According to the newspapers, Russia is in an election-driven frenzy these days, but if it weren’t for the overzealous bulletin boards and the pamphlets and cards forced into my helpless hands, I wouldn’t have noticed; everyday people remain unaffected and indifferent. Well, it’s not that they’re indifferent, per say, everyone I’ve talked with is unanimously against the election falsification/fraud, but other than talking aggressively, out here I haven’t seen too much happening. Again, though, there’s a heck of a lot I’m not seeing, and I’m sure there’s some rumbling going on somewhere in my city. Here’s some moments I’ve encountered, either by just listening in or engaging friends and students in conversation.
-TV is really interesting right now, because there are absolutely no mentions of any of the chaos in Moscow. They’re showing old Soviet beloved film classics (Burnt By The Sun and Burnt by the Sun II are playing nonstop), flashy/glitzy/sexy/entirely over-the-top song-and-dance performances, comedy shows, and pleasant sitcoms. Television channels are for the most part controlled by the state, and the one exception I’m familiar with is the channel controlled by an oil and gas company.
-Two friends were chatting at work about the elections. It was late, probably 9pm, everyone had gone home, but they still spoke quietly. She mentioned that it was because of her boss that she couldn’t speak entirely openly about her thoughts on the election, so I asked her to elaborate. By no means was she directly forbidden from saying anything against United Russia, (and at that rate, most of us hold our tongue when it comes to disagreements with our bosses) but she explained that if she was heard speaking negatively about the party, that information would probably travel up the ranks and eventually to her head boss, who coordinates the funding for the committee and who is buddy-buddy with some major representatives in the region’s parliament. He would address her later and assert that she’s not grateful for what the party has given her, including her job and her salary, and she would be put into an incredibly vulnerable position.
-Ran into three students on their way to vote. They were all merry and playful. I asked if they wouldn’t mind telling me who they were going to vote for and they all paused, looked at each other as if for an answer, shrugged, and replied, we dunno yet! Probably the communists, they said and laughed.
Caught up with them a few days later and asked how voting went. They said fine, normal, whatever and laughed it off. They did indeed vote for the communists and mentioned briefly about how no one voted for United Russia and yet they won nonetheless.
-One friend has no doubt in her mind that the elections are rigged and planned beforehand. She often tells the story of her mom’s experience running for a spot in the local government a few years ago, where she was alerted a few days before the election that she would not win the vote; they had already chosen the candidate.
-The overwhelming majority of information – bulletin boards particularly – is all for United Russia. Closer to the election appeared an ad for the communist party, but only for a few days. -In the electronics store, a man is begrudgingly paying for a small yet expensive cell phone accessory. As he waits for the credit card scanner to open up, he starts a conversation with the cashiers. “Did you vote?!” he inquires harshly. “Nope,” responds one of the young women coolly. The gentleman patronizingly scolds her for her unpatriotic indifference and begins his lecture. She interrupts him and says, “Why? It’s all rigged, anyway. It doesn’t matter.” His response: “Безусловно (without a doubt). But nonetheless, everyone needs to vote.”
-During conversation club, the elections were brought up. One student vehemently argued that there was no fraud, that he works in the voting department and he knows these people and knows there was no funny business going on. However, the harder he tried to make his point, the more the other students chipped in with their commentary – no one wanted to outright disagree with him, but they pointed out different stories they had seen, particularly a video that showed there were more votes than people in the town, pointing directly to ballot-stuffing and fraud. He defended that by asking for proof, and we all were left stagnant because no one could actually defend any statements with tangible evidence.
For more official observations, see http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/media-pressured-before-elections/449095.html, http://www.npr.org/blogs/pictureshow/2011/12/03/143059099/russia-by-rail-elections-offer-russians-little-choice, and http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2011/12/russian-elections-faking-it.html
Conclusion: It’s obvious that the vast majority of people (typical, average, run-of-the-mill Russians) I’ve talked to recognize the illegitimacy of United Russia’s victory. Whether illegitimate because of ballot fraud, voter intimidation, or ubiquitous presence in the media (or a combination), is not clear, but everyone senses a scandal in the air. At first, their indifference was really shocking – they talked so casually about United Russia’s inevitable and notorious victory! But when I think about it, it’s so understandable – Russians are so busy. It’s absolutely amazing how they manage everything. They use every minute to the fullest. It’s incredible and impressive. For them to spend time on politics, when they all already know the results, is a waste of minutes they don’t have. And this, despite all my democratic cells screaming “…but things COULD change if you tried!!!!” is understandable! As easy as it is to dismiss the issue and claim that all these abuses of power and corruption cases could be prevented “if people just paid more attention/opened their eyes/participated more/etc”., one quickly realizes that’s a completely unreasonable idea under these circumstances.
I wonder where things will go from here…!!