Det sies så mye om maktkonsentrasjonen sentralt. Hvordan ser forholdene ut i provinsen i Russland? New York Times har besøkt Nisjnij Novgorod, tidligere Gorkij. Bildet som tegnes er utvetydig: ettpartistaten er tilbake.

Det er ikke det at Putins menn setter inn støtet mot konkurrenter på èn front. De vil ha kontroll over alt og over alle. Opposisjon og kritikere tåles ikke. I hvert fall ikke i organisert form. Så kan enkeltpersoner lese og skrive hva de vil på internett. Det spiller likevel ingen rolle. Men alle som forsøker å gjøre noe sammen med noe, løper en stor risiko. Alle metoder er lov. Ingenting er for billig eller simpelt: karaktermord, trusler, også mot slekt og familie. Trusler om oppsigelse på arbeidsplassen hvis man ikke stemmer Forent Russland.

Nosjnij Novgorod har et visst renommè. Det var her politikeren Nemtsov ble noe av en berømthet på 90-tallet. Han var kjent som en moderne reformator. I dag er Nemtsov fortsatt i politikken, men han og partiets ble bokstavelig talt skamslått ut av forrige valg.

Ved valget gikk valgkommissærene rundt med valgbuttons for Forent Russland. Det er ingen grenser, eller separate enheter lenger. Alle arbeider for Putin.

Here in this historic region on the Volga River, Mr. Putin’s allies now control nearly all the offices, and elections have become a formality. And that is just as it should be, they said.

«In my opinion, at a certain stage, like now, it is not only useful, it is even necessary — we are tired of democratic twists and turns,» said the leader of Mr. Putin’s party in Nizhny Novgorod, Sergei G. Nekrasov. «It may sound sacrilegious, but I would propose to suspend all this election business for the time being, at least for managerial positions.»

Et kjent taktikk Putin bruker er å kompromittere motstandere med bakvaskelser. Ofte gjelder det påstander om at de er homofile eller omgås homofile. Det samme skjedde med Nemtsov og hans parti.

became a political star in Russia and the West as governor of Nizhny Novgorod and deputy prime minister in the 1990s, but in recent months he and his opposition party have taken a battering here. Regional and national television stations, controlled by the Kremlin and its surrogates, have repeatedly attacked him — calling him everything from a corrupt bureaucrat to a traitor.

«His career has been accompanied by scandals,» went a typical report on the popular Channel One right before the December elections. «It was the elderly who were the first to feel the results of the work of Nemtsov’s government on their purses. Pensions dropped to the lowest level in all Russia’s history. Boris Nemtsov used to gather the press just to say that he did not care who the pensioners, deprived of money, would vote for. According to the plans of young reformers, only the strongest were supposed to live until the next century.»

Meanwhile, a different kind of propaganda war was being waged on the streets. Russia has relatively conservative attitudes toward homosexuality, and all autumn long Nizhny Novgorod was blanketed with tens of thousands of leaflets saying that Mr. Nemtsov’s liberal, pro-Western opposition party, the Union of Right Forces, ardently favored gay rights and employed canvassers with AIDS. Neither was true.

The leaflets often included the name and phone number of a leader of the party’s regional candidate slate, Andrei Osipenko. Some had condoms attached and announced offers to send supporters to a gay-pride event in Amsterdam.

Intimidation and violence came next. Businesses cut off donations after receiving threats from government officials, said Sergei Veltishchev, an organizer for the Union of Right Forces. Someone obtained the confidential list of party members — the party officials say they suspect that it was the security services — and hundreds of menacing phone calls were made to volunteers, saying they or their families would be hurt if they helped the party.

The party was refused advertising space on everything from billboards to newspapers to television. When Mr. Nemtsov tried to campaign in Nizhny Novgorod in the fall, no one would rent him a hall. In November, the party headquarters were ransacked and spray-painted with profanities and graffiti that called it the «Party of Gays.»


Til slutt blir presset for stort.

A few weeks before the elections, Mr. Osipenko gave up, renouncing his party at a news conference that was heavily covered on state-controlled television and had the feel of the Stalinist-era public confessions that followed show trials. Other party officials did the same.

The party’s remaining candidates in the region were too fearful to campaign.

«You begin to think: you have a family, you have a business, and you may value this significantly more than a political career,» said Artur Nazarenko, an official with the Union of Right Forces. The party, once a regional power, received only 1 percent of the vote in the parliamentary elections, both in the Nizhny Novgorod region and nationally.

Other opposition figures in Nizhny Novgorod have been treated just as harshly over the past year. Leaders of a loose coalition called Other Russia have been repeatedly arrested, with some charged with inciting terrorism. When the group held a demonstration here last March, local television stations tried to scare away the public, labeling the event a gathering of either racist skinheads or gay rights advocates.

Opposisjon tåles ikke

Det holder ikke å knekke politiske motstandere, også den kritiske del av pressen må knektes.

With the opposition suppressed in the months before the December elections, anti-Kremlin activism coalesced around independent newspapers and nonprofit groups, making them another target of the security forces.

In August, police officers broke down the door to the local offices of Novaya Gazeta, an opposition paper that had criticized Governor Shantsev and Mayor Bulavinov. Investigators accused the paper of using unlicensed software and hauled away its computers, shutting down the paper until after the elections.

Prosecutors also closed or prevented the distribution of two other regional newspapers, Leninskaya Smena and Trud, and conducted aggressive inquiries into the finances of several others. «It is a demonstration of force: ‘If you behave wrong, we will punish you,’ » said Zakhar Prilepin, Novaya Gazeta’s editor in Nizhny Novgorod.

The regional prosecutor, Valery Maksimenko, did not respond to several requests for comment.

On the day of the Novaya Gazeta raid, the police removed computers from the offices of the Foundation to Support Tolerance, a nonprofit group that has been harassed for four years after criticizing the Kremlin and the war in Chechnya.

The authorities seem especially distrustful of the foundation because it receives money from the National Endowment for Democracy, an American nonprofit group financed by the United States government. The Kremlin has blamed Western pro-democracy groups for fomenting popular uprisings in Ukraine, Georgia and elsewhere in recent years, and vowed that that sort of thing would never happen in Russia.

Landets egen sikkerhetstjeneste brukes itl å trakassere det sivile samfunn, et klart tegn på en politistat.

he Federal Security Service, known by its initials in Russian, F.S.B., has interrogated the tolerance foundation’s workers, family members and friends. Its leaders, Stanislav Dmitriyevsky and Oksana Chelysheva, have received death threats. And as part of a smear campaign, the Volga regional television station showed Russian soldiers being beheaded in Chechnya and said the group had justified such killings.

In October, when the foundation held a memorial for Anna Politkovskaya, an opposition journalist killed in 2006, several foreign human rights advocates were arrested in Nizhny Novgorod. The police again raided the foundation’s offices, and the authorities froze its bank accounts, saying it supported terrorism.

«The ruling elite nowadays has no ideology,» Ms. Chelysheva said. «Their only aim is to obtain as much power as possible, to keep this power, by whatever means, and to profiteer off this power. In this respect, these people, who are so cynical, are much more dangerous than was the Communist Party of the U.S.S.R.»

The group had been called the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, and it focused on exposing what it deemed human rights violations in the Russian war against separatists in Chechnya. But it ran afoul of the Kremlin, which deemed its work as little more than collaboration with the enemy.

Prosecutors accused the society of extremism and shut it down after it republished letters from two Chechen separatist leaders. Mr. Dmitriyevsky was convicted of inciting ethnic hatred and received a suspended prison sentence.

Men Makta ter seg i all sin brutalitet, gidder ikke folk lenger stemme. Hva er vitsen? Utfallet er gitt. Men Putin vil gjerne fremstå som demokrat. Derfor må folk tvinges til å stemme. Arbeiderne blir truet og må fylle ut forhåndsstemmer. Selv på skolene og i barnehavene blir foreldrene trukket inn ved hjelp av barna, og må stemme. Studenter som ikke stemmer Putin, risikerer å miste plassen på internatet. Vi snakker her om en by på 1,3 millioner innbyggere.

Da valget var over, ble studentene kjørt inn til Moskva i busser. De ante ikke hvorfor. De ble sluppet av i en folkemasse på Den røde Plass. Det viste seg å være Nasji, ungdomsbevegelsen til Putin som gjerne vill hylle sin Leder.

Putin’s Iron Grip on Russia Suffocates His Opponents