The Russian Legislative Election 2016: How Much Freedom for Civil Society and Political Opposition?


Described by some as ‘the most boring election of 2016‘, the Russian legislative election will take place on 18 September. It is long-since certain that President Vladimir Putin – also thanks to the loyal parties of the ‘system opposition‘ – will receive a clear majority of deputies. In spite of this, the election electrified the political elite of the country. The Russian political leadership may act in an authoritarian way, but it appreciates a broad legitimisation by the people. The Kremlin very carefully observes whether political apathy turns into a mobilisation of the malcontents and which governor controls his district so well that he can report record results for the party in power – Putin’s ‘United Russia’  – to Moscow.  The nervousness in the run-up of the election also had an impact on civil society: the biggest independent opinion research institute in Russia, the Levada Centre, was declared ‘foreign agent’ on 5 September. On the same day an investigation was opened against the office of the human rights organisation Memorial International. Politics and society seem to be firmly under control of the Kremlin. Still, spaces and niches for alternative politics and civic engagement remain.  Russia’s activists have learned a long time ago how to react flexibly and ingeniously to all turns of the spiral of repression. What is the red line they should avoid to cross? Who defines these boundaries in politics and society? How can civic organisations and oppositional politicians deal with the pressure of the authorities? How do young Russians find their way between adjustment, activity and self-realisation? In spite of the dwindling civil liberties is there also reason to look optimistically to the future of Russian society and politics?

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Date of Publication
November 2016
Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung European Union
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