School of Democracy

This Monday I went to the meeting, organized by Russian NGO Grazhdanin Nabliudatel (Citizen Observer). Along with two other similar organizations, the Grazhdanin Nabliudatel provides supervision of elections in Russia. Just a few months ago it was a small union of people, dedicated to the idea of fair democratic elections. They organized observation during   elections at various occasions, but public support was not so wide and the number of volunteers used to be quite modest. The State Duma elections in December 2011 and all the events around them had turned the situation by 180 degrees. Exactly after these questionable elections a small-sized association of proactive and concerned people gained many newcomers. Today the search request for Grazhdanin Nabliudatel is very popular in the Russian Google, while the base of people who have registered in the NGO's database as observers is almost 8000 in Moscow, according to the representatives of Grazhdanin Nabliudatel (it means one observer for every 1500 people living in Moscow). These are all people who are going to supervise presidential elections on the 4th of March, and their number is 16 times more than that of the previous federal elections – to State Duma! Really impressive trend! Grazhdanin Nabliudatel works now only in two places – the city of Moscow and the Moscow region, but I think that the proliferation of the idea is only a question of time. I got the evidence of trend's popularity on this Monday meeting.

The evening of the first working day, minus 25 degrees by Celsius outdoors, and a room-full of volunteers who came to look at each other and get instructions for their work on the day of elections. The work of observer in not paid, it is quite time-consuming (trainings, logistical meetings, reading of special literature) and a very stressful atmosphere at certain polling stations. The working day of the observer on the day of elections lasts from 8 a.m. to at least midnight. But people came! And I heard many requests for allocations on the most ‘difficult’ polling stations, where serious falsifications were detected by the NGO during the recent elections. Immediately after the meeting I wrote on my Facebook page ‘Folks, I am so proud of you’.

I think that something very important is now happening in people's minds. Many of them feel that their vote can make a difference. There are still not so many channels for political participation of Russian citizens, but anyway . . . People have received at least one opportunity to approach the political process pretty closely and they will never loose it! Observation is a real chance to taste the real politics. They have missed on personal political activity for more than 20 years, in fact, after the Soviet Union’s collapse and following the abolition of the Communist Party and Komsomol Russia has not created any effective mechanism of political participation. And finally, they can make a difference! Cool feeling at the end of the day. Some critics say that this observer's movement is just a fashion which is transient. It may be, but after the fashion has gone the confidence of personal power and energy are still present. People who have been starving for a long time do not only provide for a rich dinner after all the hardships but also have a special respect for food for the rest of their life. This movement for fair elections can be called a school of democracy – it brings up theoretical and practical skills of political activity. I suppose that future leaders of Russian public and political life are today among the observers.

Currently, to be an observer means to be a citizen, and vice versa. And from here we start. Those who once became a citizen cannot quit.