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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: 'And They Call This Elections?'




When it is all over, foreign groups will almost certainly sign off on these elections as "free and fair." Edouard Brunner, head of the OSCE's 400-person elections delegation, told The Moscow Times this week his team had so far found no evidence that would suggest the polls are anything but that. He added, "One expects that at the end of the process, international observers will come up with a statement that the elections were conducted in a democratic way."


What late-arriving observers don't seem to understand is how thoroughly these elections have been compromised by campaign abuses, particularly on ORT television. It is hard for those who have not been watching ORT for three months to grasp how thoroughly evil the station's behavior has been; and it is hard for foreigners to comprehend ORT's dominant role on the Russian scene. For far too many Russians, this is the only source of national news.


Consider Gary Peach's report on front about the bezpredel in Leonid Gorbenko's Kaliningrad. Journalists recount losing teeth and liters of blood to savage beatings f and the tales are strangely reminiscent of those from Yevgeny Nazdratenko's Primorye, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov's Kalmykia, Vladimir Yakovlev's St. Petersburg and so on.


Or consider how strong national media have been curtailed by a small Kremlin cabal. As Jen Tracy recounts on front today, earlier this decade Izvestia was the flagship of Russian journalism; but when its reporting offended the prime minister, a battle for control of the newsroom left LUKoil and Uneximbank in charge. Izvestia passed the torch to Kommersant Daily, which quickly became the new indispensable read; then Kommersant was bought by Boris Berezovsky.


On Wednesday two of Russia's best-known journalistic personalities f Alexander Khinshtein, a reporter for Moskovsky Komsomolets, and Pavel Voshchanov, who is now at the newspaper Trud f held a news conference to discuss why a journalist would run for the Duma.


Their answers boiled down to a blistering condemnation of the state of the nation. Politics? It's about manipulating and cheating and stealing f not public service. Journalism? There is no journalism in Russia, because society is too ill to support it. Free and fair elections? Already not.


Voshchanov recounted dirty tricks f ranging from leaflets saying Voshchanov wants to tax all pets, including aquarium fish, to armies of telemarketers calling people at 3 a.m. to sing his praises.


"And we consider these elections?" he asked rhetorically. "We consider this a contest of ideas? Has even one party leader spoken out against [abuses]? Not one."