Europe of Human Rights

Last week, during the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, numerous representatives of civil society from Russia and the EU met in Warsaw. They were discussing latest democratic developments in Russia and the protection of human rights.

Russian authorities are encouraging citizens to participate in tomorrow’s elections to the Russian Duma (Parliament). The media present these elections as a “democracy celebration” and inform about a large participation of independent observers.

At the same time at the Moscow Sheremietievo airport a human rights activist Lilia Shibanova from “Golos” was detained under suspicion of carrying a dangerous IT software. Her laptop was confiscated. Although she was released, the computer was never returned. “Golos” was planning to sent on Sunday 3,000 observes to polling stations in order to monitor the elections and the counting of votes. Taking this into consideration the detention of L. Shibanova should not be perceived as accidental. The authorities are concerned with the outcome of the elections, as some of the polls demonstrate that “Jedinaya Rossiya” may lose some of the previous support.

“Jedinaya Rossiya” is the party that is currently ruling (with the membership of Putin and Miedwiediew, all the ministers, gubernators and the majority of Russian officials, including those at the lower level). Before the elections the party was promising social reforms, a 50% increase in salaries in the upcoming two years, 100% increase in salaries for “uniform officials”, building of schools, kindergartens and cheap apartments. Moreover, “Jedinaya Rossiya” promised that Russia would become one of the biggest economic world actors.

“Golos” was fined with approx. 800 EUR for informing about the polls during electoral silence. “Golos” registered already 4,700 complaints about the preparation of Sunday elections, most of them concerned the ruling party. The prosecution informed that further measures would be taken against “Golos”. The problems of “Golos” are not unique, in November Russian authorities banned Dutch journalist Alexander Munnighnghoff from observing elections.

Even if “Golos” will be unable to monitor the Sunday elections, OSCE /ODIHR election Observation Mission was deployed following an invitation from the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation. Observes will be sent by the General Assembly of the Council of Europe and CIS countries. However, given the experiences of previous elections, which were never declared independent, even the presence of observes does not guarantee their fairness. Moreover, given the unfavorable polls on “”Jedinaya Rossiya”, the current authorities will need to intensify the efforts in order to win the elections.

Bogna Chmielewska, expert and trainer of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights

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