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Doppelganger Dirty Trick In Russian Election Spawns Online Mockery


Would the real Boris Vishnevsky please stand up? (That's him on the right.)

Now trending on Russian Twitter: the surname of the liberal St. Petersburg city lawmaker seeking reelection to the municipal legislature, Boris Vishnevsky.

And another official linked to the ruling United Russia party with the same name.

Oh, and also a salesman for a car-repair company who -- like the United Russia-linked official -- changed his name to Boris Vishnevsky ahead of the national parliamentary elections set for September 17-19.

The primary driver making him -- or them -- a trending topic? The fact that the candidate whose actual birth certificate says Boris Vishnevsky appears to be the victim of the latest in a long line of dirty election tricks, mainly of which have been featured in St. Petersburg elections over the past 30 years.

A quick recap:

An opposition politician who heads the liberal Yabloko party's faction in the local legislature, Boris Vishnevsky is a prominent figure in Russia’s second-largest city, a man known locally as a defender of the city's cultural heritage and as a columnist in the independent newspaper Novaya gazeta.

Over the past couple months, the number of public figures named Boris Vishnevsky suspiciously multiplied. The story took another strange twist this past week when the two other “Boris Vishnevskys” apparently grew beards, making them look uncannily similar to their better-known rival.

The goal seems clear to even nonexpert observers of Russian politics: to confuse Russian voters at the polls and undermine support for the opposition candidate.

Whether it will work remains to be seen.

But the transparency of the effort has drawn the rapier wit of the Russian blogosphere and social-media mavens.

Late on September 6, Russian Twitter users started changing the names of their accounts to say “Boris Vishnevsky” or something similar.

Others came up with a host of memes that riffed off the Vishnevsky doppelgangers, mostly with what appeared to be scorn for the officials -- local or otherwise -- who came up with this election dirty trick.

This one riffs on the 1999 Spike Jonze film Being John Malkovich:

Another mashed up Vishnevsky’s name, and face, with the photoshopped face, and name, of Russia’s elections chief, Ella Pamfilova:

Vishnevsky has faced other dirty tricks in the past.

In 2019, two Russian news outlets linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Russian tycoon and alleged mastermind behind the notorious “troll factory,” published allegations of sexual harassment against Vishnevsky, citing complaints from anonymous women.

Observers called it part of a coordinated smear campaign.

And St. Petersburg itself has a long history of dirty electoral tricks and what is often called “black PR” in Russian.

In 2007, during the campaign for the municipal legislature, fliers circulated in one district stating that one candidate had been knifed and had died from his wounds. Adding to the weirdness, the flier also said: "To kill a man just because he is of a different race is low and dirty," implying that the candidate was not an ethnic Russian.

In fact, the candidate was very much alive. And yes, he was an ethnic Russian.

And way back in 1998, in a similar race for the city legislature, one incumbent candidate named Oleg Sergeyev faced two challengers to his seat.

Their names?

Oleg Sergeyev and Oleg Sergeyev.

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    Mike Eckel

    Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent in Prague, where he reports on developments in Russia, Ukraine, and around the former Soviet Union, as well as news involving cybercrime and money laundering. Before joining RFE/RL in 2015, he worked for the Associated Press in Moscow. He has also reported and edited for The Christian Science Monitor, Al Jazeera America, Voice of America, and the Vladivostok News.

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