S T. PETERSBURG-As Russia heads to the polls in what is expected to be the most corrupt parliamentary elections since Putin came to power, one of the opposition candidates took to the streets of St. Petersburg proving to the people that he exists.
“Look, here he is, the real Vishnevsky, not a fake one!” A local woman yelled. She was part of a small group of people at the Vladimirskaya metro station in St. Petersburg where a smiling, bearded man was celebrating court.
Boris Vishnevsky is a liberal professor and candidate who hopes to become a legislator. Against him are rival candidates Boris Vishnevsky and Boris Vishnevsky.
This is the bitter and comic reality of democracy in modern Russia.
Two of the Vishnevskys had changed names and grown beards to confuse the electorate and make it even more difficult for this well-known opponent of President Putin to win his seat for Russia’s only registered liberal party, Yabloko. Election commission # 30 in the Central Region of St. Petersburg allowed imposters to register on the official ballot.
Images of the real Vishnvesvky standing next to the banners of his stuntmen, who also share his bald head and similar facial features, have become the symbol of Russia’s dirty election campaign in 2021.
Even declared supporters The Putin regime believes that this is going too far. “The vote begins today, but no one has punished the electoral commission for copies of Vishnevsky,” said local leader of the pro-Kremlin Fair Russia party Marina Shishkina. “That is just one example of forgery.
Shishkina told The Daily Beast that he has seen Putin’s political system inside and out in the last decade, with all kinds of electoral stunts, such as video cameras mysteriously being shot at polling stations. “You’ll hear the electricity suddenly shut off,” he said. “That’s classic.”
Here in Russia’s northern capital, The Daily Beast interviewed local voters, as well as pro-Kremlin politicians, who were equally sickened by the fakes in Russia’s parliamentary and local elections this week.
The ruling United Russia party has been losing public support in recent years – its popularity has dropped to 26 percent since 2015, when it had 55 percent of public support. State corruption and lies have been the strongest signs of Putin’s system, rotting from the inside; but many of the masterminds of the destructive process remain unpunished.
Vishnevsky himself has seen many dirty tricks since he became a politician just after the fall of the USSR in 1990. This year’s election campaign was full of absurd situations, he said. “First they almost forbade me to run when they didn’t like the way I stapled a sheet of paper into the file for the record. Then I found out that two more candidates were running against me under my own name, “he told The Daily Beast.” But when my team and I saw their portraits, we laughed, they looked like me! “
Vishnevsky, who was born in St. Petersburg, saw the city at its most dangerous, during the 1990s, when Putin was a local politician and so-called “bratki” thugs killed each other in the streets. Many politicians were assassinated during the first decade of post-Perestroika Russia, but Vishnevsky is convinced that the electoral process has never been dirtier than now.
“Now it is much dirtier!” he said. “Moscow is leading Russia back to a bad version of the USSR with a ruling party, a state ideology and no pluralism allowed. The ideal situation for the Kremlin would be to control everything and lock its critics in the Gulag. “
Vishnevsky supporter Anna Reva, a tour guide and interpreter, said she was shocked by the scale of the current political scandals. “If Vishnevsky wins despite these fakes, he would be one of the few honest deputies in the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly,” he said. “This is not an election, this is a circus, meant to fool some idiots; but St. Petersburg is not a city of idiots. “
The capital of the north of the country, which was founded by Peter the Great more than 300 years ago, has faded away. “Look, almost all the building facades are crumbling, while the city puts ugly shopping malls in the heart of the old town,” he said, pointing to the Vladimirsky Passage shopping center, a mass of glass and concrete jutting out among the elegant historical architecture. “But the worst problem is the poverty, the lack of dignity and respect that we, the local people, see in our government.”
United Russia’s own candidates also distanced themselves from dirty tricks. “All of our candidates are against such forgeries,” Nikita Shirokov, a United Russia spokesman in St. Petersburg, told The Daily Beast.
The president of Russia’s Central Election Commission, Ella Pamfilova, also said that Vishnevsky’s body doubles should abandon the election campaign. That is the apotheosis of dirty technologies that floods St. Petersburg.
One of the stuntmen, Victor Bykov, previously worked with the president of the Legislative Council of St. Petersburg, Sergey Solovyov. The Daily Beast asked him why no one has been punished for blatant electoral interference but the candidate did not respond.
While saluting these bogus candidates, Russia’s Central Election Commission refused to register dozens of opposition candidates who support jailed politician Alexei Navalny. Several prominent politicians, including former Duma deputies Gennady and Dmitry Gudkov, had to leave the country for fear of arrest.
For the first time in the Putin era, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe decided not to observe Russia’s elections, after Moscow limited the number of OSCE delegations to a small fraction of the required observers. “This simply does not allow us to carry out our work effectively and completely,” said OSCE President Margarita Cederfelt.
One of the youngest candidates running for a seat in the State Duma, Valery Kostenok, 22, a member of the liberal Yabloko party admitted that they faced an uphill battle. “Russia is a military country, but even in the army only 80 percent of the soldiers treat the vote as the fulfillment of some order; we trust the 20 percent of the soldiers who, like my father, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, think of alternative liberal reforms, “he said.
He continues to fight, but he knows that change is not about to come. “There is a war against the opposition,” he said. “The Kremlin is turning the millstone and they are crushing us.”