And Lenin Saw His Shadow – Six More Years of Putin

March 5, 2012

Well here’s the perspective from the capital on the latest political developments in Russia…

There is an awesome article in the NY Times (The Kremlin’s Not Laughing Now) that I think does an excellent job capturing key elements of the mood in Moscow. There is a very real undercurrent of disappointment and, to some extent, despair surrounding Putin’s machinations to retain power for another six (or twelve) years. But there is already a breakthrough in how Russians think about their government and how they relate to it – government is no longer the all-powerful behemoth that inspires fear. It is a government that people go out into the streets to protest against, visibly demonstrating disappointment and anger. Many Russians already see how positively ridiculous Putin’s exploits are, as state-run television show him tagging polar bears in the Arctic or some other publicity stunt. It is, in my opinion, a huge first step that Russians can laugh at Putin and his idiotic comment that protesters’ white ribbons looked like condoms. The clear bias of state-run television still asserts huge power over a large portion of the population, especially outside of Moscow and Petersburg where internet access and web savvy are hard to come by. But as internet access and know-how (ноухау, one of the greatest words Russian has adopted from English) spread throughout the rest of the country and access to non-government news and information sources grows, so too will the ability of Russian’s to laugh at their leaders. And after they realize how to laugh at them, plan to turn them out of power. Russia still lacks the institutions of civil society necessary for a functioning party system and for a truly threatening opposition movement – but that doesn’t mean that change isn’t coming. As evidenced by public meetings, loud opposition voices, and even by the larger-than-ever numbers of Russians turning out to vote, something has changed in the mentality of individual Russians (although that change in mentality may be more pronounced in Moscow and Petersburg than in other regions of the country). In an interview with an opposition leader on the radio the other day, he said that people feel that there is a hope for changing the system, that they can individually affect some kind of change, even if it is only through demonstrating their displeasure by marching through a city square. I recognized the sentiment immediately from social movement theories – cognitive liberation (yes, Professor Bleich, I remember that reading).  Dibs on senior thesis topic: Russian Opposition Protests 2011-2012.

I would end up disagreeing with Nate’s take – Putin’s third term is thoroughly undemocratic and Russia does not have a functioning party system or an opposition party with actual power to threaten United Russia’s stranglehold on power. But Russians are, I would say, more and more upholding a true democratic spirit. They turned out in large numbers to vote yesterday, casting their ballots for their preferred candidate (though for many, the vote was simply against Putin). They have taken to the streets in the most democratic forms of protest, and continue to do so today, to show their displeasure with the election results. But Russia has accepted the electoral system, and the results of a – however flawed with falsifications it might be – democratic system to choose their next leader. As my host mom commented, sending chills up my spine – People are in the streets protesting the results of elections, but they’ve accepted that power changes hand through elections. We have protests, but not a revolution.

At this moment, my host mom is heading off to a meeting, which is being held in one of Moscow’s biggest central squares. She reports that most of the 100,000 people at the pro-Putin rally last night were bussed in from the towns and cities surrounding Moscow – Muscovites simply don’t support Putin in those numbers. Friends of hers who work for state departments and agencies passed on that their bosses and higher-ups explicitly ordered them to attend the pro-Putin rally on election day. The true test of Russian democracy lies in the police and government response to these continuing protests, to the laughing opposition to Putin and United Russia, no matter how fragmented that opposition may be. And we shall soon see what that reaction will be…

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One Response to “And Lenin Saw His Shadow – Six More Years of Putin”

  1. Wow, Hillary, amazing times. Should be quite the thesis. Please be careful!

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