By Paul Goble
Direct assaults on democracy are easy to identify and easy to denounce, if not always easy to counter. But indirect ones – or perhaps one could call them “hybrid” attacks – are less so in all three regards, even if it has long been a principle in the West that elections must not be used to end the possibility of future ones.
The dangers of such attacks are especially high when they occur outside capital cities because then there are not typically the journalistic or diplomatic resources and because many outsiders are inclined to dismiss any reports of moves in this direction as only of “local” interest and concern.
A particularly egregious case in Karelia, however, compels attention as an example of this “hybrid” attack on democracy, in which the Kremlin and its agents in place are using nominally democratic procedures to overturn the popular will as expressed in democratic elections.
Today the pro-Putin majority in the Petrozavodsk city council voted to overturn the veto the city’s mayor, Galina Shirshina, had cast on their earlier vote to do away with mayoral elections. As a result, the city charter will be changed, and the mayor will be chosen not by the people but by the city council members (kommersant.ru/doc/2782466).
Shirshina, an independent politician has been in the crosshairs of the Kremlin and the Karelian government since her victory over Nikolay Levin, the United Russia candidate who had been mayor up to that point. She won 41.9 percent of the vote, while he garnered only 28.9 percent.
In the intervening period her supporters have been accused of violating Russian law, calling for the dismemberment of the Russian Federation, and arrested for taking part in demonstrations against the republic government and by extension its backers in the Russian capital.
This latest twist must not be the end of the story or the chances for the survival of democracy in her city and elsewhere in the Russian Federation will be diminished, with the Kremlin having employed nominally “democratic” procedures in order by “hybrid” fashion to destroy democracy in fact.