"Murmansk - forward!" reads the slogan on the wall. Photo: Atle Staalesen

The proper ideals of the Duma

In the Murmansk region, former convicts have shown up for the elections
August 18, 2021


By Tatiana Britskaya


Ten candidates with the same name but from competing parties, defendants in the same criminal case and one from the National Liberation Movement. The election campaign in the Murmansk region has turned into a complete spectacle of fantasy.

Schrödinger’s agitation

The elections here begin long before the official start. In the Murmansk region, their approach was first marked by the smell of printing ink. In April, mailboxes were abundantly watered with pro-party texts complete with images of Governor Andrei Chibis, Senator Tatyana Kusayko and several other current United Russia deputies. The four-page newspaper was called “In the North - to live!” This is the favorite slogan of the head of the region and you can read these words everywhere courtesy of his PR team. They are on benches, banners, gifts for newborns and even T-shirts ordered on an industrial scale by the dermatovenerology dispensary, the local VD clinic. 

A month later, an 8 page release with a similar design and a similar name appeared except for the addition of “Murmansk - the capital of the Arctic” and carried a circulation of 220,800 copies. Inside are the same faces and texts about the “United Russia” primaries. Periodicals with such a circulation must be registered with Roskomnadzor, the Federal Ministry for Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media. However, there are no traces of the publication in the Russian media register. A letter asking for an explanation of this legal anomaly in issuing and distributing “In the North - to Live!” was sent by Novaya Gazeta on June 4 to the head of the Roskomnadzor department in the Murmansk region. As of this writing, the request remains unanswered.


Campaign newspaper issued by Governor Andrei Chibis and his administration. Photo: Tatiana Britskaya


The debut of the conspiracy theories 

The surprise of the season was the appearance of the founder of the NLM, the National Liberation Movement, Evgeny Fedorov, who had not been noticed before as having ties with the Arctic. He took second place among the list of candidates losing only to Chibis’ steam locomotive for the State Duma seat from the Murmansk region and Karelia. Deputy Fedorov has sat on five Duma convocations, having been elected in Vsevolozhsk, Orel, Rostov and twice in Kaliningrad. In a conversation with Novaya Gazeta though, Kaliningrad journalists could not recall any significant initiatives introduced by the United Russia deputy concerning life in the region.

However, Fedorov’s star has only just begun to rise. Its light first lit up the air in 2011 during a radio discussion with Alexei Navalny. This was the broadcast in which the currently imprisoned Navalny first used the famous catch-phrase “a party of crooks and thieves” in regards to the United Russia Party. His opponent, Fedorov, in turn, made his own debut of a now equally famous conspiracy theory. He said that the anti-corruption activist was the recipient of American Embassy outsourcing, thus introducing a new trend of public discussion. Officials and deputies now specifically respond to accusations of corruption by claiming it is all a witch hunt financed by the US Department of State. 

Fedorov has been successfully maneuvering in the swamp ​​to this day, simultaneously remaining in the legal political field and being the face of the shocking National Liberation Movement that he himself created.

His antics have been so outrageousness, he himself could compete with the political performances of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia but differs from them in effectiveness.

Fedorov seems to have a subtle feel for the permissible degree of approaching absurdity and because of this, his most amazing initiatives, which at first are perceived as simply impossible or seem specifically created to distract society from a more substantial agenda, suddenly turn out to be accepted. 

Fedorov’s list of achievements includes a proposal to classify media outlets with foreign funding as “foreign agents”, the “Dima Yakovlev law”, the 2012 law prohibiting US citizens from adopting Russian children, the introduction of a prison term for publicly stating doubts about the integrity of Russia and furthering the President’s proposal to elevate the  constitutional priority of Russian law over international law.

The public, indifferent to such political actionism, noticed Fedorov only in 2014 when he suggested that Viktor Tsoi, the lead singer of the rock group “Kino”, had been recruited by the CIA.

In the Murmansk region, Fedorov has been practically unrecognizable. In addition to on-duty remarks to news agencies about his “Russian outpost in the Arctic,” he has not yet uttered anything outstanding about the region despite intending to represent us for five years.

“About Murmansk? No, there is nothing about Murmansk.”

Aleksandr Arkhipov is the local coordinator of the NLM. He just shrugs his shoulders and shows me the “Murmansk special edition” of the “For Our Fatherland” newspaper published by the movement. Sympathetic citizens are distributing it at their own expense and have financed part of the circulation. A former airport employee and former head of a housing cooperative, Arkhipov speaks vaguely about his present and complains that the activities of the NLM are ignored by the press. This is arguable as the destruction of the public memorial placed in remembrance of the 2015 shooting of Boris Nemtsov in the town of Nizhny Novgorod,  the attack on internationally recognized author, Lyudmila Ulitskaya and the anti-war Congress of the Intelligentsia, throwing eggs at former presidential candidate and one of the leaders of the People’s Freedom Party, Mikhael Kasyanov and Alexei Navalny and finally, the brilliant activities of the anti-gay activist, Timur Bulatov certainly  have not gone unnoticed.

Arkhipov expounds on his ideals with me in detail pointing out that Russia is under constant external control by, of course, the United States. But he feels it has a chance to regain its sovereignty by following the path of conservatives from India. When asked who he believes the “Russian Gandhi” should be, he immediately replies, “This is Putin!” According to the activist, the same external management has been hindering the country’s development for too long. But with the help of United Russia, it is slowly moving towards independence. Independence would be easier were it not for the parasitic former Soviet republics. Nevertheless, Arkhipov perseveres and has even filed a lawsuit with the Pervomaiska Court of Murmansk to recognize the disintegration of the USSR as illegal. He is trying his best to bring a bright future closer.  

It becomes magic with exposure

The struggle for the regional deputy seats are a natural variety show. During the primaries, a character known as “The Glamorous Arturchik” in particular has bubbled to the surface. This name was bestowed on him by his countrymen for his participation in the TV show “The Fashion Police”. The “Police” was the brainchild of the Belarusian Artur Kotovich Gantsevichi, who has since changed his surname to Fortes. The nickname was handed down to him on his brother-in-law’s initiative. The relative was embarrassed by Artur’s image. After television success and “providing old dresses for Parisian models,” Arthur worked in Moscow as a hairdresser before appearing in the Murmansk region, getting married and acquiring Russian citizenship. Citizen Fortes is now a member of the volunteer movement led by the governor’s wife, Yevgeniya Chibis, and entered the primaries for the regional Duma but lost.

Elections can even get out of hand at the registry office. It was there that citizens named Boyko and Bondarenko somehow turned into citizens named Gismeev and Chernev. In the registry office of the restricted city of Zaozersk, they quickly changed not only surnames but also their family names and by doing so, they ended up replacing world kickboxing champion Almaz Gismeev and epidemiologist Andrei Chernev in the voting ranks. Both had declared themselves from the opposition for the elections. 

True, such a magic session is usually followed by exposure. The newly-minted Gismeev has already been removed from the elections. He has nine outstanding criminal cases lined up against him, a conviction and dual citizenship in his public record. The new Chernev also has a difficult fate but there were only three criminals involved and they were easily extinguished. They all work by the way for the Limited Private Partnership known as the “Murmansk Duma”. The micro-enterprise practices “ritual organization” among their other activities. For good or bad, none of this was without black magic.

“No, I don’t know anything about this personally. They are not in my contingent,” the original Chernev sneers. And he added that the namesakes in the bulletin were not only gifts for himself. Four other candidates who are united in their frustration with the regional authorities have also been handed “copies”. And it is strictly and only by coincidence that they are all connected to the same districts as the originals. And, undoubtedly and also by pure chance, they were all nominated by the same sponsor, the Russian Party of Pensioners for Social Justice, which is led by Anastasia Kareva in Murmansk. The head “Pensioner”, who is in her early 30s, is the editor-in-chief of the Arktik-TV channel. Therefore, she is connected with businessman Andronik Musatyan, a former member of the Communist, Fair Russia and United Russia parties who also by pure chance just happens to be a candidate for the Duma.

Indeed, the purely outrageous nature of what is happening is added by the fact that Musatyan himself will fight the real Almaz Gismeev for the chair. Both deputies by the way were members of the city council together and both were involved in the same criminal case when Gismeev told the police that Musatyan had given him a bribe, and Musatyan told police that Gismeev had accepted a bribe.

Both Chernev and Gismeev come to the Duma from the Just Russia party. The party held exactly one seat in parliament but has suddenly accumulated several bright candidates with different political preferences. Party building is a part of the program for the governor’s technologists but they clearly overachieved when reshaping the Duma. They left the ruffled deputies without the support of any parties loyal to the authorities and instead, made ardent opponents of all of them.

Before the elections, Andrei Chernev left United Russia during the meeting of the regional Duma. He quit in protest of the governor’s policy. Oleg Cherkashin, a former Zhirinovite, slammed the door after the party refused to nominate him. Cherkashin is sure that the reason is the process of cleaning out any more or less independent people from the Duma. Support for the party’s itinerary must be unconditional. And certainly, a report will be ordered about the situation at the Pechenga hospital, whose accounts are currently seized, and then another about several multimillion-dollar bonuses paid to officials and then a third about those billion rubles spent on a covid hospital that never admitted a single patient.

Previously unsuccessful, but extremely in opposition to the governor, the “Fair Russia” party offered its support to the renegades. As a result, the authorities, always demanding the loyalty of the Duma, might get a completely unexpected result. This thinking however causes panic and makes you check the files for training manuals from the 90s. Andrei Chernev feels this deeply. “For me, this is my fourth elections but I have never seen anything like this one. They are ready to bring criminals to parliament so that the Duma would live according to the proper ideals.”


This story is originally published in Russian by Novaya Gazeta.
It is translated to English by Adam Goodman, editor and essayist for the ecological website green2021.org


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