An ’Election’ amid Kalashnikovs, cabbages and Moscow’s fascist fans
As in Soviet times, all that mattered in Sunday’s pseudo-elections was the turnout. That was provided for by coercion of public sector workers and enticement with food and near free vegetables. Russia and its faithful far-right and Stalinist ‘observers’ did the rest
The exit polls, Russian TV channels declared, give “Incumbent PM Zakharchenko lead in Donetsk elections”. A couple of hours later he and Igor Plotnytsky, leader in Luhansk were supposed to be in the lead after a staggering 50% of the ‘votes’ had been counted.
Russia just as swiftly issued a statement saying that it “respects the expression of will of the South-East, and pointed to the high turnout.
The latter was especially cynical given the ways in which the turnout was ensured. This was how a journalist writing from Donetsk for the Polish newspaper Wyborcza described it:
“Loud music, cheap food, coffee, tea and most importantly potatoes, carrots, onions, beetroot and cabbage for the throw-away price of one hryvnia per kilogram were intended to attract residents to the ballot boxes. And indeed, in places there were crowds”
This corresponds to the reports from Ukrainian journalists present and the photos they took. It is unclear only whether the vegetables could be bought by people who had not entered the polling booths. It seems most likely that the vegetables were part of the latest so-called ’humanitarian assistance’ from Russia.
The enticement was serious given the terrible hardship people have suffered since the fighting began. It is doubtless no accident that the majority of people voting were over 55.
Like in Soviet times when coveted goods appeared, you were only allowed three kilograms per person. However, Novosti Donbasa reports that it was possible to vote by presenting a copy of your passport, rather than the original. Since you could also vote where you wanted, a person could effectively ‘vote’ 10 times or more in different polling stations, perhaps availing themselves of the refreshments and deficit items at the same time. Voters were enticed to the polling stations in the Luhansk oblast through ‘social cards’ also providing much needed assistance.
Judging by reports from witnesses, such as Pastor Sergey Kosyak, methods of coercion were also applied, especially with respect to teachers, doctors and other public sector workers. They had their passports taken away from them the day before and had to sign an agreement that they would turn up ‘to vote’. The social cards are also, in fact, a form of overt blackmail. The daughter of one elderly woman living in the territory controlled by the self-proclaimed Luhansk people’s republic explains that pensioners have been told that pensions will be paid out soon. To get it people will have to present not only their passport, but the LPR ‘social card’. For the latter they need to go to their polling station on Nov 2. The pensioner in question is totally against the militants, and rejected their pseudo ‘referendum’ on May 11, but she can simply not live without a pension.
Another echo from Soviet times was that only turnout was required. Nobody was in any doubt about the supposed ‘outcome’ of the voting. Wyborcza journalist Piotr Andrusieczko reports from Donetsk that in the area which the Kremlin-backed militants claim is the Donetsk people’s republic, there were two parties: the Donetsk Republic Civic Movement and the Free Donbas movement. Only three candidates were named for each and virtually no information is known of their ‘programme’, should there be such a thing. Zakharchenko’s two ‘rivals’ may be known to him, but they were most unlikely to have impinged on the ‘electorate’s’ consciousness. The situation was comparable in the Luhansk oblast.
Much was made in the Russian media of the ‘international observers’ present, with Russia Today claiming there to be as many as 300. On Saturday, it was announced that these observers were from something called ASCE [the Agency for Security and Cooperation in Europe]. This was a fairly obvious attempt to deceive people since the name sounds very similar to the OSCE which does, in contrast, exist. There is, in fact, no such monitoring organization as ABCE, or wasn’t until Saturday evening.
It was clear after the March 16 pseudo–referendum on the Crimea’s status who was likely to be invited to ‘observe’ these supposed elections. Once again, there were mainly people from far-right parties, such as the Hungarian Jobbik or Belgian Vlaams Belang, or Stalinist parties, such as Greece’s Communist Party.
Anton Shekhovtsov has been trying to establish exactly who did appear, and as of Sunday evening knew of 37 ‘observers’, many of those whom he comes in contact with through his work researching radical movements. His initial list can be found here. He points out, quite rightly, that since all these people arrived in Ukraine from Moscow and did not go through mandatory border crossing procedure, they must be considered to have entered Ukraine illegally.
One person who not only attended but made sure to take part in a photo-call with top rebel Zakharchenko was Mateusz Piskorski. This right-wing Polish politician dabbled with neo-Nazi parties in his younger years. More recently he has been noted for his support for all Kremlin-moves especially with respect to Ukraine. He was among the ‘observers’ swift to praise the supposedly exemplary running of the Crimean ‘referendum’. He has shown equivalent haste on this occasion to wax eloquent about both the ‘elections’, and the future of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic.
“Having visited the electoral commissions in several regions, I can says with full responsibility that for the local population the new political formula which is the Donetsk people’s republic gives great hope for the formation of conditions of stable development, but most of all for department from the oligarch capitalism which functioned in Ukraine since its independence in 1991. The pathological features of this system, flavoured over several months with the sauce of extreme nationalism, rejected by the people of Donbas, led to Kyiv’s bankruptcy in the eyes of local residents.”
It is not per se the fact that members of some of Europe’s most notorious neo-Nazi parties have been approached for observers. What is more disturbing is that all of these far-right parties can be reliably expected to praise all Kremlin-backed elections. Like the Russian media, they choose not to notice the use of food shortages to pull people in to vote and the clear possibilities for voting many times. Most noticeably, as in the Crimea on March 16, they have no problem in declaring exemplary elections in which the voters are surrounded by men with machine guns.