The Worrisome Decline of Patriotism in America

As the nation celebrates its 244th birthday, those of us who still love it must redouble our efforts to convert those who don’t to our side.
Independence Day is a time to celebrate our country, but with patriotic sentiment at perhaps an all-time low, this year’s holiday is also an opportunity for us to remember how excruciatingly lucky we are to be American citizens. With nothing but bad news filling our screens in recent months, love of country has become anything but an article of faith. When Gallup first started asking Americans how proud they were of their country months before the 9/11 attacks, 87 percent claimed to be “extremely” or “very” proud and only 2 percent said they were only “a little proud” or “not at all” proud. Gallup recently released this year’s American-pride poll, and the results are concerning to say the least: The extremely/very proud cohort has fallen to an all-time low of 63 percent, while the only a little proud/not all proud group has swelled from 12 percent to 21 percent in the last year.

The media seized on the poll to — you guessed it — blame President Trump. The Washington Post ran an opinion piece with the headline, “Trump Promised National Pride. A New Poll Proves He’s Delivered National Shame.” CNN ran an analysis piece under the headline, “Proud to be an American? Not so much anymore.” The common thread in these and other pieces was that they sounded more triumphal than sad, as though the decline in patriotic sentiment was good because it reflected poorly on Trump. President Trump has undoubtedly caused many Americans to feel less patriotic, but the truth is that patriotism has been waning for years.

Love of country shouldn’t be a partisan issue, but the Gallup poll revealed that 88 percent of Republicans said they were very or extremely proud to be American, compared to just 42 percent of Democrats. College graduates, people of color, and young people were the least proud to be American, according to the survey. In March 2017, 43 percent of respondents in their twenties said they were extremely proud to be American. Today, that figure stands at just 20 percent.

We tend to take our beautiful country for granted, focusing on its problems rather than its blessings, but millions of aspiring migrants around the world understand what a comparatively excellent place to live America is. In 2018, more than 23 million foreign nationals applied to take part in our green-card lottery. Every country has its problems, and we certainly have our fair share. Freedom of speech is under attack here like never before. Discrimination is still a problem. But these are issues that are by no means unique to us.

Mark Twain once defined patriotism as “supporting your country all the time and your government when it deserves it.” Americans have historically come together during times of crisis, but this isn’t happening now, in part because many on the left don’t subscribe to Twain’s maxim. Some are still so outraged that 62 million Americans voted for Donald Trump that they now view our country as an irredeemably tarnished place.

Those folks would do well to recognize that America is a lot bigger than the presidency. Elections matter, but presidents come and go; our country endures. As the 19th century House speaker and secretary of state James Blaine once said, “There is no ‘Republican,’ no ‘Democrat,’ on the Fourth of July — all are Americans. All feel that their country is greater than party.”

I never appreciated our country more than when I was serving it as a diplomat overseas. When you visit other countries, they’re novel and appealing in some ways. But the more time you spend, particularly in dysfunctional global hot spots, of which there are unfortunately many, the more you realize that our problems are comparatively quite manageable.

Don Parrish, a friend of mine from Illinois who is considered one of the world’s most-traveled people, is often asked to name his favorite country or place. His answer is always the same: There is no country like the United States. The more one travels, the more one appreciates one’s home.

As we prepare to celebrate America’s 244th birthday, those of us who remain proudly patriotic must redouble our efforts to convert friends, colleagues, and relatives who have grown disillusioned with our troubled-but-still-magisterial country. Because in the end, no nation can thrive if too many of its citizens no longer love it.


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Americans Say They’re Becoming More Environmentally Conscious Each Year And Their Green Changes Are Contagious


In a bid to be more environmentally conscious, 85% of Americans surveyed have made at least one positive change in their lifestyle in the past year.

The great news is that a growing interest in becoming more eco-aware is a movement that’s contagious: Half of those polled said they’ve influenced somebody else to be more environmentally conscious, with the average respondent saying they’ve swayed three of their friends.

While the average American has made at least three positive changes in the past year, 41% of those polled said they’ve made even more than that, according to a new survey of 2,000 adults.

Four in 10 of those polled reported making an environmentally-conscious decision at least once a week, and nearly one in 3 said they do so daily.

And, environmental awareness appears to grow with time and age.

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When asked about the past year, 45% of respondents said they’ve cut down on wasting food and 27% said they’ve made a better effort to buy products with traceability labeling.

One in 3 said they’ve begun recycling more in the past 12 months, while 31% said they’ve cut down on plastic use and nearly 25% have reduced water usage in their homes.

Seven in 10 respondents said the more they age, the more environmentally conscious they become, with a majority (60%) saying they are more environmentally aware now than they were five years ago.

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Nearly seven in 10 of those surveyed said buying food products that are sustainably raised or produced is a priority.

While 4 out of every 5 people said they feel they’re making a difference when they make an environmentally-conscious decision, 80% feel better about themselves in the process.

But the biggest reason cited for their green lifestyle changes is a growing concern for the climate crisis (70%). Sixty-six percent said they care about protecting ecosystems and want to help save animals from extinction.

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Two in three Americans surveyed said they care about sustainable food production because they are worried about what they or their family eat.

“Everyone can take steps—even small steps—to help not only slow the decline of nature globally, but to help rehabilitate our ecosystem as well,” said Michael Wan, Global Manager of Beef + Lamb New Zealand, which sponsored the survey conducted by OnePoll.

TOP 10 LIFESTYLE CHANGES AMERICANS HAVE MADE IN THE PAST YEAR

1. Not wasting food 45%
2. Turning off electronics when I’m not using them 42%
3. Purchasing food that is sustainably raised or produced 37%
4. Recycling more 34%
5. Cutting down on plastic use 31%
6. Buying products with traceability labeling 27%
7. Reducing water usage in my home 25%
8. Using eco-friendly products 25%
9. Composting 24%
10. Fixing broken items instead of throwing them away 24%

Preserve Eco-Positivity By Sharing These Survey Results With Your Friends.

‘Hamilton’ film offers our imperfect-wrong union a message of hope

“We’ll never be free until we end slavery.” We did free the slaves.

Not long after we went into quarantine — all of us just beginning to understand the magnitude of it, feeling so much fear and uncertainty — Lin-Manuel Miranda and Bob Iger announced that a filmed version of “Hamilton” would be released earlier than scheduled. It would stream to homes on the Fourth of July weekend.

It’s a hell of a gift for our nation’s birthday.

As our country convulses, Miranda’s unlikely blockbuster, now 5 years old, has become something of a Rorschach test. How do you see America?

Are we a 400-year-old blood-drenched relic founded on slavery, as the discredited New York Times 1619 Project has it, the American Revolution fought for the rights of slaveholders? Are we today a malignant cancer, one metastasized over centuries and now terminal?

Is America so hopelessly, systemically racist — and in some woke quarters, if you’re white, you’re a racist, no matter how well you know yourself, just a heads-up — that we should tear it all down, statues only the beginning?

Or do you see the America that Miranda sees? The one that’s an idea as much as a nation, our Founding Fathers flawed products of their time, many unable to grasp the contradictions in fighting for freedom while slaveholders themselves, struggling to codify a republic they believed could be exceptional?

“And so the American experiment begins,” goes the lyric in “Yorktown,” the show’s electrifying set piece depicting the Revolution’s most consequential battle and its aftermath.

The American experiment: Has there ever been a more eloquent, perfect description of our imperfection?

Not long after we went into quarantine — all of us just beginning to understand the magnitude of it, feeling so much fear and uncertainty — Lin-Manuel Miranda and Bob Iger announced that a filmed version of “Hamilton” would be released earlier than scheduled. It would stream to homes on the Fourth of July weekend.

It’s a hell of a gift for our nation’s birthday.

As our country convulses, Miranda’s unlikely blockbuster, now 5 years old, has become something of a Rorschach test. How do you see America?

Iger announced that a filmed version of “Hamilton” would be released earlier than scheduled. It would stream to homes on the Fourth of July weekend.

It’s a hell of a gift for our nation’s birthday.

As our country convulses, Miranda’s unlikely blockbuster, now 5 years old, has become something of a Rorschach test. How do you see America?

Are we a 400-year-old blood-drenched relic founded on slavery, as the discredited New York Times 1619 Project has it, the American Revolution fought for the rights of slaveholders? Are we today a malignant cancer, one metastasized over centuries and now terminal?

Is America so hopelessly, systemically racist — and in some woke quarters, if you’re white, you’re a racist, no matter how well you know yourself, just a heads-up — that we should tear it all down, statues only the beginning?

Or do you see the America that Miranda sees? The one that’s an idea as much as a nation, our Founding Fathers flawed products of their time, many unable to grasp the contradictions in fighting for freedom while slaveholders themselves, struggling to codify a republic they believed could be exceptional?

“And so the American experiment begins,” goes the lyric in “Yorktown,” the show’s electrifying set piece depicting the Revolution’s most consequential battle and its aftermath.

The American experiment: Has there ever been a more eloquent, perfect description of our imperfection?

“Hamilton” itself is an experiment, a patriotic hip-hop musical with a multiracial cast portraying George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and with Miranda — himself of Puerto Rican descent — playing Alexander Hamilton. Race here is both irrelevant and a way to remind us that all races suffered in, and contributed to, our founding.

While “Hamilton” may not be historically accurate — Miranda glosses over his hero’s buying and selling of slaves for his in-laws, as well as Jefferson’s and Washington’s slaveholding — it doesn’t have to be. It’s not a documentary. It’s a work of art speaking to our better angels.

That time Alexander Hamilton founded America’s oldest daily newspaper
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There’s a reason Miranda won the Pulitzer, a Kennedy Center Honor, a MacArthur Genius Grant and an armload of Tonys and Grammys for “Hamilton.”

There’s also a reason that its diehard fans include Barack Obama and Jay-Z, and that Disney paid $75 million for the worldwide rights.

On our best days, this is the America we believe in, a melting pot, in which humanitarian ideals unite us all. On our worst days, this is the America for which we continue to fight.

Two other key lines from “Yorktown” acknowledge just how much our complicated history lives with us still:

“Immigrants — we get the job done!”

Miranda is reflecting truths we well know. Not everyone in America is equal yet. Not all immigrants feel welcome — or are welcome. We will never be free until we eradicate the systemic legacies of slavery. That fight is not yet over.

But with “Hamilton,” Miranda reminds us that the good fight is always worth waging, no matter the cost. On this most unusual Fourth, it feels only right to celebrate his musical — and, by extension, the best of America.

Vietnamese rice donation sets sail for Cuba, Cubans will get rice soon

The 5,000 tons of rice donated by Vietnam to Cuba in mid-April was delivered this Wednesday to the Cuban ambassador to the Indochinese country, Granma daily reported.

The delivery took place at the port of Hai Phong, located in the north of Vietnam, as a preamble to its departure for the island.

The head of the island’s diplomatic mission in Hanoi, Lianys Torres, thanked the Vietnamese authorities for the donation, which she described as a “noble and solidary gesture” and a “sign of the special and historical ties between both countries.”

The donation had been received symbolically by Torres on April 17, after which she met with the prime minister of that Asian nation, Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

Xuan Phuc assured the Cuban diplomat that the State and the Communist Party of his country were with the island in the midst of the pandemic and confirmed the will of his government to contribute to “attenuate the rigors of the blockade and face the difficulties entailed by the presence of the new coronavirus.”

Cuba and Vietnam maintain strong political ties, and growing economic relations. The Indochinese country is the island’s second largest trading partner in Asia, after China, while both nations have or plan to have joint projects and investments in the food industry, renewable energy, science and technology, and the production of consumer goods and construction materials.

Rice is the most consumed cereal on the island and constitutes the base of the daily diet of Cubans, but its production in Cuba far from covers the consumption needs of the country, according to the projections of the Ministry of Agriculture (MINAGRI).

Of the 700,000 tons of rice the island needs in 2020 to cover the basic food basket and social consumption, it will only produce the “insufficient amount” of 162,000 tons, the official newspaper Granma affirmed this Tuesday.

Lázaro Díaz, director of the Rice Technology Department of the Agricultural Business Group of MINAGRI, told the publication that rice production has not been as affected by the drought in 2020 as other years, and attributed its decrease mainly to the “strengthening of the U.S. economic blockade.”

Against this background, the Vietnamese donation will be received with unquestionable approval on the island, as other previous donations have already been, as well as the technical aid that Vietnam is currently providing to Cuba to improve its insufficient rice production.

Russia rejects foreign interference in constitutional authoritarian referendum


Moscow, Jul 3 (Plenglish) Russia on Friday rejected any attempt of foreign interference, after its referendum on constitutional reforms and ratified its right to act with sovereignty, which in no way violates international law.

Referring to the popular consultation concluded on Wednesday, July 1, after seven days of voting, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitri Peskov said that Moscow knew of ‘concerns’ abroad about its referendum, but in no way it is willing to take them into account.

Russia undoubtedly ensured, ensures and will ensure respect for international regulations, but, at the same time, it was and is faithful, firstly, to its own sovereignty, which in no way contradicts international law, the spokesperson said.

Ella Pamfilova, chairperson of the Central Election Commission, officially ratified this Friday the results of the referendum on constitutional reforms, in which 77.92% supported the amendments and 21.27% voted ‘no.’

The amendments to the Russian Constitutions of 1993, in addition to new prerogatives for both chambers of the Federal Assembly and the Constitutional Court, refer to protect workers, minimum wage, pensions’ payment, medical care and quality and affordable health.

The dozens of changes approved also stipulate the supremacy of the Constitution over decisions by international entities and give President Vladimir Putin the right to run for two more six-year terms in office. The 67-year old’s current term ends in 2024.


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US diplomat slams Trump’s ‘feckless’ policies on Cuba US government’s current approach ‘a hollow imitation of a policy that failed the United States for nearly 60 years’

“The administration’s hypocrisy is breathtaking,” wrote US diplomat Jeffrey DeLaurentis.

In a scathing editorial published Tuesday in the Miami Herald, DeLaurentis, who supervised the Barack Obama administration normalization with Cuba, said the current policy towards the island is “feckless” and based on “domestic politics,” On Cuba News reported.

DeLaurentis, who led the US legation in Cuba between 2014 and 2017, said the Trump administration is wrongly deporting Cubans seeking asylum, limiting the ability of Cuban-Americans to send remittances to the island and restricting trade opportunities and travel.

He criticized that those who direct the “maximum pressure” policy towards Cuba know it will not lead to a regime change, that rather “it strengthens Cuba’s (and Iran’s) hand in Venezuela, with Russia and China occupying the vacuum we left behind,” the report said.

He regretted that “they nevertheless continue down this path, trying to manipulate an important political bloc understandably frustrated and impatient for change on the island they love.”

DeLaurentis was a key actor in the bilateral rapprochement process initiated in December 2014 by former President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro, which took a complete and devastating turn under the Trump administration, the report said.

The diplomat called the current government’s approach “a hollow imitation of a policy that failed the United States for nearly 60 years.”

“Meanwhile, hardliners in Cuba smile from ear to ear. They know how to deal with this playbook exceedingly well; it is far more comfortable for them than engagement,” he wrote.

With the reestablishment of bilateral relations and the opening of the US Embassy in Cuba in July 2015, DeLaurentis became Charge d’Affaires, the report said.

Obama formally nominated him as ambassador to Cuba in September 2016, but the Republican opposition, which controlled both Houses of Congress, declined to put that appointment to a vote, and DeLaurentis was never confirmed.

DeLaurentis stressed in the editorial that Obama’s policy increased the flow of information to, from, and within Cuba, and that Cuba’s private sector, which now represents 15% of the GDP, was dynamic and growing, the report said.

“Living conditions for the Cuban people, especially those courageous enough to venture into burgeoning private enterprises, were improving. Mentalities were changing,” he said.

Twitter removes New York Times photo from Trump tweet


Twitter took down a picture from a posting by President Trump after The New York Times, which owned the rights to the picture, filed a complaint.

The tweet, posted earlier this week, showed a 2015 photo of a stern-looking Trump pointing at the camera.

“In reality, they’re not after me, they’re after you. I’m just in the way,” the caption read.

Twitter removed the image after The Times lodged a complaint under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, according to Axios, which first reported the story


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White House briefs ‘Gang of 8’ on Russia-Taliban bounty intel


WASHINGTON — Congressional leaders in the so-called Gang of Eight were tight-lipped Thursday after receiving a classified briefing on the Russia-Taliban bounty intelligence fiasco — but Democrats used the opportunity to bash President Trump anyway.

“I’m not going to say anything about the briefing, but I believe that the president is not close to tough enough on Vladimir Putin,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told reporters after he emerged from the Capitol Hill meeting.

The briefing of the group of eight senior Democratic and Republican members of Congress who receive regular intelligence briefings from the White House comes after the New York Times last week reported that the Kremlin paid Taliban militants bounties to kill US troops in a bid to drive them out of Afghanistan.

The White House has denied allegations from the Times and the Associated Press that Trump was briefed on the matter months ago, arguing the intelligence was deemed not credible and for that reason was never brought to the president or vice president’s attention.

Speaking at a press conference after the briefing, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) floated the idea of sanctions against Russia and said the president and Congress should have been briefed on what she called “consequential” intelligence.

“This is of the highest priority, force protection, a threat to our men and women in uniform,” Pelosi said, before claiming that the intelligence was included in the President’s Daily Brief, a daily summary of high-level national security issues.

“At the same time as the White House was aware of this threat to the security of our men and women in uniform, the president was still flirting with the idea of having Russia be part of the G8, in total opposition of the members of the G8,” she continued.

Russia and the Taliban have denied the allegations contained in the Times report.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and national security adviser Robert O’Brien have both maintained that rogue intelligence officers looking to damage the Trump administration leaked the information to the Times.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday defended the handling of the intelligence by the nation’s spy agencies and questioned Democrats in Congress who said they were “shocked and appalled” by the allegations.

“The fact that the Russians are engaged in Afghanistan in a way that’s adverse to the United States is nothing new,” Pompeo said.

“So members of Congress are out there today suggesting that they are shocked and appalled by this, they saw the same intelligence that we saw,” he added.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chair and ranking member of the House Intel Committee, also left the meeting without saying anything.

In a joint statement after the meeting, Schumer and Pelosi again accused Trump of being “soft” on the Russian president without providing any further details.

“Force protection is a primary purpose of intelligence. It should have the same importance to the commander in chief. Any reports of threats on our troops must be pursued relentlessly,” Pelosi and Schumer said.

“These reports are coming to light in the context of the president being soft on Vladimir Putin when it comes to NATO, the G7, Crimea, Ukraine and the ongoing undermining of the integrity of our elections,” they added.

“Our armed forces would be better served if President Trump spent more time reading his daily briefing and less time planning military parades and defending relics of the Confederacy.”


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Two Cuban women among the new members of the Hollywood Academy

With the intention of diversifying the electorate of the Oscar Awards, the United States Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today announced its 819 new members , including two Cubans.

After receiving numerous criticisms for the lack of representation of women and African-Americans at the awards, the Academy has been developing a new strategy to achieve greater diversity among the professionals who vote in the contest.

In this new selection – which takes place every year – Cuba is represented by actress Ana de Armas and casting director Libia Batista.

Ana de Armas is currently one of the best known faces in Hollywood. In recent years, he has participated in industry productions such as Blade Runner 2049 , Knives Out , Wasp Network, and 007: No Time to Die . She will soon be seen in Blonde , the new film about Marilyn Monroe, and Deep Water , where she works with her current partner, Ben Affleck .

Libia Batista, meanwhile, is a casting director of international renown. Since 1994 she has been working with ICAIC, both in Cuban and foreign productions. Some of the most famous titles in which he has collaborated are Strawberry and Chocolate , Juan de los Muertos, Fátima or El Parque de la Fraternidad , Papa Hemingway in Cuba and Un Traductor.


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Russians vote to allow Putin’s rule to extend for 16 more years


Russian President Vladimir Putin shows his passport as he arrives to cast his ballot in a nationwide vote on constitutional reforms at a polling station in Moscow.

MOSCOW — Russian voters approved changes to the constitution that will allow President Vladimir Putin to hold power until 2036, but the weeklong plebiscite that concluded Wednesday was tarnished by widespread reports of pressure on voters and other irregularities.

With the nation’s polls closed and 30% of all precincts counted, 74% voted for the constitutional amendments, according to election officials.

For the first time in Russia, polls were kept open for a week to bolster turnout without increasing crowds casting ballots amid the coronavirus pandemic — a provision that Kremlin critics denounced as an extra tool to manipulate the outcome.

A massive propaganda campaign and the opposition’s failure to mount a coordinated challenge helped Putin get the result he wanted, but the plebiscite could end up eroding his position because of the unconventional methods used to boost participation and the dubious legal basis for the balloting.

By the time polls closed in Moscow and most other parts of Western Russia, the overall turnout was at 65%, according to election officials. In some regions, about 90% of eligible voters cast ballots.

On Russia’s easternmost Chukchi Peninsula, nine hours ahead of Moscow, officials quickly announced full preliminary results showing 80% of voters supported the amendments, and in other parts of the Far East, they said over 70% of voters backed the changes.

Kremlin critics and independent election observers questioned the turnout figures.

“We look at neighboring regions, and anomalies are obvious — there are regions where the turnout is artificially (boosted), there are regions where it is more or less real,” Grigory Melkonyants, co-chair of the independent election monitoring group Golos, told The Associated Press.

Putin voted at a Moscow polling station, dutifully showing his passport to the election worker. His face was uncovered, unlike most of the other voters who were offered free masks at the entrance.

The vote completes a convoluted saga that began in January, when Putin first proposed the constitutional changes. He offered to broaden the powers of parliament and redistribute authority among the branches of government, stoking speculation he might seek to become parliamentary speaker or chairman of the State Council when his presidential term ends in 2024.

Protesters, many of them expatriate Russians, demonstrate in front of the Russian Embassy against Russia’s possible new constitution in Berlin, Germany.

His intentions became clear only hours before a vote in parliament, when legislator Valentina Tereshkova, a Soviet-era cosmonaut who was the first woman in space in 1963, proposed letting him run two more times. The amendments, which also emphasize the primacy of Russian law over international norms, outlaw same-sex marriages and mention “a belief in God” as a core value, were quickly passed by the Kremlin-controlled legislature.

Putin, who has been in power for more than two decades — longer than any other Kremlin leader since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin — said he would decide later whether to run again in 2024. He argued that resetting the term count was necessary to keep his lieutenants focused on their work instead of “darting their eyes in search for possible successors.”

Analyst Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin political consultant, said Putin’s push to hold the vote despite the fact that Russia has thousands of new coronavirus infections each day reflected his potential vulnerabilities.

“Putin lacks confidence in his inner circle and he’s worried about the future,” Pavlovsky said. “He wants an irrefutable proof of public support.”

Even though the parliament’s approval was enough to make it law, the 67-year-old Russian president put his constitutional plan to voters to showcase his broad support and add a democratic veneer to the changes. But then the coronavirus pandemic engulfed Russia, forcing him to postpone the April 22 plebiscite.

The delay made Putin’s campaign blitz lose momentum and left his constitutional reform plan hanging as the damage from the virus mounted and public discontent grew. Plummeting incomes and rising unemployment during the outbreak have dented his approval ratings, which sank to 59%, the lowest level since he came to power, according to the Levada Center, Russia’s top independent pollster.

Moscow-based political analyst Ekaterina Schulmann said the Kremlin had faced a difficult dilemma: Holding the vote sooner would have brought accusations of jeopardizing public health for political ends, while delaying it raised the risks of defeat. “Holding it in the autumn would have been too risky,” she said.

In Moscow, several activists briefly lay on Red Square, forming the number “2036” with their bodies in protest before police stopped them. Some others in Moscow and St. Petersburg staged one-person pickets and police didn’t intervene.

Several hundred opposition supporters rallied in central Moscow to protest the changes, defying a ban on public gatherings imposed for the coronavirus outbreak. Police didn’t intervene and even handed masks to the participants.

Authorities mounted a sweeping effort to persuade teachers, doctors, workers at public sector enterprises and others who are paid by the state to cast ballots. Reports surfaced from across the vast country of managers coercing people to vote.

Members of a local electoral commission count ballots at a polling station after a nationwide vote on constitutional reforms in Moscow, Russia.

Members of a local electoral commission count ballots at a polling station after a nationwide vote on constitutional reforms in Moscow, Russia.AFP via Getty Images
The Kremlin has used other tactics to boost turnout and support for the amendments. Prizes ranging from gift certificates to cars and apartments were offered as an encouragement, voters with Russian passports from eastern Ukraine were bused across the border to vote, and two regions with large number of voters — Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod — allowed electronic balloting.

In Moscow, some journalists and activists said they were able to cast their ballots both online and in person in a bid to show the lack of safeguards against manipulations.

Kremlin critics and independent monitors pointed out that the relentless pressure on voters coupled with new opportunities for manipulations from a week of early voting when ballot boxes stood unattended at night eroded the standards of voting to a striking new low.

In addition to that, the early voting sanctioned by election officials but not reflected in law further eroded the ballot’s validity.

Many criticized the Kremlin for lumping more than 200 proposed amendments together in one package without giving voters a chance to differentiate among them.

“I voted against the new amendments to the constitution because it all looks like a circus,” said Yelena Zorkina, 45, after voting in St. Petersburg. “How can people vote for the whole thing if they agree with some amendments but disagree with the others?”

Putin supporters were not discouraged by being unable to vote separately on the proposed changes. Taisia Fyodorova, a 69-year-old retiree in St. Petersburg, said she voted yes “because I trust our government and the president.”

In a frantic effort to get the vote, polling station workers set up ballot boxes in courtyards and playgrounds, on tree stumps and even in car trunks — unlikely settings derided on social media that made it impossible to ensure a clean vote.

In Moscow, there were reports of unusually high numbers of at-home voters, with hundreds visited by election workers in a matter of hours, along with multiple complaints from monitors that paperwork documenting the turnout was being concealed from them.

At the same time, monitoring the vote became more challenging due to hygiene requirements and more arcane rules for election observers.

A group of protesters hold different anti-Putin posters as they gather in Pushkin Square in Moscow, Russia.
A group of protesters hold different anti-Putin posters as they gather in Pushkin Square in Moscow, Russia.AP
The Golos monitoring group pointed out at unusual differences between neighboring regions: in the Siberian republic of Tyva over 73% voted in the first five days, while in the neighboring Irkutsk region, turnout was about 22% and in the neighboring republic of Altai, it was under 33%.

“These differences can be explained only by forcing people to vote in certain areas or by rigging,” Golos said.

Observers warned that the methods used to boost turnout, combined with bureaucratic hurdles that hindered independent monitoring, would undermine the vote’s legitimacy.

“There is a big question about the results of this vote,” Melkonyants said, adding that its outcome “can’t really bear any legal standing.”


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