Russia: TV Generation Cracks Down on Internet Generation

Posted December 6th, 2011 at 7:14 pm (UTC+0)
13 comments

 

After the protest, Irina, age 21, Google-chatted me at 1 am from her apartment: “For the first time in my life I felt like I have many pals in this city.” She had just joined the largest demonstration seen in Moscow in years — 6,000 Muscovites charging that blatant and massive electoral fraud took place in their city.

On Sunday night, election night, a Kremlin-funded exit polling company said 27 percent of voters voted for the ruling United Russia party. The next morning, the Kremlin-controlled election authorities reported that 46.5 percent of the city’s votes went for United Russia.

In almost identical bedroom communities, divided only by an avenue, people on one side of the street voted 25 percent for the government. On the other side of the street, 60 percent of people voted for the government.
So how had Irina magically discovered so many like-minded, outraged people, all gathering at 7 pm around Chistii Prudi metro station, only two blocks from the looming headquarters of successor agency to the KGB?
“For the last two days, my Facebook page has exploded with everyone talking about the election,” she told me. Dozhd TV, a privately-owned internet channel, now calls it “The Facebook Revolution.”

 

On Monday night, state-run TV did not air images of 300 people arrested at the downtown Moscow protest. Instead they trained their cameras two blocks away — on a state-sponsored “Clean Elections” rally that had the look of a high school pep rally. The political conflict shaping up in Russia today is between the Television Generation and the Internet Generation.

On Sunday, the TV Generation won Round One. Officially, 49.64 percent of Russians voted for the ruling party. Opposition leaders like Vladimir Ryzhkov estimate that only one third of voters cast ballots for United Russia, and fraud took care of the rest. There were some interesting results.

Dagestan, an impoverished southern region, is in such a state of violent rebellion that a BBC report two weeks ago called it: “The Most Dangerous Place in Europe.” Yet on Sunday, 92 percent of Dagestanis who voted cast their ballots for the Kremlin’s United Russia party. Neighboring Chechens outdid them, with 99.5 percent voting for the official party. (This is a touching change of heart as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin led the second war against Chechen separatists in the fall of 1999. This year-long conflict resulted in about 65,000 dead on both sides.) These impoverished areas on Russia’s southern edge have some of the nation’s lowest Internet connectivity rates.

Russian blogger Alexei Navalny often gets 1 million hits for each post on Life Journal. Moscow riot police gave him some hits of a different kind for participating Monday in a large street protest against electoral fraud. As police trucks occupied central Moscow Tuesday, Navalny was taken to court where he received a 15-day jail sentence. Protests continued – and spread to new cities – on Tuesday. Photo: Reuters/Anton Golubev

But in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and the 10 ‘millioniki’ – provincial capitals with 1 million people – Internet connectivity rates are fast approaching levels of Western Europe. By some estimates, 90 percent of Moscow households are now online. And Moscow now concentrates almost 10 percent of the nation’s total population.

So who was the Kremlin’s number one target in days prior to the election?

Golos, or Voice, is a small non-governmental office, with about eight fulltime employees. It’s located on a back street in Moscow, up two flights of stairs from a book review magazine. One week before the election, Prime Minister Putin fired the starting gun for the attack. In nationally televised remarks, he made a veiled attack on the largely foreign-funded group, comparing it to Judas, the Biblical traitor of Jesus. Almost immediately, prosecutors raided Golos. A judge fined it $1,000. On Friday, NTV, a state TV channel, devoted a 30-minute, prime time attack documentary to Golos. On Saturday, customs agents at Moscow’s Sheremeyetevo Airport detained the Lilia Shibanova, the Golos director, for 12 hours. Following telephoned instructions, they confiscated her laptop.

Before the sun rose on voting day, Golos’ website went dark, a victim of as many as 50,000 spam attacks a second. Spam disabled its email and SMS accounts. Waves of robot calls tied up Golos’ hotline telephone numbers all day long.

Responding to Moscow’s “Facebook Revolution,” Russian police detained 300 participants during an opposition protest in central Moscow on Monday. On Tuesday, they detained the same number. Protesters called Sunday’s parliamentary elections “a farce,” riddled with fraud. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin responded by flooding downtown Moscow with dozens of prison trucks and thousands of police. Photo: Reuters/Anton Golubev

Why was Golos the Kremlin’s Public Enemy Number One?

Golos is Russia’s only independent election observer group. Working with the Gazeta.ru, the online arm of a Moscow newspaper, it hosts an interactive website – http://kartanarusheniy.ru/

This is a map of Russia, showing in glow red dots the locations of reported cases of election fraud. Internet users can click on their city and scroll through reported violations – 7,135 nationwide, last time I checked. For a system built on secrecy, the transparency of a national internet billboard of election fraud reports was toxic. On voting day, professional hackers – Shibanova charges they are from the FSB, the KGB’s successor agency – knocked down Golos, and about half a dozen independent media sites.

Attesting to the power of the Internet, one affected site, from Echo Moscow radio, draws 2 million individual visitors a month. Echo Moscow and others fought back, offering their news through Facebook and Twitter. Another site, antikarusel.ru, featured films and denunciations of government workers busing groups of voters from one polling station to the next. Smartphones are the universal badge of membership for Russia’s middle class. On Sunday, voters had a field day filming the unfilmable — for the entire nation to see. In one, Yegor Duda, a bearded volunteer election observer, tiptoes down a stairwell filming a gray suited election official as he apparently checks the United Russia box on a fat stack of blank paper ballots. When confronted, the official responds: “Go away!” Yegor did as he was told. He went home. He then posted the video on YouTube. Oops!

As of Tuesday afternoon, 1.1 million people had watched the video. So many videos have been posted that President Medvedev cautioned Russians Monday about their authenticity. The warning probably only boosted internet viewership. Taking on the protesters, Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin’s ideologue, posted this message on LiveJournal: “Stop wailing, I am sick of you.”

On Sunday, hackers attacked Live Journal, rendering access spotty to Russia’s top blogging site, a space that increasingly is dominated by independent and opposition critiques of Russia.
Alexey Navalny, one of Live Journal’s most popular bloggers, coined a label that United Russia can’t seem to shake. One year ago, he called the ruling party “the party of thieves and swindlers.” Today, if you do a Google search in Russian for United Russia, the most associated phrase that pops up will be “thieves and swindlers.” In a nationwide poll taken last month, more than one third of respondents agreed with the label that Navalny hung around the neck of United Russia – “the party of thieves and swindlers.”

In Russia’s blogosphere, Navalny, a square-jawed, blue-eyed 35-year-old, is seen as a potential presidential candidate in the March 4 elections. But Prime Minister Putin does not want the competition. The authorized candidates are three aging leaders who have been on the political scene here for 20 years. So Monday night, Moscow’s OMON riot police zeroed in on Navalny. They took him out of action, forcing him into a police bus.

From the dark confines of the bus, came a Tweet. “I am in an OMON bus with other guys. They send their greetings to everyone.” As his wife posted news of his 15-day jail sentence, an initial wave of 2,500 sympathizers posted comments on his blog.

Two weeks ago, a data company reported that 51 million Russians now go on line – about 40 percent of the adult population. In the last year, viewership of top Sunday news programs on state-controlled TV dropped by 10 to 14 percent. Last Sunday night, several commentators on state-run television looked at plummeting results for the ruling party and used several variations of the Russian word “katastrofa.” They were soon brought into line. But many analysts believe that this will be Russia’s last election where TV will be the dominant factor. Middle class Russians now take internet freedom as their birthright, along with foreign travel and the ability to choose among 50 models of foreign made cars.

Alexei Venediktov, director of Echo Moscow radio, was unfazed by the hacker attacks on his station. He says of Internet freedom in Russia, “the toothpaste is out of the tube.” Walking home early Tuesday morning, after filing interviews with two protest organizers, I realized that their work was helped by warm temperatures. For early December, Moscow temperatures were unseasonably balmy – 5 degrees C – no need for scarf, hat and gloves.

Unfortunately, for the Kremlin, the weather here feels, oddly, like Spring.

James Brooke
James Brooke is the Russia/CIS bureau chief for Voice of America. A lifelong journalist, he covered West Africa, Brazil, the American Rocky Mountain States, Canada, and Japan/Korea for The New York Times. A resident of Moscow since 2006, he was first Bloomberg bureau chief for the region. In 2010, he joined VOA. In addition to writing Russia Watch, his weekly blog, he also does video, radio and web reports from Russia and the former USSR.

13 responses to “Russia: TV Generation Cracks Down on Internet Generation”

  1. Rufus says:

    What fraud? You are out of your mind if you believe what you have written here. And if you don’t then you are just a plain liar.

    If you look for fraud you should go right back to your America, there it’s 100% fraud all the time all the way, in every walk of life, in every sphere — from politics to social life, where elections are all sham,and the two clone parties of the ruling plutocracy have been in power for ever and where only a revolution can probably dislodge them.

    And what is all this fuss about Golos? It can hardly be an independent monitor, seeing as it is an American government funded organization, no?

    One thing is clear, with so much bile, lies, hubris spilling from the filthy mouths and dirty fingertips of Western government propagandists, like yourself, (which becomes the shriller, the nearer the end of Western capitalism) the Russian people made the correct choice on December 4 and will do well to vote for Putin on March 4.

    Putin is hated so much by the West (and doesn’t it show) that the only logical conclusion that can be drawn is that he must be doing something right for Russia and should be rewarded with another 6 years in office.

    As to what he will decided to do with the West once he is elected, it’s entirely up to him, I for one will support anything — even the most radical thing like allowing it to continue it’s sorry, sad corrupt existence, which will end of its own accord, make no mistake about it, and which is only brought closer by people like you.

    • Valentine says:

      omg, I heard about people who go around and speak about how americans bought everything and they exist! Or there is more simple explanation – it’s a propaganda

      Rufus
      Пусть вашим красивым и пафосным словам верят те, кто совершенно незнаком с Россией. Но у нас свои глаза есть, и нас уже тошнит от власти не потому, что там якобы госдеп США кого-то купил, а от нищих пенсий, нищих зарплат бюджетникам, налогов, цензуры. “А не надо удивляться – это вам за детские сады, в которые дети стоят вплоть до школы, это за правые рули и пошлины, это за дикие тарифы ЖКХ, это за полный развал здравоохранения области. За ЕГЭ вам, за здание УФМС, выстроенное на месте художественной школы, за самый дорогой бензин в регионе (ФАС не нашел в действиях ценового сговора – ФАС никогда не находит никаких ценовых сговоров, хотя они только слепому не видны… и ФАСу ещё (С)), за отобранные у пенсионеров транспортные льготы, за арбидол в списках ЖВЛС и за “поддержку отечественного производителя, отобравшую у больных нормальные лекарства и выдав взамен отечественную тухлятину (сырье для которой все-равно гонят из Китая), за желтую ЛДаду-Калину, несущуюся в трех экземплярах по недостроенной дорог в окружении 9000 японских лексусов…за то, что победу празднуете накануне. За коррупционную вакханалию, от которой просто трясет уже всех (но не смей требовать от чиновников отчитываться о расходах!”(с)

    • Titov says:

      Обиделся, а, “Rufus”– как это он смеет, простую правду писать?!?
      Чего так боишься? Тебя же не бьют по башке, а ваши их. ‎

  2. James says:

    For Rufus:

    I particularly enjoyed the way you made nothing but ad hominen attacks against the reporter of this article, without addressing the facts he raised in it. Then you make it an issue about the “corrupt USA” and its system of governance.

    It is a shame that if you truly have information to counter his reporting (such as alleged ballot box stuffing) you did not give that evidence. Instead, you attack the messenger.

    And it is telling about your position from your last paragraph “I for one will support anything . . .” including apparently what you are told to do, regardless of ethics, morals, legality, or rationality.

  3. Gennady says:

    Rufus!

    It’s no wonder that all kinds of functionaries like you on pay with people’s money by the ruling Putin’s party clinging to power
    have tried to convince the world with the pack of your lies.
    It’s time to discuss the election in Russia and not to distract attention to any other subjects. You have nothing to prove, no evidence for honest and fair election having been carried out.
    What do you have to hide, why do you dislike any monitoring of your “honest and fair” election? All you’ve got to hide is the people’s distrust.

    All the world knows are multiple electoral law violations. It is clearly seen that authorities are frightened to see protests that swept the country and they arrest out of proportion.

    Here in Russia after having experienced the “election”,
    we feel we have been abused,
    our basic human right for choice has been stolen,
    we’ve been raped by dirty criminal “Party” of crooks and swindlers,
    we’ve been cheated, tricked, duped and conned.
    We are sick to see the Party’s functionaries hated faces on television.
    Mr Putin has long ago lost the trust of people,
    everybody can see his mediocrity and amorality,
    listen to his foul toilet language, watch his admiration of bloody tyrants.
    Majority of Russians are aware that remaining of his disgusting Party in power
    costs too much to dying out Russia
    with extraordinary flight of capital, stagnant economics,
    lack of decent health care, public education and any hope for young people,
    short life expectancy.

  4. Pyotr says:

    Now, you Rufus and others, servants of KGB, you see you’ve made a great mistake posting here. Your place is NTV, 1st, and Russia TV and many other clone TV chanels which truely are the face of The Party Of Thieves and Swindlers . People don’t believe your propaganda about evil West anymore! There is a thing that troubles me though. If communists come to power tomorrow because of Putin’s politics it wouldn’t be better for us. I see that many even young people begin to believe in the “new” communist ideology, and by their protest they strengthen the same corrupt ideology of communism. This is really sad, I think.

  5. Andrew says:

    Well done, Jim! Rufus – I see you’ve learned passable English, but your arguments are nothing but hot air. You have the right to support anything your beloved leader decides to do, although you would find more people in North Korea with this attitude than anywhere in the civilized world. The facts are clear – the December 4 election was neither free nor fair, and there is ample proof. Russia will always be two steps behind the rest of the world if its leaders continue to resist the free flow of information and continue to steal from the Russian people. And if people like you continue to support them no matter what.
    Valentine – you laid out the problems of a one-party system beautifully. Let’s hope things get better.

  6. Shaon Boa says:

    Well. Jim with his old friends Gennady and Pyotr sing their favorite song about the future russian revolution. There is no god but Navalny, and Jim is his prophet.
    Navalny is a new american hero, Golos is the only reliable voice of truth and everyone who doesn`t agree to these facts is a KGB agent.

    All is clear in the crooked mirror for the crooked eyes and the crooked brains.

    You americans understand the world so well that I`m afraid you`ll not survive.

    Do the revolutions in your own country. We are not in a hurry for the revolutions.
    The gradual political process and the step-by-step development will bring us to the better results and in the shorter period.
    And today`s demonstrations should be just the structural element of democracy rather than the sign of “katastrofa”.

    Rufus, you are not alone, though I voted for “Just Russia”.

  7. Gennady says:

    To Shaon Boa

    I’m happy you have found your pal Rufus,
    so you are not alone in the vast expanses of the Internet in your desperate fight to safeguard eternalness of Putin’s and the FSB’s “law and order”, to face the tide of Russian people’s discontent with vote rigging.

    1. I completely disagree that “All is clear in the crooked mirror for the crooked eyes and the crooked brains.”
    At least 50% of contemporary Russia is concerned with the lawless state Putin’s Russia is in and the Russian people of all walks of life actively support the claim of vote rigging and the place in the pecking order of Russia’s political life his Party should be withdrawn.

    2. Can you prove that just dirty criminal vote rigging “Party” of crooks and swindlers that usurped power in the biggest country of the world and those on their pay list have right mirror, eyes and brains?
    Can you support your view that Russia under Putin’s regime doesn’t die out?
    That there is no extraordinary flight of capital, no stagnant economics? That there are decent health care, public education and many avenues in life for young people, that men’s life expectancy in Russia isn’t the shortest in Europe and in G8 countries?
    Certainly you can’t prove it with your pack of Putin’s FSB propaganda lies of “The gradual political process and the step-by-step development will bring us to the better results and in the shorter period”.

    3. You don’t see that Russian people were duped by the one-term Medvedev Presidency, which happened as a convenient way of keeping Mr Putin in power, do you?
    You don’t agree that when Mr Putin said he and president Medvedev had arranged his return to the top job a long time ago, too many Russian people felt they had been conned, do you? Don’t you know that even some senior members of the government genuinely believed Mr Medvedev might stay on as president, do you?

    4. You are unable to see that too many Russians suddenly have seen crystal clear that “the Emperor’s” clothes have vanished and he is ugly naked in front of the whole world. Unfortunately as ever, it has taken too much time to break the “spell” of his personality and all his dominance in Russian murky politics.

    5. It is a blatant lie your assertion that “today`s demonstrations should be just the structural element of democracy rather than the sign of “katastrofa”. 1600 people are arrested in this “democracy” just for their basic human right to express their opinion and to be heard.
    As one more highly possible example of your type of democracy I wont be surprised if Navalny “by tragic accident” will be severely disabled or poisoned with polonium or something of the kind. This is the democracy of FSB type. The democracy to plunder natural resources, to have astronomical number of billionaires when millions live in slums, being homeless in harsh Russian climate, with about 2 million children in orphanages with the prospect of becoming a drug addict, a prostitute, a homeless person, or put in prison after they have left the orphanage.

    6. I’m flattered with your claim that I am Jim’s old friend, although to say the truth I have never ever seen or spoken to him in my life. Nevertheless, I trust his view on recent Russian development, that there are too many parallels very much reminding the beginning of the recent Libya’s crisis.

    7. I should assure your that no one in the world wants the future Russian revolution, but clumsy, unprofessional and out of proportion exertions of Putin’s FSB regime may provoke that type of scenario.

  8. Pyotr says:

    Shaon Bao, I am really flattered to be called an old friend of Jim and Gennady. But truth is I never saw them in person, so one can see what a perfect picture of reality reflects your “mirror”! And by the way, revolution is the last thing I want to happen in Russia. All I want is gradual step by step shift of power from the corrupted Putin’s clique to the democratic institutions, to the people itself, who is the only source of power in Russia according to the 3d article of Russian constitution! But, alas, the crooks have perverted the spirit of the constitution by their criminal laws and they don’t want to change anything as long as there is oil and gas available for stealing. Mr Medvedev said he does agree with none of slogans of the demonstration on Bolotnaya square. And one of those was the slogan “For fair elections”. So what step by step change are you talking about, Bao? And what kind of Russian are you with the name Shaon Bao? Have courage to give your real name at least!
    Shaon Bao said “You americans understand the world so well that I`m afraid you`ll not survive.” I am not Amercan. I live in Siberia. I do not get any money from American government or Hillary Clinton personally. Don’t you repeat that Putin’s rubbish anymore!

  9. […] by diverse people. Anarchists and nationalists marched alongside angry communist grandmas and cosmopolitan twenty-somethings who found out about the protests via […]

  10. […] by diverse people. Anarchists and nationalists marched alongside angry communist grandmas and cosmopolitan twenty-somethings who found out about the protests via […]

About

About

James Brooke is VOA Moscow bureau chief, covering Russia and the former USSR. With The New York Times, he worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa, Latin America, Canada and Japan/Koreas. He studied Russian in college during the Brezhnev years, first visited Moscow as a reporter during the final months of Gorbachev, and then came back for reporting forays during the Yeltsin and early Putin years. In 2006, he moved to Moscow to report for Bloomberg. He joined VOA in Moscow in 2010. Follow Jim on Twitter @VOA_Moscow.

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