In March 2009, the small town of Krasnoturinsk voted for a new mayor. The incumbent had been in power for twenty years and was a member of the powerful United Russia party. When the votes were tallied, however, the mayor had lost his job to a new and nearly unknown candidate.
The New Eurasia Foundation’s Maria Eismont saw this small town election as demonstrative of the larger power of Russian civil society. Along with Charles Maynes and Andrei Babaev, she made a documentary about the March election, entitled How Krasnoturinsk Elected a Mayor. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosted a screening of this film, followed by a panel discussion with Horton Beebe-Center of the Eurasia Foundation and Carnegie Moscow’s Nikolai Petrov. Carnegie’s Ambassador James Collins moderated.
Beebe-Center explained that the story of Krasnoturinsk’s elections was particularly compelling to the Eurasia Foundation, whose mission is to “promote prosperity and stability throughout the region by helping to build the institutions of open, pluralistic and entrepreneurial societies.” The elections in Krasnoturinsk yielded tangible results and changed the direction of economic and political development for the whole town.
Eismont argued that the film contradicts the oversimplified image many have of Russia as a completely authoritarian, undemocratic state. The goal of the film was not to explain the results of the elections, but rather to offer Krasnoturinsk as an example of the power of an active civil society. She told this surprising story through the voices of those who were involved, some of whom risked their jobs, businesses, and reputations to support a new and unknown candidate.
Petrov used the example of Krasnoturinsk to consider the state of the most recent two regional elections, and offer some predictions for the upcoming elections:
For Petrov, the elections in Krasnoturinsk show that “there is a pretty active civil society and, in conditions like those in Krasnoturinsk, it can easily show itself and lead to a failure of the administrative political machine.”
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