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what dictators do.Russian-staged ‘referendum’ on Ukrainian soil pursues the illusion of legitimacy

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Crimea, “referendum” before annexation, 2014

Today, Russia-organized “referendums” began in several occupied Ukrainian territories. Only a week before him, the once-devastated idea of ​​these “referendums” was officially and indefinitely “HoldOn September 20th, the situation was reversed. The “People’s Council” of the self-proclaimed “DNR” and “LNR” and the “Military-Civil Administration” of the occupied Kherson and Zaporizhia regions all announced the same decision to hold a “referendum”.These are generally understood It is a bogus procedure meant to justify Russia’s planned annexation of these parts of Ukraine.

In Zaporizhia, votes are collected by accompanying special police.brigade” visits each home. Yevhen Balytskyi, the Russian-appointed head of administration for the area, has summarized the plan in safety precautions.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky clarified These “referendums” will have no impact on Ukraine’s efforts to regain control of the occupied territories. urging them not to participate in a “referendum” orchestrated by I added that there is. in prison. “Again, I highly recommend it to residents. [Russian] passport; don’t go to the referendum; Do not cooperate with invaders. Stay away if you can.

Western countriescynical” The “referendum” staged by Russia on Ukrainian soil is completely fictitious. Their expected result will make no difference to the current policies of Ukraine’s international partners.

On September 21, Vladimir Putin announced his mobilization in Russia.in the way he speaks address, he reminded the “collective West” and Ukraine itself of Russian nuclear weapons.Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu Said Russia plans to recruit 300,000 new troops from its current 25 million reserve army.

Medusa sources near the Kremlin suggestion The Russian government has no interest in making the referendum look legitimate, he said: “There is no such expectation.” So what is the purpose of these “referendums”? Our analysis may surprise you.

Russian law I understand that a referendum is “a form of direct expression of the will of the people.” Suitable for determining key issues at the federal and local level. Of course, the law does not provide for holding referendums abroad, even in Russia.

A legal referendum is a decision made directly by voters. This means that the results of the referendum are binding. Both the government and the people must put into practice what they have decided in the referendum.

For example, Russia’s 2020 constitutional amendment vote was not a referendum. These amendments were voted on by both Houses and signed by the President. No popular vote was required, but the vote was taken for apparently political reasons. A decision was made — that decision was, first and foremost, freezing Regarding Putin’s term limit. Still, a demonstration was called for to show public support, and a vote was taken. This kind of political process is sometimes called “applause”. This follows the Roman and Byzantine model of greeting new emperors with cheers and raucous applause.

Polling station for the 2020 Constitutional Amendment vote in Russia, Tver.

This leads to a concept that is often used interchangeably with “referendum”, but is actually a different concept. referendumSimply put, the difference between the two comes down to the fact that referendum results are not binding. This means that no one is obliged to enforce the results of the referendum. In this way, a referendum resembles a special kind of poll.

Both referendums and referendums are tools of direct democracy, difficult to implement but easy to operate.

Dictators prefer referendums, not referendums. But even a referendum must meet certain criteria to be legitimate.

Here, the “referendum” taking place in the occupied Ukrainian territory differs from the typical authoritarian referendum. Holding a so-called “referendum” on the territory of another country violates the principles of national sovereignty that Putin himself seems to hold dear. But this also did not stop Crimea from being annexed by a staged “referendum”. The Crimean “referendum” remains illegal by international standards, and Crimea retains its status as an occupied Ukrainian territory. (previous problem This is explained in detail in the Signal newsletter).

Authoritarian regimes want to maintain the appearance of a functioning democracy. In that setting, referendums are a convenient means of stifling internal strife among elites. They help prevent government coups. They demoralize and destroy the opposition. Consider this list: Bonaparte, Napoleon III, Hitler, Mussolini, Assad, Ayatollah Khomeini, Nazarbayev. What do these numbers have in common? They’re all dictators, but that’s not all. They all held referendums in their respective countries. statistically, Quarter Authoritarian leaders do just that.

A typical result of an authoritarian referendum A clear victory, as expected. According to the Swiss Center for the Study of Direct Democracy, 876 referendums were held between 1945 and 2005, and the autocratic leader received an average of 70% support, with a turnout of 77.3% for him. did. Helping to achieve these results is a toolkit that includes propaganda, censorship, and various manipulations and manipulations during the voting process.

Referendums and referendums may seem intended to make society more democratic or to consolidate the vote.new research reverses this situation, showing that referendums are primarily used to stifle dissent and freedom of thought. A referendum dominated by a docile majority demoralizes dissidents and critics of the regime, slows down protests, and assures everyone that nothing can be changed.Following a typical referendum, the law enforcement system “bolted” and states become More oppressive than before.

More on this topic

Former political theorist think Referendums legitimize authoritarian regimes.If legitimacy meant nothing more than the absence of organized opposition, it might have been true. Russian political theorists often say that the effect of a referendum is to create the illusion of unity. At the present time research In authoritarian states, electoral processes of all kinds suggest that they simply reduce public disapproval of the leader rather than unite the masses around the leader.

What the referendum does is to influence the dynamics among the ruling elite. A democratic head of state derives political power from electoral success. In authoritarian contexts, national leaders are concerned with strengthening consensus within the elite. Victory in the referendum was also aimed primarily at impressing elites, Linking status quo. They can help push unpopular laws and reduce friction at the top.

As a result, a regime with a nasty and competitive elite Good feeling referendum.when they detection With their stability under threat, individualist dictatorships like Putin’s Russia will hold a “referendum.”

Even in tyranny, elections must at least maintain the illusion of competition and the existence of alternatives. This is why independent candidates, as well as organized opposition parties, often appear in elections. This makes elections very inconvenient for dictators and dictators. A form of referendum solves that problem. The referendum’s yes or no structure effectively leaves the opposition without a means to express its true wishes. In a referendum, dissidents lose their voice.

Moscow protests against Putin’s 2020 term limit freeze.

So what is Putin’s motive for conducting the current fake “referendum”? Andrey Pertsev, a political analyst at Meduza, believes several factors may be at play. Pertsev believes Putin’s primary motivation is to justify mobilization, which he believes is a necessary condition for victory in Ukraine. (Just because it’s necessary doesn’t mean it’s enough.)

Second, the success of Ukraine’s counteroffensive under the Kharkov regime worries the Kremlin and various members of the ruling elite. They fear that Ukrainian forces will regain control over other occupied territories. Kyiv then returns to punish the collaborators. They refute the propaganda motto that they deem “left behind” by Russia, effectively starting the war.

and Shanghai Cooperation OrganizationAt a mid-September summit in Samarkand, Putin understood that China and Turkey could not be expected to stand by him in their war with Ukraine. advised to do so. In that context, the sudden mobilization and “referendum” may be a reaction to the sober atmosphere of the summit.

It remains a mystery why Putin went through several “referendum” moves rather than annexing the regions he wanted by force and without prior preparation. Pertsev speculates that Putin believes or wants to believe public support for his conquest. The illusion of consent created by state budgets, institutions and instruments is a reality Putin experiences. The strange thing is that he is the master of the Potemkin village, his builder, who misleads him.

Andrei Pertsev expects the self-proclaimed “LNR” and “DNR” to support Russia’s annexation with 80% of the “votes”. The percentage of residents who currently support accession to the Russian Federation is unknown. But as of May last year, he was less than a quarter of the population holding a Russian passport. Pertsev believes that Kherson and Zaporizhia could produce more modest results, perhaps he 75%.

Regardless of what figures the organizers of these “referendums” on Ukrainian territory come to mind, the point is their absolute illegality.

The Kremlin is driven by the same motives that fuel authoritarian referendums around the world. It is to create an illusion of public consent and demoralize members of Russia’s own elite who do not support war and annexation. Putin wants to show them that they are against the will of the people.

Referendum details

This article was originally published signalMeduza’s Russian-language newsletter on key ideas, concepts, and memes that are frequently used in relation to Russian politics, power, and the ongoing war in Ukraine.

https://meduza.io/en/feature/2022/09/23/just-what-dictators-do what dictators do.Russian-staged ‘referendum’ on Ukrainian soil pursues the illusion of legitimacy

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