By Paul Goble
The poll about the location of a cathedral Yekaterinburg leaders plan to conduct in place of a referendum which, they say, would take too long to prepare and be too expensive (politikus.ru/v-rossii/119283-mer-ekaterinburga-soobschil-chto-provedenie-referenduma-po-hramu-oboydetsya-dorozhe-chem-opros.html) will do little to end the controversy
On the one hand, many expect that the poll will be falsified so that the outcome the government and church want will be guaranteed. And on the other, the plans the city administration appears to be committed to may lead to an opposite outcome but one that won’t be accepted by proponents of the cathedral in the center of the city.
Consequently, while the shock of the proposal to have a referendum, now a poll, may have calmed the situation by its unexpectedness, ever more people are going to see it as nothing more than a tactic designed to achieve that end rather than any readiness by the regime to accept the will of the people.
Many Russian commentators are already saying that no one will trust any numbers that are reported (mk.ru/social/2019/05/17/opros-o-khrame-posle-slov-putina-v-rezultaty-ne-poveryat.html), people on both sides are saying that any falsification could be “fatal” because it would recall 2012 (rosbalt.ru/russia/2019/05/17/1781709.html).
(Further complicating the situation are rumors swirling around the city that some polls have already been taken. These have reached the level that Valery Fedorov, the director of VTsIOM, has felt compelled to deny them as “fake news,” although that is unlikely to end the rumors (tass.ru/obschestvo/6442074).)
Yekaterinburg Mayor Aleksandr Vysokinsky is seeking to navigate this mine field, promising transparency in discussions about how the poll will be conducted, who will be allowed to take part, and its actual conduct. He even says the initial talks will be streamed live on the Internet (rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=84624).
Moscow sociologist Grigroy Yudin says that Russians in general and Yekaterinburgers in particular have good reasons to view this poll as simply “a trick” by Russia’s political managers, a trick they have played before including in the case of Crimea “a minimum of three times.” They know how to ensure the “right” outcome (newtimes.ru/articles/detail/180620).
The trick starts with Putin’s message to the people of Yekaterinburg: “You want a democratic decision: we’ll give you democracy, we’ll find out ‘the opinion of people’ … that is, in fact, we will conduct a plebiscite;” and Yudin says that he can easily predict exactly how that will work out.
According to the sociologist: “the poll will show that ‘the people is for the church,’ construction will continues, people will return to their homes with the troubling sense that they are in a disappearing minority or more generally on some kind of alien planet, that it isn’t worth defending their interests, because all the same the people is always for the powers.”
Everyone should know that “this poll plebiscite does not have any relation to democracy, Yudin writes in an article for The New Times; and he then lists seven things that Russians and others should recognize are involved here:
1. “The main principle of a plebiscite which has long been known in political theory is that a plebiscite is always won by those who conduct it.”
2. “The cleverest thing about a plebiscite is its unexpectedness: let’s simply ‘find out the opinion of people.’ But in order for the people to have an opinion, it must take shape” and that requires time and a free debate.
3. “The key demand of democracy is that each citizen can take part in the resolution of important issues for him. Polls are organized on a representative basis and the overwhelming majority of citizens will not get any chance to cast their vote.”
4. The authorities will ensure that the poll is only of the representative sample on which they can count to give the “correct” answer.
5. The fraudulent nature of this poll will have the effect of reducing the confident Russians have in any poll, something that works against sociologists and for the powers that be.
6. It would have been better if Putin had declared exactly what the correct answer is because it is certain that he as the one who ordered up this poll “already knows” what that is. He will get it, but it won’t matter as much as he thinks.
7. “The conflict between the two positions should be resolved with the help of a democratic referendum which everyone to whom the issue is important could take part, not by some poll conducted by who knows whom in an instant, but a normal campaign involving discussion of a key problem of the city in all urban media over at least a month.”