| JRL Home | JRL Simple/Mobile | RSS | Newswire | Archives | JRL Newsletter | Support | About
Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

The Cyber War Zone: Ahead of the Duma Elections in December, Bloggers Target United Russia

File Photo of Dmitri Medvedev at Desk with Laptop with Hand to Chin
file photo

As Russians prepare to vote next month in legislative elections, it is influential individual Internet bloggers who are playing a far stronger role than organized political parties in shaping attitudes toward the options among educated, middle-class voters, analysts say. And the discussion centers less on policy alternatives offered by various competing parties than on how to oppose the ruling United Russia party most effectively. "This is definitely because many educated, middle-class urban residents are thinking about what they should do on election day in the absence of a real choice between real parties," said Marina Litvinovich, a popular LiveJournal blogger and a renowned spin doctor who has worked for the Kremlin and for opposition parties.

United Russia is regularly portrayed by bloggers and critics as the party of bureaucrats responsible for rampant corruption and weak political and social rights in Russia. But rather than reaping political dividends from antipathy toward the ruling party among Internet bloggers, opposition parties that also participate in the December 4 elections are merely spared from withering attacks by witty Internet pundits.

Ahead of the 2007 parliamentary elections political parties invested heavily in campaigning on the Internet, enhancing their existing Web sites and launching new ones. United Russia went even further: it admitted into its ranks Konstantin Rykov, a counterculture icon and obscenity pioneer on the Russian Internet who had launched dozens of popular Web sites. He launched a new Web site ­ Zaputina.ru (the name being an expression of support for Vladimir Putin, who was still president then) ­ that quickly grew in popularity.

New technologies have changed the Internet landscape since then, with parties' Web sites now getting little public attention and their campaign news rarely spurring broad media coverage. The last such visible blip on the media radars was made by the Ktonarushil.ru Web site, set up by the United Russia Senator Ruslan Gattarov. The Web site (its name means roughly "Who Broke the Rules") accumulates public complaints about campaign rule violations committed by political parties. Media interest was stirred by the fact that the Web site lists all parties but United Russia.

Nowadays political discussion evolves mostly in social networks, and its participants agree that LiveJournal, which allows the posting of larger texts with photos and videos, is the best suited platform for it, while Twitter, Facebook and its Russian counterpart Vkontakte ­ designed for immediate exchange of shorter remarks ­ lag behind. Quite often popular blog posts by prominent Russian Internet personalities turn into mainstream media stories with a national outreach. "Vkontakte and Twitter are good for mobilizing activists and we are very active in using these technologies," said Alexander Yarosh, the chief Internet campaigner for the pro-Kremlin Nashi youth movement. He agreed that LiveJournal has a crucial edge on all Internet platforms and the Russian media, but he could not explain why this social network is so predominantly opposition-minded.

It is no longer parties competing for the hearts and minds on the Internet ­ it is individual people, said Alexander Morozov, a popular LiveJournal blogger and the head of the Center for Media Studies, a Moscow think tank. "If there is any concerted effort in RuNet campaigning now, it is regular robot attacks on opposition blogs that some suspect Nashi and the Kremlin administration are perpetrating," he said. Nashi's Yarosh denied his movement was involved in the attacks.

Alexei Mukhin, the head of the Center for Political Information, a Moscow think tank, said that the LiveJournal community is drawn to good writers who talk about issues of common and immediate interest, such as corruption, police violence and abuse of office by Russian officials. "These talents made Alexei Navalny the crème de la crème of Russian bloggers, and as a party United Russia is incapable of competing with him and other similar personalities on the Internet," he said.

A Yale-educated anti-corruption whistleblower with a nationalist streak, Navalny has called for voters to cast their ballots for any party other than United Russia, if only to attenuate the party's uncontested control of the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament. Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister and now an opposition leader, has called in his blog posts for voters to spoil their ballots, arguing that this is the only viable way for the public to register its disdain for the lack of genuine, legal political choices in Russia.

A third popular approach ­ championed by several prominent Russian Internet personalities ­ is just to ignore the vote altogether. Doing so, they have argued, would undermine the legitimacy of the election as a whole. "These choices have become the most relevant in the RuNet discussion, mainly because there is no suspense left in this election. The Kremlin has not allowed any new party to register since the last Duma vote and it removed Mikhail Prokhorov from the race," Litvinovich said. Prokhorov is the charismatic billionaire who accused the Kremlin administration of having him removed from the ticket of the tiny Right Cause party in September.

Insiders and analysts concur that it is not just the lack of dedicated, talented writers with United Russia that explains its poor representation on the Russian Internet. "The party does not feel that the Internet is its turf and prefers to campaign in a traditional Soviet way, by mobilizing voters with the help of administrative perks and pressure," said Mukhin.

Also, the potential campaign effort on the Internet would not pay off at the ballot box, as the audience of political blogs largely consists of representatives of educated middle-class urban residents who traditionally demonstrate one of the lowest turnout rates of all social groups in Russia, Litvinovich said.

Last week, the ComScore market research company ranked Russia the first among 18 European countries surveyed in September for the number of Internet users, with the figure reaching 50.8 million. "About 30 million are involved in social networks and maybe about five percent of them read political blogs," said Morozov. And even this modest crowd would prefer to vent their emotions and ideas online than go and actually vote, the analyst added.

Mukhin disagreed: bloggers and the media shape the mood of the elites, he said, and now, with Putin no longer being on top of United Russia's ticket, the regional authorities would not be that prepared to manipulate the vote in favor of the ruling party and thus irritate their constituencies. Should Putin remain on the list, regional bosses who oversee and manage elections in Russian provinces would deliver high results for the United Russia unequivocally, Mukhin said.

The readers of political blogs who decide to go to vote are more likely to cast their ballots for the Yabloko liberal party, Litvinovich said. Yabloko has missed two terms in the Duma and is seen as the least Kremlin-controlled of all seven registered Russian political parties participating in the race, she added.

Russia, Government, Politics - Russian News - Russia - Johnson's Russia List

Bookmark and Share - Back to the Top -        


Bookmark and Share

- Back to the Top -        

  Follow Johnson's Russia List on Twitter Tweet