originally posted on March 4, 2012
Leading up to today’s presidential elections in Russia, most Western media have had quite an extensive coverage of Russian politics. Or rather, a coverage of Putin and his manhandling of the election system. This, we are told, is the reason why the emerging middle class cannot get their voices heard. Puzzlingly, nobody has talked about the opposition. Even in a quasi-liberal electoral system, there is an alternative to the incumbent. However, even the most generous search through liberally minded Western media (don’t even talk about the conservatives) saw a very willing ignorance when it came to describing both sides of the electoral equation.
As such, Amy Knight claimed in the NYRB blog that after the Duma elections, “everything changed”; Masha Gessen claimed in the Daily Show that Putin’s time was over soon. The Economist saw the beginning of the end of Putin, spelled in by the emergence of an IKEA-going middle class (there are now 14 IKEAs in Russia, up from 1 ten years ago). The few voices that have talked about the opposition have generally focused on how Prokhorov’s Ralph Nader-effect might be engineered by Putin. As such, Julia Ioffe, writing in the New Yorker, briefly implied that while not being keen on Putin’s reelection, the protesters are not fans of Prokhorov or of the Communists, either.
It could be put much more bluntly: they’re stuck without anybody to vote for and they’re not going to run themselves. Moreover, the big majority of Russia’s population does not share the concerns of the Jewish intelligentsia that have aired their (understandable) concern. In fact, it’s a little bit like writing about American politics and reporting on Obama’s low approval ratings, but forgetting to tell about the affluent slickness of Romney, the grandiosity of Gingrich, the zealousness of Santorum, the absurdity of Paul or the complete inelectability of Huntsman. Below, we bring you a guide to today’s presidential elections in Russia:
Gennady Zyuganov and his Communist Party of the Russian Federation are true, CCCP partiyets. They aim at the restoration of the Soviet Union and the rejuvenation of Stalinism (no whiny reform-communism here!). The official website of the party is flooded by Soviet symbols, portraits of Stalin and posters of muscular workers pointing voters in the right direction. Some mellowness is supplied by pleasant panoramas featuring Zyuganov the predsedatel’ in a red tie and a short-sleeved shirt, casually slinging his jacket on his shoulder, taking a lunch break stroll amidst the endless Russian wheat fields. The July noon is plumbously dense and stuffy: on the horizon, dark clouds gather before a hot summer storm is unleashed.
Mikhail Prokhorov is a billionaire, a public cutie and a friendly oligarch; he’s the engineer next door with whom other engineers would like to grab a beer and ladies would like to go home with for a drink or two and marriage. And a divorce. From his Moscow office, Prokhorov has such an overview that he has been able to see that the living standards of most Russians have already risen to the level where dealing with them any longer is mostly unnecessary. Now, it’s time to turn the page and begin a new chapter in Russia’s history. Prokhorov’s chapter is filled with a strong legal system, a free press, direct elections to the regional governorships and more “public control over the government”. Applying sophisticated tools from his business mindset, Manager Vseya Rusi also suggests that Russia’s economic model needs to be changed before it leads to a catastrophe of collapsing oil prices.
Vladimir Volfovich Zhirinovsky is the candidate of the Liberal Democratic Party. A singer, a provocateur and a Jewish anti-semite, Zhirinovsky shares most of United Russia’s agenda while officially disapproving of UR aiming at it. Opposing everybody, the Liberal Democratic Party presents you with a square throng of suit-clad men whose collective stern gazes ostensibly convince voters to give their support. The first and main goal of the LDPR is the restoration of Russia as a great power; apart from that, the party states its key issues as “Creation, not destruction”; “Well-thought-through reforms”; Liberalism “which supports the freedom of thought and approaches”; and Democracy, defined as “honest and free elections.” Finally, the LDPR gives itself the task of “Creating mechanisms that will allow the citizens to fully realize their potential and liberate Russia from violent and anarchic systems”. Odnoznachno!
Sergei Mironov is the candidate of A Just Russia (CP), a social-democratic party, which seems to be the party with the smallest appetite for propagandistic symbol usage. As part of its strategy, CP has spawned international franchises all over the post-Soviet space. Talking to the cosmopolitanism of its voter corps, it is also the only party with an official English translation of its webpage. A Just Russia criticizes Russia´s current overreliance on natural resources and its ‘squeezed’ political system. CP sees UR as a party of conservative bureaucrats, KPRF as lost in the Soviet past, LDPR as a loud protestor which quietly accepts compromises with the ruling governments an Right Cause as a comfortable group of oligarchs. Among the claims of AJR are improvement of redistribution, fight against corruption and empowerment of the civil society. All in all, it’s a very sane analysis. Sadly, it’s way too sane for Russia, and way too intellectual. They’ve used their 64 Duma seats to win two of twenty-nine committee chairmanships: “Family, Women and Children” and “Science and Science-Intensive Technology”. Don’t bet on CP to be big in either the Duma or the presidential races anytime soon.