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Echoes of Dissent: The Struggle for Democratic Expression in Russia's Presidential Election

From The Hague to the Heart of Russia: The Global Cry Against Putin's Reign

By: Kirsten Koss

Protestors in the Netherlands could be heard shouting “open up” (Открывай), “Putin is a thief” (утин вор) and “no war” (Нет войне) as embassy officials shut up shop – leaving hundreds of “Noon Against Putin” protestors unable to cast their vote.

Photo by: Pavla Shvetcova

A student in the Hague in the Netherlands has spoken of the issues she faced voting in the Russia Presidential elections after protestors gathered in Russia and beyond on the 17th of March in a display against Vladimir Putin, following calls for such a protest by the late Alexei Navalny.

In a video posted to TikTok, Pavla Shvetcova, a Russian student studying in the Netherlands shared her experience of voting – which included waiting in a kilometre long queue, only for the officials at the Embassy in the Hague to close the doors at 20:00, leaving thousands of protestors unable to vote.

The presidential election in Russia has come under fire, with many international organisations, including the EU, suggesting that the election was a foregone conclusion, with the president of the European Council Charles Michel tweeting: “No opposition, No freedom, No choice”, on the day the polls opened.

Photo taken from Charles Michel twitter account

Despite this, student Pavla Shvetcova still felt compelled to try to cast her vote. Speaking of the protest, she told The Gaudie why she decided to attend the protest:

“'Noon against Putin' was [Alexei] Navalny's last political call for a peaceful election protest prior to his passing. I was eager to participate to honour his life and resistance efforts one more time.

“Many opposition leaders have suspiciously died in the last two decades, but this one felt especially personal. Navalny was the biggest opposition leader around the time I reached my adult years and started actively participating in fights against the regime, little by little. I also went to show my support for other opposition leaders that were banned from running this year (i.e., Boris Nadezhdin and Yekaterina Duntsova).”

Alexei Navalny, one of Putin’s fiercest rivals, died recently in a Siberian prison, a death for which many feel Vladimir Putin holds responsibility.

Shvetcova continued by saying that despite voters in Russia having three days to vote, voters in the Netherlands were given just one day to vote, with reports of similar situations in London. Shvetcova says that more than 1000 voters were left unable to vote when embassy officials closed the gates to the embassy at 20:00.

Speaking of the disparity, Shvetcova said:

“People in Russia, on the other hand, had 3 full days to vote. I believe that the reason behind it is the fact that most Russians abroad vote against Putin. Around 1000 people [in the Hague] (the majority of whom were there to vote against him) did not get a chance to vote.”

Pavla points out that the generally agreed practice is to allow everyone in the queue to vote, so long as they arrived before the polls close:

“The issue is not with long queues at the polling stations, but with the Russian officials refusing citizens their fundamental rights to vote. Let's take the Polish election back in October 2023 as an example — the queues over there might have been even longer. However, every single person who got in the queue before the closing of the polling station had the chance to vote, even after hours. This is how it normally works in democratic, truthful elections.”

In 2020, the Russian constitution was changed, which will allow Mr Putin, who won the controversial election, to run again. Ms Shvetcova had this to say about the future of Russia:

“To be completely honest, I am absolutely terrified for the future of Russia. Now that Putin can run again in 2030, I am slowly losing hope. I know that all wars end at some point, regimes fall, but dealing with the consequences is going to be the most challenging and time-consuming period. I wish to witness free Russia and free Ukraine in this lifetime."

The disenfranchisement of Russians abroad comes as Russian officials were accused of forcing citizens to vote in the annexed areas of Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk. According to Pavlo Lysianskyi of Eastern Human Rights Group, more than 27 people were arrested for refusing to vote in the Kherson and Zaoprizhzhia.

Despite the “Protest at Noon”, Mr Putin won his fifth term as Russian president, winning more than 88% of the vote in what has widely been condemned as an unfair election.


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