Days before Russians go to the polls to choose a new parliament, Global Voices blogger Alexey Sidorenko reports on a remarkable example of push-back against the “official” way of electioneering – and increasing pressure from the political center on a group intent on documenting election violations.
The Golos election monitoring group, which created an interactive map of election irregularities, has in the past week been accused by the government-owned Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper of being “an agent of U.S. foreign policy,” according to Sidorenko. It has also seen three members of the State Duma call for its closure, had a banner for its elections map removed from the website of its media partner, the daily Gazeta.ru, and even faced a break-in of its offices by journalists from NTV, the Gazprom-owned national network.
Sidorenko is especially interested in the anxiety that Golos seems to have provoked and in the ways that new media and technology helped it respond to the attacks. Grigoriy Melkonyants, Golos’ deputy director, recorded the journalists’ break-in and, Sidorenko writes, “used the Internet-born technique of trolling (repeating the same slogan continuously and almost zombie-like to confuse one’s opponent) saying, ‘You’re Surkov’s propaganda,’ ” referring to Vladislav Surkov, a presidential political aide.
At Gazeta.ru, the removal of the map’s banner prompted the resignation of an editor, and the banner was picked up by a blogging platform that Sidorenko says gets about 1 million unique visitors monthly. As for the letter from the Duma members, it was disavowed, via twitter, by a leader of one of the signatories’ parties, A Just Russia.
“Without trolling, Grigoriy Melkonyants would not have been able to confuse the experienced accusatory journalist from NTV,” Sidorenko writes. “Without social networks, political party A Just Russia wouldn’t have been able to denounce Belyakov’s actions in calling to close Golos as fast as it did.
“Finally, none of these events would actually have happened if Golos and Gazeta.ru had not united in producing the Violation Map. Golos has had an election violation database since 2008, but it never was as influential as it is now.”