If you’ve never been a political activist in a democracy, here’s how it works. The parties and independent candidates compete for votes, which are all counted by civil servants or non political volunteers. Both the polling stations and the count is observed by all the candidates and their supporters, so that everyone can see that it is fair. When these candidates declare a vote or a count unfair, democracy has broken down.
Regular readers will know that I always call David Cameron’s party the thieving Tory bastards because that is the most accurate phrase I have in my vocabulary to describe them. However, the one time I have been inside the counting room I treated them with the utmost civility because suddenly we were united in supervising democracy in action. A higher duty kicked in. Without this cooperation and transparency, competing political factions are no longer engaged in civil society. They are left to fight each other by other means. British democracy may be a crippled beast but it is a democracy nonetheless and must be protected.
Russian democracy appears to be a wounded animal. Whether the injury is fatal, only time will tell. On 4th December 2011, Russians voted in elections to their national parliament, called the Duma. Immediately that the count finished opposition parties and numerous other people declared the count unfair. The main complaint was that ballot boxes were stuffed with fake votes for the ruling United Russia party. For the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, election results are in full dispute.
2011 has turned out to be a momentous year for democracy. The Arab Spring has seen popular revolutions against various dictatorships. In the Western Autumn, most democratic nations have been surprised to see a fledgling movement calling for economic democracy. Now Putin, the leader of United Russia, finds himself in the Russian Winter. This weekend is likely to be critical, with calls for people to hit the streets. For the first time in decades, this struggle has drawn in young Russians. Hitherto they have been disinterested in politics. As with elsewhere, they are using the internet to organise themselves. Yevgenia Chirikova, an opposition leader, said “Putin has no other choice than to hold on to power, shoot himself or sit in jail. The system he has built is so corrupted, and there have been so many crimes, that there is no other path. He will fight for his power.”
I went to Russia in 1984. The fear and distrust of foreigners was evident. Virtually no-one would even look at us. Some young punks did approach my Mum and I in an empty park. They said hello, smiled awkwardly and constantly checked the wide open space all around us. After a few minutes without a common tongue to converse in, they moved off. When they were just a few yards away, they ran, lest they be seen talking to foreigners. It was probably a wise decision; my parents had been to Russia previously, met a dissident family and brought them correspondence which would otherwise have been censored.
Dmitry Finikov volunteered as an election observer on 4th December. His outrage at the ballot stuffing prompted him to record exactly what he saw and upload his account to LiveJournal. I read excerpts of what he had to say but found myself wondering what he actually said. Despite having no grasp of Russian, I managed to locate his original account, which had by yesterday been read 150,000 times. Update: 12th December 2011 – originally I posted a rough translation from Google but soon afterwards an activist contacted me with a proper translation, which is what now appears below.
Dmitry Finikov’s report
After the nightmare was over, being more than a day without sleep, I had only one thought pulsing through my head: “this is fucked!”. Now I will tell you everything step by step. Maybe it’s a bit too much detail to describe it all, but I
want you to live this day with me.
About a month before the elections to Duma in 2011, I came across an ad on the Internet from the “Yabloko” party which offered “to take a part in monitoring the elections”. Out of curiosity I filled the form and soon got an invitation to a training seminar where I was given a lot of useful information and was told what was going on at the elections in Russia during the period of Putin’s leadership. During the training session, I was not sure that I really wanted to spend a Sunday afternoon at a voting site doing essentially unskilled and difficult physical work. However, after listening to what they said about the horrors that go on during the elections, although not fully trusting them, I decided to devote one day to this interesting and rewarding event – to control the most important institution of democracy – the election of deputies to the State Duma (Legislative Assembly of the Russian Federation).
As I’ve grown accustomed to thoroughness, I went twice to the same training session, each involving two hours of intensive information pumping. A woman leading the seminar (she looked like Helen Hunt, and I called her this to
myself) told about past cases which made my hairs stand. Of course, I took her words cautiously, fully believing that she was trying to scare us and probably exaggerating the negatives. I must say that I am neither a member of the Yabloko party, nor an active supporter of Grigory Yavlinsky himself (the leader of the party) and even originally tended to ignore the elections. This Yabloko video shows the direction and the atmosphere of the training:
At the second training seminar, we were joined by Yavlinsky. He actively communicated to the future observers and answered questions. I asked one question, in two parts: 1) Did he have a prior agreement with Prime Minister Putin and First Deputy Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov on the possible activities of the Yabloko party in Duma? 2) If Putin wins the presidential election in March and will propose Medvedev’s candidacy as prime minister, will Yabloko support him or not? On both questions I received a convincing and strongly negative response and at this time decided to vote for Yabloko. I also liked how Yavlinsky spoke of Alexei Navalny (a popular opposition figure).
I asked to work at a voting site in the quiet Arbat district of Moscow. The address I am registered at is in this district and it is familiar to me. Also, based on observations from the earlier elections to the Moscow City Duma, I could not believe that a majority of the district voted for the United Russia party, and I was curious to see if I was right. However, as it turned out, there was already an observer from Yabloko assigned to the site, and there can’t be two observers from the same party at one site. After thinking to myself: “Well, I’ll be an observer some other time”, I was invited to become an advisory member of the committee at this site for the Yabloko party (which is allowed by federal law). This is a somewhat complicated position, but I agreed. And so, on the appointed day, 04/12/2011, I got up at 6:00, showered, brushed my teeth, put on a suit and a white shirt, put “issey miyake” cologne (I thought it was appropriate) and went down the dark and deserted road to the voting site. On my way I had time to wake up and think about which scenario is possible for the day. As the Yabloko “Helen Hunt” said, “the main thing is to create good relations with the commitee and quickly make contact with the other observers to be able to jointly write complaints and help each other.” I arrived to Moscow school #1233, where our site (Moscow – Arbat – #6) on first floor to the left from the entrance after going through the metal detector. There were regulations relating to the voting process and details of the committee on the door of our site, so I made myself familiar with the list of members. In the same school, at the other end of the hallway, there was another voting site. Later I met the people from the other site. It was a much more difficult site than ours with many more voters (The chairman of their committee did whatever he wanted).
In general they were nice people. Understandably they were a bit cautious and shy but gentle, and immediately I got along with them (although they didn’t know the election laws almost at all). I liked our site immediately. By law, I
had the right to examine the site, and it immediately struck me that it was very convenient for everyone, the voters, the committee and the observers. Everything was in clear sight and I could see everyone and the ballot boxes easily. The site had a safe situated conveniently in a different room, but visible in a mirror on the wall opposite to where I sat.
We were slightly behind schedule so I politely rushed the committee to be on time to open at 8:00am. I had in my hands the step-by-step checklist from “Helen Hunt” and the committee didn’t know, in principle, what to do. We invalidated the unnecessary absentee ballots and documented this in the enlarged final report (for those who don’t know, there is an enlarged copy at every voting site which should be filled in as the new data comes so that everyone can see the results). Before we opened, and while we inspected the ballot boxes and voting forms, the first voters with absentee forms already arrived. I’m a little nervous and point out the mistakes to the committee. Not opening the site on time is a violation, but no one complained because it was clear that everyone worked well and tried to do their best.
I immediately liked the chairman, Valentin Mihailovich Kolbas – a retiree with short hair and good manners but few words. He didn’t instigate any disturbances or violations and in general didn’t provoke any observers or members of the committee. He was polite and seemingly thoughtful. He didn’t make any warnings to the observers (while at times it seemed as if they deserved it) and didn’t try to remove any observers from the site. In general, he was an example of a fair and balanced chairman, and I told this to him in the evening. He immediately executed his own duties according to the election laws and instructed all other members to do so as well.
People were arriving. Most of them were from other districts and were going to vote here with absentee ballots. It made me a bit suspicious and I went to see where they were coming from. At the entrance to the site there was a pretty young lady with a list directing a group of people in green working uniforms.
After my persistent questions about where these people came from, why they were brought here and who paid for them (paying for travel expenses or renting a bus using funds of any party would be a violation). She said that their company has 40 workers who would like to vote here by absentee ballot then smiled
and disappeared. However, I note that the flow of absentees has dried up and more local people were arriving. At times, we even had small queues. Usually the site looked like this:
Some suspicious people were by the site. Eh, the overall situation was making me too nervous. I watch intently.
Here, a girl who voted for the first time in her life arrived. The chairman gave her box of chocolates and we all applauded in unison. His hypocritical smile at the time seemed sincere.
A local police officer, Sergei (in hat), walked into the foyer of the school, not knowing that he would remain with us here until 8:00am.
All people were coming to vote here, young and old, but all feeling the responsibility of the nation and that change was arriving.
In the afternoon Vladimir Vinokur (a Russian celebrity) arrived. I had visited his mother, Anna Yulyevna, in the past and a voting committee was sent to her so that she could vote from home.
A few times during the day we were visited by a Lithuanian foreign observer who was also present when we started to count votes, Eustace Paleckis. Oh Eustace, Eustace, if only you could know how wrong you were, leaving the site thinking everything was ok.
Some voters were very serious, the hood in the picture below reminded me of a foil cap. By the way, I am also in this photo.
This was the first time there were a lot of voters at the site at once.
So the day went quietly. During the whole day there was only one violation. A person from a different city who had applied in advance to be on the additional list of voters (because she didn’t have her absentee ballot) had actually not been put on the list. This person was a girl from St. Petersburg which I liked, because she was persistent and decisive in her desire to vote. If she only knew what was going to happen to votes of aware citizens. In this picture she is on the left with the complaint in her hand.
Here it’s 7:45pm. For a moment I became an ordinary voter. Ten minutes before the site was to close, I voted, and then it was closed. The procedure that was to follow was outlined in advance and well established. Unused ballots are to be counted and invalidated. The number of unused ballots was stated vocally and recorded on the enlarged final report on the wall.
The invalidated extra ballots were packed, labelled and sealed.
I made sure that everything was done according to the federal law 51, and after each step I loudly read what had to be done next. Noone objected and everyone understood the importance of the moment and was a bit nervous. Then we checked the list of voters in the books: how many ballots voters received, how many absentee ballots were used, etc. All numbers were recorded on the enlarged public report. We continued filling the books according to the rules. Each page had a summary of information at the bottom and a signature. At the end of the book, was the full information and the signature of chairman and secretary of the committee. We checked the final ratio of voters to ballots, and miraculously everything was consistent. Then the list of voters was put to the safe and sealed. Access was banned until the end of the process.
Then we opened the voting box. First the portable ones. We counted and moved it aside.
Then the fixed boxes.
We emptied them to the table.
We sorted them. All observers could clearly see everything around.
After sorting each set of ballots we counted each set by taking one ballot at a time and putting it to the table where everyone could see. After the chairman announced the final numbers we recorded them to the enlarged copy of the report. Here it is after counting the ballots for each party.
This wasn’t yet the end, but I was already rejoicing. Finally, we voters had put United Russia in its place. In our site, they were not even in second place, but in third place with 18.9% and the Communist Party and Yabloko were ahead of them. The chairman acted relaxed and did everything according to the laws. Ballots for each party were packed individually.
They were sealed and signed, indicating the party and number of ballots.
Normally, this would be the end of the tale, but actually it was only the beginning. Now it’s 1:20am on the clock, and all formalities were met. According to the law, the chairman had to lead a final discussion which would consider any complaints and then approve the final report of votes for our site. I was already relaxed a bit because it seemed the main work was over. The chairman actively ordered that two copies of the report were made as was stated in the regulations and the committee then had to then sign them. I asked to have a signed copy of the report
and the chairman said “of course, we will do it immediately” and left the room with the two copies of the report. In advance I will say that I didn’t see him anymore after this. At that point it seemed to me that everything worked well and I relaxed for 15 minutes on a chair because I had been on my feet the whole day. The ballots were on the table in sealed envelopes with the enlarged copy of the report on the wall and lists of voters still sealed in the safe.
In a little while I received some disturbing news. In the other voting site (site number 9) in the school, after the results were finalized, United Russia had only 208 votes (19%) and their chairman put all ballots to a large bag without signing the reports and ran away with the deputy secretary in an unknown direction.
I became a bit nervous. I made a copy of the report myself. According to the law, it’s enough that only the deputy chairman or secretary of the committee sign and stamp it. Now I realize that the chairman had hidden the stamp! My first thought was that he locked it in the safe (but later I realized that this wasn’t true). Furthermore, neither the deputy chairman nor the secretary would sign my copy of the report (the same report that they had previously signed for the chairman while all together) and the chairman had stolen the other two copies. It was an obvious violation of federal law 51 that required them to immediately give a copy of the report to observers after finalizing.
My worst fears started to become reality. I asked the other members of the committee to sign my copy of the report, appealing to their civic conscience (although it still wouldn’t be legal without the stamp). Only two of them signed.
Others said “it’s not actually a report…we agree but we won’t sign it, let the chairman sign it”. Here is the copy that was signed by members of the committee with voting rights that would be decisive to the final outcome, Skorobogatov, Vladimir Vladimirovitch and Litov, Alexander Alekseevich, who didn’t follow the other members of the committee and continued performing their duties. Vladimir is about to become a father and I wish them well.
The chairman remained absent and I periodically tried to call him at +7 919 722 24 52. He answered the phone, but said he was busy and would return soon, but wasn’t certain when. I didn’t only call him. I called to the Yabloko central office torturing everyone there. I called to the hotline of the central elections commission, but it wasn’t possible to reach them. I reached the territorial commission and reported that the chairman was absent with the reports. They said that he wasn’t there and that they didn’t know where he was. The time passed, it was almost 3:00am and the other observers left. I was full of anger. Kolbas continued to lie to me on the phone that he would come now and bring copies of the report. When I told him that he was violating federal law 51 he hung up on me. The deputy chairman who was put there by United Russia, Andreev, Fyodor Alexandrovich suggested to take the ballots and go to the commission office. I said that until we have the final discussion of the committee and decide the final outcome according to the laws I would not let them take the ballots. I was already beyond the limits of my patience and becoming rude. I threatened him by saying that if he tried to take the ballots, one of us would go to the hospital and the other would be arrested. I felt blood pulsing in my temples. There was a police officer behind my back and I felt that he supported me. In the break between calling different phone numbers and browsing the internet on my ipad trying to find hotlines he asked me “how is it possible that no one will know about what is happening here”? I couldn’t even smile. I was shaking the laws concerning voter’s rights and Duma elections in front of the deputy chairman. The laws say that in absence of the chairman, the deputy chairman must execute his duties. Suddenly, I realized that laws don’t guarantee the right’s of voters. At 3:00am the last observers were going to leave and I took a collective complaint from them and asked them to sign it and give it to the deputy chairman. Here it is.
They took the complaint and signed and dated it. The last observers broke down and left, but I was determined to stay until the end. If 697 people that day and voted at this site I didn’t have the right to allow the criminals to steal their votes. I wouldn’t leave.
By 4:00am I had called to everyone, some had responded and some hadn’t. To the prosecutor’s offices across the entire city, the Central Elections Committee, the Prosecutor General’s office, the Territorial Elections Committee and a few times to Kolbas. Everywhere it was the same situation, no one responded. Yabloko’s lawyers were exhausted and at 6:00am stopped responding also. It was already 7:00am on the clock and the problem wasn’t solved. The truth was on my side, so I didn’t despair, I just hated them, hated their open hypocrisy and injustice.
The boiling point was close and I already couldn’t talk normally, my insides churned from what I saw and heard around me. But, I was still hoping for a favourable resolution of the situation. I was afraid that if I went to the toilet these bastards would run away with the ballots that were on the table. A car arrived and the driver came with the keys to the safe. He simply went to the safe, intending to take everything that was inside. I rushed to him from across the room and told him not to touch the safe. He gave the keys to Andreev and we opened the safe to see that the stamp was not there. We didn’t touch the sealed lists. Time went terribly slowly. I was waiting until 8:00am to again call to the prosecutor’s office, although I didn’t have a lot of hope.
The school was empty. Everyone had already left from voting site #9. After their chairman had escaped with the lists of ballots and documents, there was nothing left there that even partly resembled the legitimate procedure. Their observers when to the Territorial Elections Committee, but they weren’t allowed inside. Observers from the other seven voting sites in the Arbat district reported that NOWHERE was anyone able to retain a copy of the voting report. The chairmen escaped sometimes even through the back doors.
Around 8:00am teachers of young children arrived and elections information was removed from the walls.
Just after 8:00am a staff member of Yabloko called me back and told that Yabloko was able to reach the on duty prosecutor and he promised to apply pressure to the Territorial Elections Committee. What actually happened was
just the opposite. During the next 10 minutes more police came to our voting site. By this time the ballots had been put in the safe so that they were out of harm’s way. They went to the safe and I rushed to the safe also. A police officer stopped me saying “he [Adreev, F.A.] must do what he needs to do and we will make sure that you don’t interfere.” I turned my video camera on and started to list them paragraphs from the 51st federal law, which they were violating, and told them that their actions fall under Article 141 of the criminal code. Andreev went away from the safe and I noticed that I hadn’t actually turned on the camera. He left to discuss with someone and again returned with police and stormed the safe, but by this point I had turned on the camera and you can enjoy the video where they totally violated the rights of voters. I lost my ability to speak from the anarchy of the situation.
I think this is not the end. People didn’t vote, my mom didn’t vote, just to have these bastards steal their voices. I jumped into my car and went to the Territorial Elections Committee. I know my district better than they do and arrived before them. I arrived in time to see the deputy chairman arrive with the documents. I made a mistake answering the questions of the security guard, letting him know that I had advisor capacity and not observer capacity.
After getting through the security and making it to the second floor, I saw my old acquaintance and criminal Vyalykh, I.M with an assistant. For more than 10 years she was responsible in the Arbat district for questionable activities of this sort and became famous in the district.
[a video is repeated]
At the end of this remarkable dialogue I saw an surprising sight – a new (and different) enlarged copy of the voting report.
According to the report, from our site (#6), Yabloko party had just 4 votes instead of 134 votes and United Russia has 515 votes instead of 128.
It’s not just trash, it’s a fucking disaster! It’s fucking insane how this criminal scum, vote thief and forger, Kolbas, V.M., hypocritically gave chocolates to young first-time voters.
This is completely fucked. They removed me from the Territorial Elections Committee. I didn’t write another complaint that they offered to me and I thought I would die from shame. It started to rain and my cheeks were burning. I drove home as if on autopilot. I got out of the car and felt that tears burned my cheeks. I thought I had forgotten how it felt. It’s terribly embarrassing that I had failed to fulfill the responsibilities given to me by 697 voters at our site. Vladimir Natanovich, sorry, I could not save your voice, ask Anna Yulyevna to forgive me, I didn’t save her voice. Mom forgive me also. All 697 voters of site #6, forgive me. Your voices are stolen, and I have a lump in my throat that won’t go away. Your votes are stolen by: Vyalykh, I.M., Kolbas, V.M., Andreev, F.A., Arifulova, L.N.
Caption: “Criminals, they stole your voices” (Vyalykh and Arifulova)
Caption: “Criminal” (Kolbas)
Caption: “Criminal” (Andreev)
I just want to add now that I saw in the Territorial Elections Committee the enlarged report from the other site at the school (#9). According to this report, United Russia had 888 votes instead of the actual 208 votes. With pain and sorrow, A member of the voting site #6, with advisory capacity from the Yabloko party.
apdeyt1. So much komentov support, even as something embarrassing was. Thank you all what you are doing is a crime vowel.
apdeyt2. Added a couple of photos. Wrote the application to the CEC and the Prosecutor’s Office to cancel the results and initiation of proceedings against the sausage. Please respond to all observers, the site number 6 and the committee members who were present during the vote counting and tabulation. I want to enlisting your support to apply against the principal delinquent Vyalykh IM falsification of protocols. Especially please respond observers from the United Russia (normal guy was) and the Communist Party (cute girl).
Russian original text: source.