the opposition were the young adults, some teenagers, who got arrested together with their more mature fellow citizens. Together they gave birth to the dying protest movement in Russia.

In spite of growing up in Putin’s Russia and force fed the traditional values of the regime, including radical patriotism, political conservatism, and intolerance for many minorities, these protesters do not blindly believe what they are being told, according to multiple opinion pieces in liberal media publications. Delighted by everything related to this age group starting from their slang and ending with their passion for rap battles, the writers have praised the cult of this generation.  

"They are very, very young. They are technology professionals, economists, well-educated students or recent college graduates. They are great admirers of quality and comfort living. They want to improve the environment around them and do not understand the concept of not sticking their necks out...  At the same time, they do not behave like pure idealists. I would say they are in this campaign, because they have never experienced the repercussions, but I hope they can also handle the difficulties well," says Tatiana Krasnova, a faculty member for the School of Journalism at Lomonosov Moscow State University, and a co-founder of the charity foundation Galchonok, which helps candidates with their public strategy.

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