Project news

There are 2 months left until the end of our ElMaRB projects, but we still have news to share with you.

First, we have a new project planner, who joins us for the final months of ElMaRB to help us gather the remaining data and organise the final conference.  His name is Viktor Lambin and he is a Doctoral Student, at the Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki. Viktor completed two master’s programmes in European and Nordic Studies, and Global Security Issues. He is working on his PhD on the Enemization of Russian public discourse in national media. 

 

 

 

The second news relates to the conference mentioned earlier. The ongoing war of Russia against Ukraine has changed so many things, and we want to discuss how it affects elections in Europe and beyond. That is why on 8-9 December 2022, our project organises its final conference ‘Elections after 2022: The short and long-term impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine’.

The military aggression of Russia in Ukraine has multiple reverberations in all spheres from politics, business, and energy to culture, environment, and migration. There is barely an aspect of our everyday realities that have not been affected by the war in Ukraine. Elections are by no means an exception. Since many European states held or are about to hold national elections after February 24, we may expect that the war interfered with usual political landscapes and policy agendas by stressing the challenges of security, solidarity, energy politics as well as politically motivated redistribution policies. Russia as a high-capacity authoritarian regime that regularly holds elections marred with fraud and propaganda has been exporting electoral malpractice elsewhere through a variety of channels: hybrid warfare, media, trolls and bots, policy advice, and outright attempts to meddle with other states’ elections. The aim of the conference is to provide and share scholarly expertise on the consequences and mechanisms of how electoral processes are being affected by the ongoing war in Ukraine. We intentionally expanded the geographical realm of our discussion since the war suggests worldwide repercussions and it does not seem reasonable anymore to differentiate between ‘post-Soviet’, ‘post-Communist’, and the rest of Europe. During the conference we seek 1) to locate our research given the new circumstances, 2) to look at the past and forthcoming elections in the EU and beyond with a focus on countries that share a common border with Russia, 3) to spell out the main shifts in the party and electoral politics, citizens preferences as well as 4) the role of media and technologies in sustaining electoral integrity and preventing polarization and hate speech. Finally, we present the research results of the three-year research project Electoral malpractice, Cyber-security and its Political Consequences in Russia and Beyond (ElMaRB) funded by the University of Helsinki.

More information on the conference will be appearing on the Conference page, so stay tuned.

 

European Rus­si­ans and Rus­sian Europeans: Polit­ical At­ti­tudes and Ex­pect­a­tions of the Anti-War Mi­grants

Last Friday Dr. Margarita Zavadskaya gave a talk “European Rus­si­ans and Rus­sian Europeans: Polit­ical At­ti­tudes and Ex­pect­a­tions of the Anti-War Mi­grants” based on her piece for Aleksanteri Insight. In the talk, Margarita talked about the research she is conducting together with the OK Russians project, studying the new Russian migrants and their attitudes. Professor Olga Davydova-Minguet served as the discussant of the paper, and Dr. Teemu Oivo chaired the seminar.

About 200,000 Russians fled soon after Russia started the invasion of Ukraine. This is the biggest brain drain since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Will these migrants form an alternative intellectual hub for a democratising Russia? Would they become co-creators of an alternative imagery of Russia? Here we offer a cursory look at the Russian migrants, drawing on an original survey carried out from 28 March to 4 April 2022. Since the characteristics of the population data of migrants are unknown, we rely on a convenience sample of 1,700 respondents recruited via online relocation groups and Telegram channels as well as networks close to the OK Russians project (okrussians.org). The project focuses on providing assistance with relocation and regularly monitors migrants’ situations.

The full version of Aleksanteri Insight issue can be read online here. The talk on the same topic in Russian that Margarita gave to Riddle can be watched here.

Max Grömping ‘Online Disinformation and (Mis)Perceptions of Electoral Integrity’

In June, we had a most exciting ElMaRB seminar with Max Grömping, Lecturer with the School of Government and International Relations at Griffith University, Australia. He gave a talk “Online Disinformation and (Mis)Perceptions of Electoral Integrity”. Max Alyukov, Research Fellow at the King’s College, UK, acted as a discussant. We are happy to announce that the talk is now available for watching online:

NPRE seminar with Amelie Tolvin

In two weeks, on the 15th of June, our project trainee Amelie Tolvin will present her MA thesis at the New perspectives on Russia and Eurasia seminar. The title of her talk is Use your weapons:” Protest Repression in Lukashenka’s Belarus, and you can watch it online in Zoom or come to Aleksanteri Institute meeting room (Metsätalo, wing C, 2nd floor) at 14:00 and watch it live. Vladimir Gel’man, Professor of Russian Politics at Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki, will act as a discussant.

Here is the abstract of Amelie’s talk:
Belarusians took to the streets following the August 2020 Presidential election in their country, decrying falsified results that gave Alyaksandr Lukashenka his sixth term in power – the authoritarian leader had been ruling Belarus, known as ‘Europe’s last dictatorship,’ for 26 years. The protest movement, arguably the largest and most persistent of its kind in the history of the country, was met with disproportionate levels of coercion and repression at the hands of the regime. Within the first few days of the movement, over thirty thousand were detained.

The objective of this paper is to examine the varying security service responses to the protest movement in Belarus in an effort to ascertain common patterns and developments in the Belarusian protest-repression dynamic. While utilizing theories of threat perception, repression, and contentious politics, this paper attempts to ascertain the security service decision-making processes that have ultimately led to varying levels of repression throughout the country.

Zoom: https://helsinki.zoom.us/j/64906887561?pwd=YXFrT2dydWcvK3Bma0JVU1dxU3pGUT09

Meeting ID: 649 0688 7561
Passcode: 556814

ElMaRB seminar next week

On the 8th of June, next week’s Wednesday, we will have our next ElMaRB seminar with Max Grömping, Lecturer with the School of Government and International Relations at Griffith University, Australia. Dr. Grömping will give a talk “Online Disinformation and (Mis)Perceptions of Electoral Integrity”. Max Alyukov, Research Fellow at the King’s College, UK, will serve as a discussant.

The seminar will start at 10:00 sharp and can be attended via Zoom https://helsinki.zoom.us/j/61887773936?pwd=MDczaFNuWGlWY3lQQVpWMjBPeUFIZz09

 Disinformation campaigns, sowing doubts about the procedural fairness of elections aim at the heart of citizens’ trust in democracy. At the same time, autocrats deploy disinformation to whitewash deeply fraudulent contests. This paper investigates the drivers of public perceptions and misperceptions of electoral integrity by linking public opinion data from 82 national elections with expert survey data on disinformation and de facto electoral integrity. Building on theories of rational belief updating and motivated reasoning, it argues that disinformation campaigns are efficacious in undermining belief accuracy among both winners and losers. The results cast doubt on recent advances in disinformation research that emphasize limited exposure and minimal effects. This contributes a cross-nationally comparative perspective to studies of (dis)information processing and belief updating, as well as attitude formation and trust surrounding highly salient political institutions such as elections.

A Big Exodus seminar

On the 31st of May, Margarita Zavadskaya will organise a seminar where she will present the results of the survey of the new Russian migrants who left the country because of the war. She and other researchers collaborated with the project Ok Russians to find out what are the political attitudes of those who decided not to stay in Russia after it attacked Ukraine on the 24th of February this year.  Join us in Zoom to listen to the first preliminary results of the project:

https://helsinki.zoom.us/j/67983658919?pwd=aTRvRS9SaVFoSjBkbzFmUlFSUi9CQT09

Meeting ID: 679 8365 8919
Passcode: 021541

A Big Exodus: The Anti-War Migrants from Russia, Political Attitudes and Expectations

Authors:

Emil Kamalov, doctoral student, European University Institute (EUI), Florence, Italy

Nika Kostenko

Ivetta Sergeeva, doctoral student, European University Institute (EUI), Florence, Italy

Margarita Zavadskaya, researcher, University of Helsinki, Finland

About 200,000 Russians fled soon after Russian government launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February, 24, 2022. This is the biggest exodus from Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Among these emigrés, there are leading experts in top-notch industries including IT sector, representatives of non-commercial sector, science and education. The outflow of highly qualified labor force will lead to the loss of human capital and knowledge in Russia and affect societies in the destination countries.

We present the early results of the online panel survey of Russian migrants (N=1.500) carried out from March 27 to April 4, 2022 in collaboration with the project Ok Russians. Our sample includes only those respondents who agreed to participate in the survey. The questionnaire encompasses questions related to demography, socio-economic status, profession, political attitudes, expectations and plans as well as reasons for emigration.

Our preliminary findings suggest that new migrants are mostly educated young Russians between 20 and 40. They are mostly employed in the realms of intellectual and creative professions such as IT, data science, own business, academia, art and culture, ‘white collars’. Most of the respondents used to be politically active citizens and many faced threats due to their political views. Every second respondent admits fear of political prosecution.

“Thank God we have a Dictatorship”

Belarus’ Referendum: Results and Implications

Against the backdrop of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and following a large-scale protest movement following falsified elections in August 2020, Belarusian Dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka pushed through the country’s fourth constitutional referendum, consolidating his power and extending his rule. This may sound familiar — Russia pushed through its own constitutional referendum in 2020, while, more recently, Kazakhstan’s Toqaev has suggested changing a third of the Kazakh constitution. This post will explore the Belarusian referendum and its implications, and was written by Amelie Tolvin, a research trainee at the ElMaRB project.

Belarusian opposition groups, unable to campaign against the referendum, declared the election campaign as neither free nor fair and called for a protest vote (marking both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ on the ballot). However, due to a complete lack of privacy when voting (polling booths were left without curtains), these attempts were cracked down on by the police, who were stationed at every polling station, arresting some who chose this form of protest. 

Lukashenka, who has ruled over Belarus since 1994, has previously amended the Belarusian constitution three times – in 1995, 1996 and 2004. According to the authorities, this referendum vote succeeded with 65% of the vote (and a turnout of 79%) – a modest result considering the results of previous falsified elections in the country.

Belarusian Referendum Results throughout the Lukashenka regime:
1995 Referendum Results (turnout: 64.8%)
Issue For Against
Should Russian be given equal status with Belarusian? 83.3% 12.7%
Introduction of a new Belarusian flag and coat of arms 75.1% 9.39%
Economic Integration with Russia 83.3% 12.5%
Should the President be given the power to dissolve Parliament? 77.7% 17.8%
1996 Referendum Results (turnout: 84.14%)
Issue For Against
Change of date for Independence Day to July 3rd 88.18% 10.46%
Increased Presidential powers 70.45% 9.39%
Free sale of property 15.35% 82.88%
Abolition of death penalty 17.93% 80.44%
Constitutional amendments (proposed by Parliament) 7.93% 71.2%
Direct elections to local government bodies (proposed by Parliament) 28.14% 69.92%
State expenses should be part of national budget (proposed by Parliament) 32.18% 65.85%
2004 Referendum Results (turnout: 90.28%)
Issue For Against
Removal of Presidential term limits 79.42 *
2022 Referendum Results (turnout: 78.63%)
Issue For Against
Do you approve of changes to the Constitution? 65.16% 10.07%
* percentage of votes against not provided in official results

Amidst claims that the results were falsified, a result of 65.16% in favour of the constitutional amendments is of particular interest. Previous results, particularly concerning Presidential powers, have historically hovered safely around the 75% mark. Perhaps, in light of the popular movement following the 2020 elections (many protesters carried signs with the slogan “Sasha – 3%,” a reference to Lukashenka’s alleged real support numbers), the regime finally understood that they could no longer pretend that it enjoys widespread, popular support. The alternative, then, is to falsify results in a more or less “believable” way. 

These recent amendments reintroduce term limits for the Presidency moving forward – effectively allowing Lukashenka to stay in power until 2035, ten years after the expiration of his current term. It’s worth remembering that following the protests in 2020, Lukashenka stated that he would leave his post after the adoption of a new constitution – as unlikely a scenario now as it was then. Other changes were more low-key, but no less insidious. Article 5, which previously declared that political parties would participate in elections, was amended to remove this mention. Article 32 was amended to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman – following in the footsteps of the Russian referendum.

The amendments also further sideline the opposition, protecting the Lukashenka regime from further challenges to his rule. In particular, Article 80 has been amended to prohibit anyone who has temporarily left the country in the last 20 years from being eligible for the Presidency – a direct blow to Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the Belarusian opposition leader (and according to independent polling, the winner of the August 2020 election) living in exile, as well as other prominent opposition activists who have also been forced out of the country. Meanwhile, Article 64 takes away the right to vote for those who have previously been arrested. As of May 4, 2022, Belarusian human rights organisations have recognized 1,165 political prisoners in Belarus – a number which is steadily climbing day by day – while the number of those who have been detained for taking part in Anti-Lukashenka protests number in the tens of thousands.

Of course, it is impossible to ignore how the changed constitution will affect neighbouring countries and its foreign relations, particularly in light of the Russian use of Belarusian territory to stage attacks against Ukraine. Article 18 of the constitution states that Belarusian foreign policy follows the principles of equality, the rejection of the threat of force, and peaceful settlement of disputes. It is worth remembering that Minsk was the location of the first international agreements seeking to end the war in the Donbas; however, with Belarusian involvement in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, its position as a mediator has been unquestionably compromised. The amended Article features one addition: Belarus excludes military aggression from its territory against other states. In light of Belarus’ involvement in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, this statement is particularly dubious.

ElMaRB seminar ‘Internet voting in Russia: Democratizing Power of Internet Voting Revised?’

Next week’s Wednesday we continue our ElMaRB seminar series and will have a presentation by Iuliia Krivonosova, Doctoral researcher at Ragnar Nurkse Department of Innovation and Governance, Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia, and at the Kompetenzzentrum für Public Management, University of Bern, Switzerland. Iuliia will present her research ‘Internet voting in Russia: Democratizing Power of Internet Voting Revised?’. Bogdan Romanov, Junior Research Fellow in E-Governance, University of Tartu, will serve as discussant.

Internet voting has pride of place among democratic innovations. It enfranchises new groups of voters, brings greater voter convenience and decreases costs of voting (Alvarez & Hall, 2003; Goodman & Stokes, 2016; Krimmer, 2012). So far, the studies of Internet voting implementation have been limited to democratic countries, which helps to reinforce the narrative of Internet voting as an innovation with democratic potential. At the same time, authoritarian regimes have a lot of potential to become norm entrepreneurs (Sunstein, 1996) generating new “alternative norms of appropriateness” (Jones, 2015, p. 26) which has already happened in the field of cyberspace (Kneuer & Harnisch, 2016) and e-participation (Åström et al., 2012). Therefore, for Internet voting to be an innovative solution, it deems important to study its development in a non-democratic environment. I consider one of such cases – Internet voting implementation in the 2019 Local elections in Moscow, Russia – in order to answer the research question “How is Internet voting implemented in a non-democratic environment?”
Iuliia’s research interests include digital transformation, e-governance and e-democracy, party and electoral systems, post-communist institution-building, and democratization. Outside academia, Iuliia has served in election observation missions, contributed to the work of NGOs (International IDEA, Varieties of Democracy, Transparency International, British Council), and popularized knowledge on elections via op-eds for various think thanks and magazines.

The event will be organised in Zoom, please join us at https://helsinki.zoom.us/j/68911907349?pwd=aFgvald4aGlDSnYzWVJyZkVEQnczdz09
Meeting ID: 689 1190 7349
Passcode: 521669

Project updates

We have not written anything in this blog since the 23rd of February 2022. That day we had a seminar by Elena Gorbacheva, made some plans for further research, and agreed to return to it in a few days. The next day Russia attacked Ukraine and the war started. We like millions of others across the world were shocked and terrified when the war started. We strongly condemn Russia’s invasion and our thoughts and sympathy go to all Ukrainians. We express our solidarity to all who oppose the war, in Russia and elsewhere.

For the past 50 days, most of our thoughts were directed toward the war and its victims. Yet, we tried to continue working and fulfill our project obligations. Apart from organising and taking part in various events like the forthcoming panel discussion on how to deal with surveys from Russia, we managed to hold a seminar ‘Unintended consequences of corruption indices: an experimental approach’ by Philipp Chapkovski, which was postponed from the original date because Philipp fled to Armenia, like many other people from Russia who want to do nothing with the regime that attacks a sovereign state. The recording of the talk will be made available in the upcoming weeks.

Another news we have – we are very glad to welcome Amelie Tolvin, a Master student at the University of Toronto’s Centre for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, as a new trainee in our project. Amelie’s focus and interests lie in authoritarianism and protests in Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia. She is currently working on her graduate major research project, which examines the development of the 2020 protest movement in Belarus. Amelie started her traineeship on the 1st of April online and in May-June she will come to Helsinki to work with us. Soon you will hear and see more from her.

In the meantime, we are working on new articles and posts, events and papers. The next seminar we have planned will be held on the 11th of May. Iuliia Krivonosova, Doctoral researcher at Ragnar Nurkse Department of Innovation and Governance, Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia, and at the Kompetenzzentrum für Public Management, University of Bern, Switzerland will give a talk ‘Internet voting in Russia: Democratizing Power of Internet Voting Revised?’. We hope to see you there.

We wish everyone stays safe these days. Peace to Ukraine!

Electoral consequences of environmental protest: The case of Shiyes

Today our Doctoral researcher Elena Gorbacheva presented her ongoing research ‘Electoral consequences of environmental protest: The case of Shiyes’ at ElMaRB seminar. Anna Zhelnina, Postdoctoral researcher at the Helsinki Institute of Urban and Regional Studies (Urbaria), acted as a discussant.

The Shiyes protest campaign, which lasted for about 2 years since summer 2018, became one of the most prominent and well-known environmental protests in Russia during the last decade. The protests resulted in success – the landfill project for Moscow waste in Arkhangelsk oblast’ was cancelled and the head of the region, who supported the construction, resigned. But are there any other consequences of the two-year contention?

Elena Gorbacheva examined the political consequences of environmental protests in Russia by studying environmental protests in the Arkhangelsk region against the Shiyes landfill and how they affected the political support of incumbents at the elections of different levels in the region – gubernatorial elections in 2020 and State Duma elections in 2021. Based on the unique protest database for the SHiyes campaign, Elena found that there is a positive correlation between opposition candidates’ results and number of protests and a negative one between United Russia results and number of protests. The effect on turnout is modest, however, the turnout in 2020-2021 in Arkhangelsk was higher than during the previous electoral cycle despite the pandemic. What are the mechanisms behind it? Elena will explore this in her further research.