I’ve been wanting to write a post about tomorrow’s Duma election all week, but I was too busy. Kostia’s gone to his hometown this weekend to vote; this evening I had a friend over to cook recipes from Gastronom and there was plenty of wine to go with it, so I don’t know if I’m in a state to comment on serious matters, but we’ll see.
A couple of weeks ago, a co-worker who is a graduate student who arrived here in September was excitedly showing me the United Russia brochures, bookmarks, and such that she had received from canvassers that day, and I realized that now I’ve been here long enough that I can’t just look at the election as some cultural curiosity and collect the brochures like souvenirs. But then again, I suppose I never look at any election like that. Some people would say that you don’t have much right being involved in politics in any country of your own. Some people would say you shouldn’t stick your snotty nose into other people’s business. But although it’s easy to be cynical about politics, politics is also about human rights, and in a globalized world, one country’s politics matters a whole lot to people in other countries. I’d be in favor of the whole world getting to vote for U.S. president, for example, because it seems the U.S. gets to decide international issues pretty much unilaterally.
I’m what’s known in the U.S. (or on Facebook at least) as “very liberal”, even though this is a misnomer to the rest of the world, since “liberal” means hard-core unfettered free-market capitalist. I’m somewhere between what Europeans would call a Social Democrat and a Green. Obviously there’s nothing on the Russian political radar for someone with my political views. Obviously if I were a Russian citizen I’d be as frustrated as my Russian friends, who have no real alternatives in this election. United Russia is going to win. The communists are going to get a few seats. Almost no one else has any hope.
If my students are any gauge, this is A-OK with most of the Russian population. One young woman in all seriousness told me that she couldn’t understand why Putin couldn’t run for a third term as president. So many students just said that Putin is the only person who can ensure that the relative stability of the past few years continues. So many people seem to think that the “democrats” or the “westernizers” had their chance in the 1990s and they screwed it all up. I would say they never really had a chance, but try arguing that with someone who lived through the ’90s in Russia.
Most Russians I’ve talked to have little interest in politics. The United Russia posters everywhere in St. Petersburg are just background, just propaganda, and not really different from the posters put out by the city that say things like “a clean city starts from your window”, “choose education” and “every child needs a family”. United Russia’s slogans like “You are in Putin’s plan” are even more banal, if not ominous. I’m not sure what United Russia hopes to achieve with all this advertising. Maybe a high enough election turnout so that they don’t have to fudge the numbers too much to claim their legitimacy? In any case, I think the populace has election fatigue. It will be interesting to see what kind of turnout numbers the government claims and what kind of numbers independent groups estimate.
Anyway, tomorrow most of my friends will go out and vote for SPS and Yabloko without much hope, but a feeling of responsibility to participate in the shred of democratic process that is left. We’ll see what tomorrow brings, but I don’t think it will bring any light at the end of the tunnel for politics in Russia.