How to Make 100,000 People Laugh, Be Insulted, and Mad, All At Once

September 18, 2013
Minister for "Open Government" Mikhail Abyzov Photo: Peter Kassin / Kommersant

In the United States, the White House launched an initiative where people could organize a petition drive, and if they got enough signatures then the White House would officially respond by either giving a public statement or by proposing legislation. Putin appears to have copied that effort.

Before the Moscow election, Alexei Navalny started a petition drive to ban the practice of buying vehicles for public officials worth more than 1.5 million roubles. His petition was the first to obtain the prerequisite 100,000 signatures. Before the election, the government appeared to be onboard with the idea. The Minister for “Open Government” Mikhail Abyzov officially endorsed the plan, and it seemed like some similar bill would be pushed through the Duma.

At the time, however, The Interpreter remained skeptical and suggested that the Kremlin was simply trying to “co-opt the opposition” by appearing the champion some of Navalny’s platform. That skepticism, it appears, was merited.

Almost as soon as the election was over, however, a government study group, which had Mikhail Abyzov as one of its members, shot down the plan.

Below, Alexei Navalny responds to this development. – Ed.

Our initiative to ban bureaucrats from owning cars worth more than 1.5 million rubles reached an “experts” “group” of the “government.”

What happened in this group is best characterized not by the article in Vedomosti but by the article’s URL which ends with the words “aggressive paralysis.”

Aggressive paralysis.

So Putin had a nice idea for the elections: if the public gathers 100,000 signatures in support of a draft law, it will be put to a vote in the State Duma:

Furthermore, citizens of Russia will become active participants in the legislative process and will be able not only to delegate their representatives in parliament, but directly propose legislative initiatives themselves. Thus, any civic initiative which gathers at least 100,000 verified signatures on the Internet is obliged to be submitted for review by the federal parliament.

This was in Putin’s election campaign speech.

So now the public has exposed a problem that concerns and outrages it.

The public has found a constructive means of resolving this problem. And the public has gathered 100,000 verified signatures.


So the government responded with officials with the rank of minister (one count) and deputy minister (two count). They say: this is some kind of populism and this is already stipulated and a law is not needed. Let us see what can be done at the level of the government.

And after remaining silent for a time, they make an astounding announcement: the restriction of the value of officials’ cars to 1.5 million will lead to an INCREASE IN BUDGET EXPENDITURES.


After which they get into a Mercedes valued at 7 million rubles each and drive away.

The public cries: guys, but…our law is precisely about the fact that we don’t want to buy you Mercedes! It’s strange that you sitting in these Mercedes are saying that it won’t work. Why won’t it work? We will ban them by law and it will work.

But it is too late, the minister and the two deputy ministers have already left. And only Minister Abyzov, before his departure, published a column about how wonderfully we reduce corruption in state purchase orders in a context of reports about how the companies belonging to Minister Abyzov have successfully taken part in a bid to build power stations and are claiming guarantees of purchases of energy (roughly speaking, we will include them in the tariff).


What will happen next?

Some strange people from the government who call themselves “experts” will think up a scheme whereby they will seem not to reject the initiative (that would be a scandal, after all) but also not implement it (then the “experts” would lose their Mercedes).

What should happen?

The “experts” should go and quietly remain silent in the corner. The Anti-Corruption Fund has prepared a draft law a hundred times more expert than all these strange people — who knows from where they have come — who have discussed our initiative even without us present.

Our initiative is written in the form of a prepared draft law in the form in which draft laws are written.

We want it to be put up for a vote in the State Duma, just as Putin promised.

What do the “experts” think and the indomitable “Open Government”?

“Oh, we are so smart and clever. We are such aces regarding internal bureaucratic struggles. Now we will very skillfully sink the initiative and show all those types from the Internet that they are chumps.”

What do we think?

“Dear ‘experts’: you think you are helping Old Man Putin, but you are his worst enemies. The draft law is supported by 99% of the population. It was the first to receive 100,000 verified signatures. Eighty percent of these 100,000 made a special effort to get to Rostelekom [telegraph agency] or order a code by mail. Obviously, when you anger these 100,000 with your rejection for no good reason, each one of them will find a little time for a personal vendetta. The election campaign that just passed illustrated perfectly how our “partisan” campaign methods, which people laughed at before, really do work. These 100,000 people will distribute a million leaflets within a week and send a million messages which 10 million voters will read.

And in every leaflet distributed from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok it will be written how Putin lied and violated his campaign promise, and supported bureaucrats against the people, who wished to limit bureaucratic luxury.
And each person who reads such a leaflet will think, “So….”

Then don’t be surprised later that another 5% off your rating has disappeared somewhere. Believe the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), yes.



Let’s wait a bit and see how events will unfold, we will think about a fun ad campaign on this topic.