Depression without protest: the aftermath of Russia’s 2021 election
The introduction of mysterious online voting results is further undermining democratic freedoms.
Meanwhile, the opposition was in little condition to put up a fight, broken as it is by the repression and arrests that followed the winter protests against Navalny’s jailing, and disoriented by an unprecedented assault on independent media and civil society organisations – the bulk of which are now designated “foreign agents”. Even before Google and Apple wipedNavalny’s smart voting app from their platforms under threat of criminal prosecution, the utter failure of the Navalny protests sent anti-Kremlin Russians into a “state of political depression”, political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya told me.
A few nights before polls opened, I witnessed this depression for myself at a rally for the leading opposition candidate in Moscow’s wealthy, anti-Kremlin centre. At the event, held in a quiet park just off the New Arbat shopping thoroughfare, both campaign staffers and empty chairs outnumbered actual voters, of whom there were no more than ten. The candidate – a burly, weather-beaten veteran of the Yeltsin-era Duma who would go on to receive an endorsement from Navalny – insisted on addressing the intimate gathering using a loudhailer. “I’m using this thing,” he said at one point, averting his eyes sheepishly, “just in case someone hears and decides to come over.”