This is a transcript of a recording made on August 9th, 2020 at a polling station in Vitebsk, Belarus. Aside from being a nice illustation to Milgram experiment, I couldn't resist its literary appeal, its XIX. century, almost Chekhovian, feel and have written it down as if it was a play.
MEMBERS OF THE ELECTORAL COMMISSION No. 25 are in a room. The commission consists of of both men and women of various ages, all of them teachers at the local school.
SERGEY VIKTOROVICH, the head of the Oktyabrskiy electoral district, enters. He speaks in a deep, calm, a little bit concerned, some may say even sad, voice.
SERGEY VIKTOROVICH: Good evening. Please, shut the door. We'll talk behind the closed door.
Are there only the members of the election commission here?
I think you are all aware of what's going on. I think you understand the reason why your school has been visited by the Chief of Staff of the Executive Office. Or maybe there's something that one of you does not understand? Am I wrong?
COMMISSION: Inaudible chatter.
SERGEY VIKTOROVICH: You all know? Good.
So tell me. How did it happen?
A VOICE FROM THE COMMISSION: We've counted what we've got.
SERGEY VIKTOROVICH: Great. Have all of you counted?
COMMISSION: Everyone did. Everyone has counted. And this is what we've got here, at the polling station.
SERGEY VIKTOROVICH: Good. How did the commission at the floor below counted?
COMMISSION MEMBERS: Mumbling.
SERGEY VIKTOROVICH: I see, you were not there. But don't you speak to each other?
FEMALE VOICE: Not yet. They were counting at their place and we were counting here.
SERGEY VIKTOROVICH: Well, colleagues, let's do the following…
I'll tell you that your colleagues have counted a little bit differently than you did.
They have inspected each ballot honestly and conscientiously. They have got, according to preliminary estimates, 75% for the third candidate. For the candidate who has got the most votes here, they've got something like 15%. That is consistent with the overall results in Oktyabrskiy district.
Therefore, I don't want you to be the only ones who will somehow - it's not clear whether guided by common sense, pride, sense of responsibility or whatever - stand out of the crowd.
I am, so to say, an old person. I am a contemporary of Viktor Tsoi. Even of Elvis Presley. I was born before he died. I know all those songs. Even Scorpions I know very well. But today we are not in a place where one should engage in this kind of honest actions.
I have a very tough proposal for you.
A proposal to change the propocol. To change the numbers substantially for the third and the fourth candidate.
I am prepared to admit that a number of people voted for Tikhanovskaya. I am not going to try to explain why, or even fantasize about it. Some have voted at the behest of their heart. Some have voted with their mind. Some have voted with their wallet.
That's their personal problem. Here, we have different tasks and different problems to solve.
First there's today, then there's school year beginning. Then we need to prepare for the Teacher's Day and so on.
Am I expressing myself clearly?
SUBDUED VOICES: Very clearly.
SERGEY VIKTOROVICH: OK, let's solve this problem then. So that it does not happen, here in the electoral microdistrict, that the two blocks on Frunze street have one kind of opinion and other two blocks a different opinion. So that tomorrow one block doesn't turn against the other, like we used to, once, a village against a village. So let's act in unison. Let's solve this problem.
MAN'S VOICE: Sergey Viktorovich, when the commission signs it, may I not sign it myself?
SEREY VIKTOROVICH: No. I don't need your personal opinion. I've already heard it. I will take it into account.
We are all principled people, to a certain extent. But when our future is being decided, one wants it to be at least a little bit bright.
FEMALE VOICE: Sergey Viktorovich, why to we have to do that?
MALE VOICE: Sergey Viktorovich, you know how much we respect you. Why do we have to deal with this turd with our own hands?
SERGEY VIKTOROVICH: Let's not talk this way, if we are to talk at all.
SERGEY VIKTOROVICH pauses and repeats himself, as if lost in thoughts: If we are to talk at all.
I, in fact, should care less than you do. Because I am not from Vitebsk. I've came here from Minsk. This is the twelfth year that I am living and working here. And I intend to work here for some more time and then to return to the capital. Or maybe not to the capital. Maybe I'll go to a different region. That's the kind of person I am.
But today I am here and when I leave, which is going to happen sooner or later, I want people to remember me kindly. Well, maybe some will complain a bit and some will envy a bit.
So, I'll say it again: Today it's not the right time to be principled.
Colleagues, I'll say it once again: You are great, you are a collective, you have expressed your opinion.
I respect you for that. But today, things should be done differently.
COMMISION: Why? Why exactly today? This is how people have voted.
SERGEY VIKTOROVICH: Because today…
DIFFERENT VOICES speaking at the same time: That's what the voters said. Why? How should we look people in the eyes? These are out students. How are we going to look in their parents' eyes?
A MAN starts speaking: One of the last voters came to the polling station and asked: Where is the ballot box? Where should I put my ballot? It was that same voter, who, during the previous election, came to the polling station and accused us, directly, looking in the eyes of all of those who were sitting there, asked what right do they have, after all that, to teach the children.
THE MAN sighs.
A VOICE: Sergey Viktorovich?
SERGEY VIKTOROVICH: What?
PREVIOUS SPEAKER continues: It is a pity that I did not take a picture of the ballot box with these accordion-folded sheets. People saw it. I understood everything.
SERGEY VIKTOROVICH: I also saw those ballot boxes with accordion-folded sheets. Not only you did. Some people had white wristbands. Do you think I was sitting in my office for four days?
MAN'S VOICE: No, you were here.
DIFFERENT VOICE: Lukashenko got more on early voting. But this is what we've got today. That's what we are looking at.
SERGEY VIKTOROVICH: I'll say again: I've heard your personal opinion and that's enough. It's enough.
Believe me. If someone else heard this, I wouldn't be able to predict what's going to happen.
(Silence creeps in for a while.)
SERGEY VIKTOROVICH: Let's do it. Do we have any more blank forms?
Change the fourth point and go home.
SERGEY VIKTOROVICH: Who has filled it in?
FEMALE VOICE (barely audible): I did.
SERGEY VIKTOROVICH: Well, go on. Rewrite it.
VOICE FROM BACKGROUND: Have you all already had a tea?
A WOMAN whispers to a colleague: Are you going to sign it?
(For several minutes only a random, muffled chatter can he heard. Sounds of people moving chairs.)
SERGEY VIKTOROVICH: You write quickly. That's not correct.
FEMALE VOICE: Why?
SERGEY VIKTOROVICH: …these numbers.
FEMALE VOICE: I am changing it.
SERGEY VIKTOROVICH: But you are not changing it correctly. Take some from the first one. And some from the fifth one.
Take at least ten from the first one. And thirty from the last one.
So, she who got the most votes can keep at most 20%. That's around 240. Write down all the rest.
(Long busy silence.)
SERGEY VIKTOROVICH: Now the reverse side.
FEMALE VOICE: That's just a draft.
SERGEY VIKTOROVICH: You haven't changed anything there?
FEMALE VOICE: Nothing was changed there.
MALE VOICE: I was saying that all along.
(A mobile phone rings for a second. A pop song. It's silenced quickly.)
SERGEY VIKTOROVICH: Give me the other side. So that's all of them… It's wrong.
This number here. It's calculated out of these five, and this one, and that one.
(Pause. Random sounds.)
SERGEY VIKTOROVICH: So listen to me once again. I have heard your personal opinion. I don't need to formalize it on paper. Those of you who don't want to sign this document… We still need to…
SERGEY VIKTOROVICH (in teacher-like tone): How many members do we need, at least, in the Committee?
MAN'S VOICE replies: Two-thirds.
SERGEY VIKTOROVICH affirms, approvingly: Two-thirds.
That means that two-thirds shall remain. Everyone else may feel very sick and leave the polling station.
MALE VOICE: What do you mean, feel sick?
SERGEY VIKTOROVICH: The protocol will say "sick". There will be no need to sign it.
MAN'S VOICE: I feel sick. Can I leave?
SERGEY VIKTOROVICH: Yes, please.
Do we have the math teacher here?
SHRILL FEMALE VOICE: Are you sleeping well at night?
Sound of chairs being moved.
MALE VOICE: Guys, forgive me, please.
August 16th, 2020