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​Authoritarian "democracy" from Stalin to Putin

The Russian aggressors are holding so-called referendums in the occupied territories, which will become a cover for their occupation. This was the same in the Crimea in 2014 and then in the Donbas. Now, something similar is being prepared, so far without success, in the temporarily occupied Kherson oblast.

Despite the brutal violation of all international law and even the rules of warfare, it is important for the Kremlin to formalize its actions with these pseudo-democratic procedures.

And in this, Putin imitates his idol Stalin, during whose rule in the USSR, elections were held without any choice. All external manifestations of democracy were turned into ugly caricatures. Attempts to organize fake rituals of the popular will in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine resemble the elections of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR in 1946 in western Ukraine.

It was a very unusual campaign for the communists, as it was the first time they had conducted a vote in a region they did not have full control over.

Attempts to quickly eliminate the Ukrainian underground completely failed – the UPA and OUN were still active here, the Soviet government in some regions remained quite illusory. Therefore, the 1946 election campaign was not just a propaganda campaign, but a military propaganda campaign. In addition to hundreds of propagandists, thousands of the NKVD and internal troops were sent out to campaign.

On 15 January 1946, the Great Blockade began, during which a military garrison was stationed in almost every village in the Rivne, Volhynia, Lviv, Drohobych, Stanyslaviv (now Ivano-Frankivsk) and Chernivtsi oblast. This campaign was also fundamental for the Ukrainian underground. The failure of the election was to demonstrate the rejection of the communists and the occupation of their government.

The leadership of the Ukrainian underground announced the boycott of the election campaign.

The underground held rallies, meetings and distributed leaflets. UPA units provided their protection, and on election day, they were to organize combat operations to disrupt the work of the commissions, destroy ballots and communications. Separately, the underground carefully followed the campaign, recording acts of terror by the authorities.

In the winter of 1945-46, a fierce confrontation began between two propaganda structures: the Soviet and the insurgent.

The first had huge state resources: it brought party members from other areas to help local communists, forcibly involved village heads and teachers in this work.

On the Ukrainian side came support from the people and the zeal of the activists themselves, who worked for their freedom.

At the same time, rallies were held in villages, campaigning to “come to the polls to vote for the communist and non-partisan blocs” and others calling for the “boycott of Stalin’s pseudo-democracy” and distributing official communist and underground leaflets. Soviet posters were posted in the day only to be covered with insurgent appeals at night.

Finally 10 February 1946 came.

It was fundamentally important for the communists that the election began at a specific time and in presence of the first voters. As there were no people willing to vote, the NKVD provided “volunteers”, arrested the best-known, and since the special services had information about attempts of commission members to escape, they were arrested the day before.

An insurgent report reads: “When the sixth hour struck, the chairman of the election commission solemnly proclaimed to those present members of the election commission, garrison soldiers and…arrested citizens, before the arrested commission, that the happiest moment of their lives was here, the elections to the USSR Supreme Soviet has begun.”

In the morning, the military broke into homes, expelling residents in order for them to vote. As it was a Sunday, the NKVD stormed churches, interrupted services and drove people to the polling stations, using firearms and grenades.

Meanwhile, UPA units attacked military garrisons to disrupt the election and stop the bullying of Ukrainians.

Thus, despite the use of force, the communists failed to hold elections everywhere – in some settlements only a few people voted while others fled from the occupiers.

However, this did not prevent the lie of a 99% turnout and another “absolute victory of the communist bloc and non-partisans.” After all, as Stalin said, it is not the one who votes that wins, but the one who counts.

Today, a similar terror is unfolding in the occupied territories, which provokes no less of a fierce resistance.

Ukrainian soldiers also oppose attempts to organize a fake people’s will. Now it is not the insurgent army, but rather the Armed Forces of Ukraine, as they are able to not only disrupt this process but also push back against the occupier and return all of Ukraine to true freedom of choice.

Volodymyr ViatrovychVolodymyr Viatrovych, PhD, historian and member of Parliament of Ukraine
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