Sunday, June 18, 2023

Komi Republic Residents Press for Referendum on Return to Direct Election of Mayors -- As Way of Protesting War in Ukraine

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 13 – The residents of the Komi Republic, who have stood up against Moscow not only during the Shiyes trash dump protests but in the last Putin election, now are challenging the Putin system in a new way: they are seeking to have a referendum on the return to the citizenry of their republic the right to elect their own mayors.

            At present, the heads of city governments are chosen not by popular vote but by the city councils, something that Komi activists say makes the incumbents beholden to interests represented there rather than responsible to what the population wants (

            The activists also argue that the lack of popular elections makes corruption more widespread and means that many of the problems that the Komi residents face have not been addressed despite the promises of officials high and low. Only the possibility of losing an election can change that situation, they say.

            The activists have gained enough signatures on a petition to force the government to examine their proposal; and they are confident that they will manage to collect the signatures of two percent of the republic’s voters and thus put the regional authorities in a bind: if they agree with the population, Moscow will be angry; if they don’t, the Komi population will be.

            Roman Ivasko, the local engineer and manager behind the effort, says that “the desire to have a referendum is not a reaction to a specific negative situation in the city or republic. Instead, it is a reaction to the incorrect course of the country as a whole. Russia has become an autocracy, and the Duma dreams up harsh new laws, ever more tightening the screws.”

            Although many local people assume the powers that be will find some excuse to block the referendum, Ivasko’s initiative has gained the support of the local branches of the KPRF and Just Russia and not unimportantly the silence of the republic’s head, Vladimir Uyba, who apparently feels he is trapped.

            Another Komi activist, Kirill Erlikhman, says that those backing the referendum are ready for a refusal to hold one. “Most likely,” he continues, “in current circumstances, no one will change the regional law and return direct elections to the heads of local self-administration” to the republic.

            But the Komi people are engaged in this effort not because they believe they will succeed but rather because they feel that they have few other ways to protest what Moscow is doing. “This is a protest against the federal powers” who show no respect either to the regional or local officials or to the population.

            Moreover, demanding this referendum is also an indirect way of expressing disagreement with Moscow on the war in Ukraine, Erlikhman says. “Existing draconian bans do not allow people to openly express their opinion on that. So they are trying to express their disagreement by various other means.” That is why the idea of a referendum has gained support.

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