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Overcoming Depoliticization: the 2014 Local Electoral Campaign in St. Petersburg


This article presents the results of an empirical study conducted during and after the 2014 local elections in St. Petersburg. In these elections, a number of new activists tried to run as candidates for the municipal council under the conditions of a depoliticized society. Our research was inductive: we progressed from field study to later theoretical interpretation of our results. The formulation of our research questions was therefore simple: how and why did the activist candidates participate in the local elections and what can their electoral campaigns tell us about how both activists and people in Russia see contemporary politics? To answer these questions, we analyze the different types of campaign conducted, the communication between candidates and voters, the characteristics of support groups and social movements, and the campaign outcomes and their significance for understanding politicization and depoliticization in Russia today. The data for this study was collected through participant observation and in-depth interviews with activist candidates and their supporters. Detailed analysis of their narratives not only allowed us to understand their experiences but also enabled us to formulate some conclusions about contemporary Russian politics and about how activists and ordinary citizens view the political system. Thus, we argue that the activist candidates not only tried to become candidates but also—through their campaigns and selection of campaigning methods—helped to overcome depoliticization and strengthen local social movements.

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  1. In St. Petersburg, garbage is not recycled as a rule. But activists organized the regular collection of separated garbage, which was then sent to be recycled. This initiative is known as the Separated Collection and takes place on the last Saturday of every month, from 12.00 to 15.00, in all the districts of St. Petersburg. More information about the Separated Collection movement can be found here: It is very popular among citizens.


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This article is based on research supported by the Norwegian Research Council (NEPORUS project, NORRUS grant no. 228205) and the Russian Foundation of Fundamental Research (the project “Quality of Urban Space: Vectors of Civil Initiative Groups’ Development in Russia and Germany”, RFFR № 16–03-00508).

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Correspondence to Elena Belokurova.

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Belokurova, E., Vorobyev, D. Overcoming Depoliticization: the 2014 Local Electoral Campaign in St. Petersburg. Int J Polit Cult Soc 33, 203–220 (2020).

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  • Local elections
  • Activism
  • Depoliticization
  • Electoral campaign
  • Local social movement