Vitali Shkliarov, a 41-year-old political operative born in Belarus, speaks the gospel of Bernie Sanders in the style of a Silicon Valley executive. Technology, he says, is a key to access, and his dream is a “political Uber” designed to pick up potential candidates and get them around the barriers keeping them from office. The idea got a test drive in Moscow’s recent municipal elections, but the veteran of the Sanders and Barack Obama campaigns sees it as part of a worldwide movement. “Obama made politics in America — but also worldwide — cool and sexy,” Shkliarov said in energetic, accented English during a recent interview at a Moscow cocktail bar. “Next, and I was part of it, was Sanders making politics like a Woodstock festival. It was about education, not partisanship.” The next step, he said, is to ensure that anyone can become a candidate. “This is the new era of politics, not just in Russia, but in America, too,” he said.
Last month, a coalition of liberal opposition candidates under the banner United Democrats won majorities on 30 of Moscow’s 125 municipal councils, a rare show of strength for a group used to being crushed at the polls and hounded off the streets.
Alongside Max Katz, the coalition’s campaign manager, Shkliarov helped develop a political clearinghouse to usher prospective candidates through the onerous Russian registration process, providing training and financial, logistical and legal support.
The effort helped register close to 1,000 opposition candidates, many of them political novices. Even more surprisingly, 267 were elected, including to 11 out of 12 seats in the central Moscow district where Russian President Vladimir Putin votes. They are still in the minority, Shkliarov said, but a sign that change in Russia can come from the bottom up.