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Russian Opposition, What Are You Doing? Stahp.

RuNet Echo This post is part of RuNet Echo, a Global Voices project to interpret the Russian language internet. All Posts · Learn more

One of the more popular recent Internet memes has been the “stahp” comic series, which RuNet users have adapted into the “prekrati” (stop!) meme. For a basic rundown of the structure and origins of the meme, consult Know Your Meme. For our purposes, the English and Russian versions differ in two significant ways: (1) the former typically features the same image in a four-panel comic, with a gradual zoom-effect to emphasize “a disturbed-looking subject,” whereas the Russian version usually features four different pictures that show some kind of unpleasant escalation, and (2) the Russian version adds onomatopoeic laughter (“ahahaha”) to the third panel and abandons the intentional misspelling of the word “stop” (“prekrati,” in Russian).

While noting these distinctions might seem like pointless semantics, the result is that the Russian version of the meme is better equipped to criticize—implying not just a steady awkwardness, but an absurdity spiraling out of control. Consider a few examples from around the RuNet. Pictured below are mockeries of Gérard Depardieu, (scientific) atheism, and mathematics.

Gérard Depardieu's Russian transformation. (An anonymous image widely circulated online.)

Gérard Depardieu's Russian transformation. (An anonymous image widely circulated online.)

(Scientific) atheism, what are you doing? ahahaha. Stop. (An anonymous image widely circulated online.)

(Scientific) atheism, what are you doing? ahahaha. Stop. (Panel 2 is the Sputnik satellite, Panel 3 is the first Kosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, and Panel 4 is the exterior of a nuclear power plant. An anonymous image widely circulated online.)

The meme, applied to mathematics. (An anonymous image widely circulated online.)

The meme, applied to mathematics. (An anonymous image widely circulated online.)

Now consider the case of the Coordinating Council of the Russian Opposition (or KSO, for short), which we at RuNet Echo have covered many times before. On February 17, publicist Stanislav Yakovlev posted [ru] to Facebook a news article [ru] about the KSO, writing, “Ahahaha, ‘Coordinating Council,’ what are you doing, stop.” The story to which he linked was the announcement that the KSO will not be nominating candidates for upcoming elections at any level of government, despite its ongoing pledge to promote participation in elections at all levels of government. This obvious contradiction between goals and policy is a revealing piece of the KSO's new Mission Statement [ru], approved just last weekend, on February 16.

But is this one failing enough to justify attacking the KSO with the “stahp” meme? Was Yakovlev being too harsh?

Ex-partners Ksenia Sobchak and Ilya Yashin, sharing an awkward moment. 16 February 2013, screenshot from YouTube.

Ex-partners Ksenia Sobchak and Ilya Yashin, sharing an awkward moment. 16 February 2013, screenshot from YouTube.

In the aftermath of that last Council meeting, the notoriously anti-opposition e-zine PolitOnline published [ru] a whole collection of self-deprecating tweets from “KSO apologists,” ranging from jokes about “awkwardness” between ex-lovers Ilya Yashin and Ksenia Sobchak to accusations of national betrayal, regarding an appeal to Western foreign powers to add new names to the Magnitsky List (which bans certain Russian officials from owning property in or entering the United States).

Some general facts about the KSO will better allow us to judge just how absurd its existence has been. To simplify, I've quantified some basic information about the attendance and voting activity of all 43 members. (A note: the Council started out at 45, but Oleg Shein [ru] and Ekaterina Aitova [ru] later dropped out.) I also wanted to measure the degree to which individual members are committed to the Council's presence in social media. To calculate this, I visited every Twitter, Facebook, Vkontakte, and LiveJournal account belonging a KSO member, and logged whether or not they published any material—however trivial—regarding the most recent Council session, on February 16. With those figures recorded, I divided the results into the ideological camps separated on the October 2012 ballot, when the KSO held online elections [ru], in order to distinguish the behavior of the four voting categories: general civil (the largest), and the leftist, nationalist, and liberal blocs.

The final tally shows that members from the general civil group both attend and vote under KSO averages. Their engagement with social media, at least as far as the last Council session is concerned, is also below the KSO average. This is due largely to the fact that several of the most prominent people elected as general civil representatives rarely attend and/or rarely vote. Dmitri Bykov [ru], who received almost as many votes as first-place-winner Alexey Navalny, has yet to cast a vote. The same goes for Ksenia Sobchak [ru] and Rustem Adagamov [ru]. Oleg Kashin, one of the opposition's most celebrated journalists, has only attended one of five [ru] Council sessions and voted in just two of ten [ru] opportunities.

In terms of attendance and voting participation, the small liberal and nationalist camps have demonstrated far greater commitment, scoring well above KSO averages in both measures. These groups have also made a more serious effort to address KSO matters in their social media outreach. Whereas Oleg Kashin tweeted [ru] a few ironic remarks about whether or not the Council is cool, and Ksenia Sobchak posted photographs [ru] of her seat at the last meeting, nationalists Vladimir Tor [ru] and Konstantin Krylov [ru] penned full-length reaction pieces in the classic LiveJournal format. (Tatiana Lazareva, a general civil representative, did write a traditional blog post [ru] in her LiveJournal, too, but in it she confessed to “not having the brain” necessary for understanding migration policy and the Magnitsky List.)

Does this engagement gap have any consequences? While it's difficult to know [ru], perhaps it helped narrowly pass the February 11 resolution [ru] “On the need to cancel the visa-free [travel] regime with the nations of Central Asia,” which complains that “the insular communities of migrants do not integrate into Russian society,” producing an “economic, cultural, language, and religious barrier.” (That vote attracted a whopping 70% participation from KSO members, 23% of whom abstained.)

The KSO voting mechanism is also something that needs to be explained. I've pulled my data from the voting records listed on the KSO's official website, which reports a total of ten votes to date. This figure, however, refers not to the body of resolutions passed at KSO sessions, but the number of online votes that have passed the 50% threshold on Leonid Volkov's democratia2.ru, where KSO members [ru] are free to initiate votes on various questions and resolutions. When the Council was first established, all 45 members were assigned democratia2.ru accounts, and left to live out the dream of eDemocracy. At the moment, only 38 KSO members [ru] have accounts. Oleg Shein and Ekaterina Aitova naturally lost theirs, after leaving the KSO, but another five (quite prominent) members have apparently abandoned the digital democracy experiment: Vladimir Mirzoev, Olga Romanova, Rustem Adagamov, Dmitri Bykov, and Leonid Razvozzhaev. Confusion on this score isn't limited to pencil-necked analysts: look at the voting record [ru] for the visa regime declaration, and you'll find a series of questions from KSO members about why various names are missing from democratia2.ru's voter list.

So what are we seeing here? Has the Russian Opposition's Coordinating Council run off its tracks and earned itself a bullseye amidst the crossfire of RuNet memes? Is it time Russian Internet users asked the KSO to “stahp”? Have a look at the numbers and decide for yourself.

  • Pingback: Russian Opposition, What Are You Doing? Stahp. | Skyline Empire

  • Mark

    Not to mention that the opening of the last meeting was originally postponed because the gathering lacked a quorum, but then Navalny opened the meeting by declaring that Udaltsov was “with them in spirit” but was a prisoner of the regime or some twaddle like that. It’s evident that rules are only rules until they’re inconvenient, which is particularly comical since this unelected body that was in reality appointed by a tiny fraction of the electorate set itself up as an example of how to govern that the real government was supposed to view with trepidation – since all of Russia would soon clamor for new rule.

    http://www.kp.ru/daily/26033/2949830/

    As long as playacting at being a political body satisfies these misfits that they are doing something worthwhile, I suppose it’s not a complete waste of time. It keeps them off the streets.

    • agoodtreaty

      Mark, why call them “appointed” and not “elected”? Surely, they were elected by the people who voted for them. It may not have been millions, but that hardly makes them appointees. The fact that people voted for them actually exacerbates the issues of low attendance and voting. It seems unlikely that people will be as optimistic about participating next time, if this is how the movement’s leaders reward their support.

      • Mark

        They were appointed because the election was open to “members only”, voting for a slate of candidates which included only opposition figures. Where’s the choice in that? This was a party congress, not an election, and nobody is surprised when a Republican is elected by a Republican audience at the conclusion of the nomination process in the USA. It would be a little incongruous to report that Mitt Romney was “elected” to lead the Republican party as its presidential candidate in the last presidential election, since the vote was not open also to Democrats, who make up better than half the electorate. He was merely put forward to be the people’s champion for the group he represents, and while that was a vote it was not an election, since it was a foregone conclusion a Republican would win.

        The group from which the Coordinating Council was formed has something in common – they are all in opposition to the ruling government. Therefore, while not everybody could win a seat, it might as well have been run that way because all seats would be occupied by oppositionists no matter how many there were. If there is even the perception of such a situation in Russian presidential elections, the international community reacts with scorn and says there was no alternative to Putin. What would be the reaction if only declared United Russia supporters were permitted to be candidates? In the “election” to the Coordinating Council, “[a]ny adult Russian citizen who shares the principal aims and values of the Russian protest movement, as expressed in the resolutions of the mass rallies between December 2011 and June 2012″ can be a candidate, after paying the registration fee of 10,000 rubles.

        http://imrussia.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=298%3Arussias-opposition-vote-pro-et-contra&catid=53%3Apolitics&Itemid=96&lang=en

        The “elections commission” did go to great pains to ensure the elimination of those who were only there as spoilers, like Mavrodi’s drones – but the resulting “electorate” had the choice among opposition figures and other opposition figures.

        • agoodtreaty

          Nobody refers to primary winners as “appointees,” Mark. They are “nominees,” which is exactly what the KSO could produce, if it dared to arrange a process to field candidates for (real) positions in the government. Nobody is arguing that the winners of the KSO’s online elections deserve to replace the Duma’s MPs. The point is that it could marshal its support among opposition-inclined voters to promote a unified ticket in upcoming elections. Surely that is what democracy is all about.

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