Volunteeers of “Maidan Monitoring: Election 2012”. Book Chapter

Feb 6th, 2013 | By | Category: Election 2012, In Depth, Ukraine

In January 2013 Maidan Monitoring Information Center released a book about the election monitoring project.

For the first time in world practice during the parliamentary election in Ukraine in 2012 an interactive map of violations of election law has been created with strictly verified information crowd sourced by volunteers with mandatory documented evidence and legal commentary.

This book tells about how the legal principles of “free election” are implemented or not im-plemented in Ukrainian reality in 2012. The book describes both the results of monitoring (quantitative, qualitative, communicative and legal) and the methodology of its implementation.

You can download the complete book in Ukrainian  and in English  . Here we present you with a chapter that describes what was under the hood of the project, about the work of volunteers.

 

Volunteers involvement

“The criminals are most afraid of publicity” – explains his participation in the project 42 year old psychiatrist from Donetsk region Oleksander Melanchenko.

Same feelings reveal the words of representative of other generation of activists. Oksana, the student from Ternopil, said that she decided to film the violations because of her indignation of “disregard of rights of citizens”.

Almost half a thousand Ukrainians spent their time to film with their cameras and phones the violations they witnessed. The demand for their efforts cannot be overstated.

Our objective was to “arm” our volunteers with skills and knowledge about the subject of monitoring. We have prepared methodology materials, accumulated in the “Election violation hunter’s handbook”[i]. It contained full lit of election violations that are persecuted according to Criminal Code and Administrative Code.

The knowledge was planted to fruitful land.

Our map lists reports from 467 volunteers, and 753 more have sent us the information that was not published on the map; however some were published in “Maidan” website newsfeed.

Once published on the map the thousands of photos and videos did not end as “dead weight” and only started their life, were distributed by the internet media, became the foundation of internet memes, demotivators, etc.

We have prepared several “motivators” – photo and video compositions that aimed at involving wide circle of people into monitoring process. The motivational pictures like the one below were seen by almost 100.000 users of Facebook (it is very high number of Ukraine) and Youtube. They invoked the legal disputes (for example, on the definition of “public transportation”) and attracted new volunteers into the project. It happened with the father of a boy on this photo:

1

Figure 11: “During the election 2012 the gifts (of candidates) for kids is indirect bribery of adults. See this? Make a photo and send to us!

 

The father had no idea of the picture taken, however he did not object to such use of the image of his son, but also joined the project and later submitted a detailed photo report about the violation in his own town near Kyiv published on our map.

Most of violation reports were coming from volunteers in Odesa region, Kyiv, Kharkiv and Donetsk region.

Peak of traffic to the map was on the Election Day October 28 when it was visited by 75.000 unique hosts.

The activity of volunteers varied greatly – from 1 to 156 reports from one person. Not all volunteers documented the violations themselves, some had just were sending information about the violation and others went to make photos or videos, sometimes it got travelling to other town.

Some reports on the map are the results of rare courage and reporter art. We are very proud that we could involve into our project talented journalists from distant towns whose reports could have been solid evidence in the courts… if the participants of elections needed it.

There were lawyers among the project volunteers that helped to classify the violations and discussed the ways to termination the violations. These public discussions encouraged other volunteers to try to terminate the violations themselves.

Lubov Polishchuk from Kyiv after consulting our lawyer tried to terminate the widespread violation in her city related to political advertising of Communist Party in metro and trolleybuses. Unexpectedly for herself she achieved her goal [ii]. She put the progress of her actions into a table.

# Action Outcome
1 Phone call to the manager of trolley line. Efficient temporarily. Advertising was removed but appeared again later.
2 Phone call to management of municipal transportation service. Not efficient. Manager was unreachable.
3 Letter to the Central Election Commission Efficient. The CEC 3 days after receiving the letter contacted the Minister of Interior. Advertising disappeared completely.
4 Letter to the Prosecutor of Kyiv city Efficient. A week after receiving the letter the prosecutor’s office contacted Ministry of Interior. Advertising disappeared completely.
5 Copy of letter to Prosecutor sent to the management of municipal transportation service. Partially efficient. Responded with letter informing they were not granting permission of advertising placement. Advertising was removed partially.
6 Phone call to hotline of municipal transportation service. Not efficient. Responded with formal blank letter about the responsibility of advertiser.
7 Phone call to hotline of Kyiv city administration. Not efficient. Relied responsibility to advertising agencies.
8 Complaint to the police department. Hard to evaluate. Responded with letter with promises to check the complaint when the advertising was removed completely.

 

Other volunteers shared their experience in terminating the violations without involving the government authorities. Sometimes it as enough just to ask to remove the party flag from a library of a bus and it was done without much debates. We collected such cases[iii].

Photos of advertisement that announced violation beforehand (bribery of voters) made by a volunteer later, after the event, were used in court that confirmed the guilt of a candidate.

The volunteers of our internet centered project were not the legendary “office hamsters” the mythic group of people capable only of sharing content in social networks. Our project’s contributors were mostly experienced civic activists, activists of human rights, civic and political organizations.

The use of internet is the organic media for these people; it is one of channels of their social influence. This relates to the importance of the interactive map. It’s not just the internet tool; it is the real indicator of ability of civic society to influence the political situation in Ukraine.

The desire to make a difference was the main motive volunteers.

A 39 year old journalist from Odesa Oleksa Yaroslavtsev by participating in our project sought to protect the real will of people, “to punish thieves, to hold them accountable for administrative offence!”.

Oleksa involved friends into the project as well. They were reporting on violations, provided copies of documents.

Many volunteers coordinated their efforts via the specialized voluntary group in Facebook – the satellite of the project. There were 330 participants in the group during the election.

Group members often picked up on an issue reported by fellow members. A witness told about the violation in location and other people living nearby tried to look for similar violations around.

The efficient self-organization was facilitated by the fact that many volunteers knew the work of site “Maidan”, trusted its team, and regarded “Maidan” as the more transparent and convenient media to deliver the information about the violation that outraged them.

High and long standing reputation of “Maidan” team and the project managers ensured efficient online cooperation of experienced civic activists and targeted focused delivery of project results.

Trust in “Maidan” allowed to counteract the powerful factor that influenced many Ukrainians in autumn of 2012 – the fear.

The election campaign of 2012 differed from others by numerous attacks on opposition activists, pressure from law enforcement, attacks of unidentified “athletic youth”.

There are only few examples of many dozens.

August 25 “Ukrainska Pravda” informed: “The activists from Vidsich in Novograd Volynsky were beaten by unidentified persons because they distributed the leaflets against the speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn”.

September 10 “Ukrainska Pravda” wrote: “On Sunday in Kyiv the unidentified persons attacked the activists handling out the leaflets against Party of Regions”.

September 29 “Gazeta po-ukrainski” wrote: “The goons of a “regional” Ihor Lysov attacked activists… The police observed silently and did not react to appeal to stop the attack”.

This is background of decision making process of activists from different regions of Ukraine when enrolling into our monitoring project as volunteers. Apparently they did not allow being scared.

Artem Fisunov, a lawyer from Dnipropetrovsk, member of “Front zmin” party is straightforward; he said that he saw the threats from “representative of Party of Regions, the police, government officials, school managers”.

Collecting the violation evidence he “did count on media or international observers”, but saw as a major task to achieve the legal response of government authorities.

Natalya Lyashenko, an economist from Kyiv, member of “We are Europeans” civic movement, counted on attention of international community too. She said that the desire to inform the world about the violations were stronger that the fear.

“I did not care about informing our society since they know about the violations already and most do not care much”, she said.

“The only way to stop the possibility of violations is the close monitoring of the voters. The voters are the target of the violations, they are defrauded. In democratic countries the voter deception is a shame; it means the end of a career, voters do not accept the lie and resent it”, this is how Natalya explains the necessity of documenting the violations.

Laura A. Dean, a scientist from the USA, working on her research in Ukraine during the election campaign, is one of the international observers whose attention the volunteers planned to attract.

She thinks that the fears of volunteers about personal safety seemed to be well grounded.

On Election Day October 28 Laura A. Dean was in Kharkiv and volunteered to broadcast our news about election violations via “Maidan” twitter account in English language[iv]. She learned about the “Maidan Monitoring” project from her scientific advisor Erik Herron, Professor and Associate Chair in the Department of Political Science at the University of Kansas.

“According to news we were getting the volunteers and civic journalists that photographed the violation of election law and reported on it were in danger. We got many evidence and saw the video of attacks at reporters” – Laura recounts.

“It looks like someone hired people just to intimidate others right in polling stations; the threats always came from goons in black leather jackets. I have no evidence who those people were hired by, however most violations were in favor of Party of regions, so some connection might have been possible”, says the researcher.

The danger was not just the hypothetical situation for 46 year old civic leader Volodymyr Khanas from Ternopil. He said that he planned safety measures for volunteers beforehand based on previous experience.

“Long before the election we have established contacts with representatives of parties, candidates, media, and international observers. We informed the police officials and district election commission head of our activities. We had a permanent information exchange between the project team and the volunteers. The monitoring process confirmed our suspicions, the danger was coming from some parties, inadequate candidates and their teams, some members of election commissions and local government officials”, shares his experience Volodymyr.

Those who violated the law obviously did not like the publications on the map. During whole project’s timeframe there were attempts to publish disinformation on the map this discrediting it.

Once someone even posted a report signed by a secretary of US Embassy in Kyiv absolutely unrelated to project. All reports on map were premoderated and nobody but the editor saw it.

However on Election Day the attempts to obstruct the functioning of the map were not laughable any more. October 20 at 14:30 Kyiv time there was a DDoS attack at our servers launched that lasted for 40 hours. Attack involved the botnet of medium capacity for worldwide scale and big for Ukraine using about 40.000 infected computers. Other NGOs observing the election reported of attacks as well, however according to their reports the signatures and number of attacking computers differed from our case. On this day the websites of opposition parties and politicians were attacked as well. In our case the botnet operator originated from Indian IP, but anyone could be using it from any location in the world.

We managed to partially localize the attack in two hours and the map started functioning again since 16:30. During these two hours the twitter translation was our only public news service.

“Maidan” website was safeguarded from the botnet at 20:00 and despite the lasting DDoS is was not affecting the access to our servers any more.

In the morning of October 28 our site was ranked 9 in “Media and periodicals” rating of Bigmir Top service. By the end of the day despite the lasting downtime is ranked 36. There were 75.000 hosts visiting that day.

The attack on site and record attention to it manifest the same phenomena – the recognition of high quality work.

The attacks on website could be considered the final accord in intimidation campaign against the civic and political activists of opposition parties and independent journalists during this election.

Evident strengthening of authoritarian style of Ukrainian government, the laws targeted at restricting the activity of citizens, leads to determination of activists to influence the domestic politics more actively.

Transparent internet platforms facilitating the organization of joint efforts around that goal will be more and more attractive to wide circle of civic and political activists. “Maidan” is still a unique example of such platform.

Most accurately our philosophy and future aspirations was described by 19 year old Ihor Bilyk from Ternopil. He described his experience of participation in “Maidan Monitoring” project: “I felt myself a part of a big process of establishing the justice”.



[i] Election violation hunter’s handbook (in Ukrainian) http://maidan.org.ua/posibnyka-myslyvtsya-za-vyborchymy-porushennyamy/

[ii] Lubov Polishchuk. Sometimes it is worth to check if that works. (in Ukrainian) http://maidan.org.ua/2012/10/lyubov-polischuk-inodi-krasche-pereviryaty/

[iii] Just say “no!” The elections are not restricted to a voting day. (in Ukrainian)  http://maidan.org.ua/2012/10/prosto-skazhy-ni-volevyyavlennya-robytsya-ne-lyshe-u-den-vyboriv/

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