Tuesday, 6 March 2012

No Putin No Cry

(article written for school blog 4th March 2012)

It’s 19:50 and outside the Hampshire countryside is quiet, dark skies revealing the twinkle of the odd star. Tomorrow, I will get up and go to lessons - follow the daily routine. Who knows – maybe I’ll rebel against the norm and decide to cross to the ‘cold’ side at lunch, despite the allure of the beef Lasagne… That’ll be the extent of my insurgency. Meanwhile, it’s 23:50 in Moscow. The snow continues to fall mutely on an animated Red Square. The exit-polls of today’s presidential election are currently signalling the lead of Vladimir Putin, who’s gained a majority of 63.3%. Putin didn’t even bother campaigning he was so sure of his inevitable return to the Kremlin. Infact, as I write this, not all the ballots have been tallied – yet he stands on a pre-built stage victoriously addressing a crowd of his supporters… wait for it… CRYING at the words “Glory to Russia!”. This ex-KGB officer, with his black-belt in Judo and impeccably smooth pectoral muscles, actually shed a tear. He’s human?! The Russian twitterati for one are in shock: “I. Can’t. Believe. Putin. “Cried”” (@MiriamElder); “No Putin No Cry” (@JuliaIoffe); “Teary-eyed #Putin addressing 110,000 crowd in central Moscow” (@RT_com).  When the Muscovites wake up tomorrow to start their daily business, it will not be a typical day. It will be the first day of the second (and even longer) era of Putinism. But this one looks as if it’s going to be fundamentally different. The European editor of The Economist, John Peet, has pointed to the importance of the growing white ribbon protest movement: it will be interesting to see how the Russian authorities choose to counter-act this wave of disturbances and to what extent they might loosen Putin’s grasp on Russia. Unlike, the Ukrainian Orange Revolution of 2004 these demonstrations do not (yet) follow a single leader – their aim is not to usurp but to reform. Already the protesters and pioneers of the Russian blogosphere have announced their intention to take to the streets tomorrow to condemn the “fraud and corruption” of today’s elections. Indeed, there were many reports of “carousel voting” – buses allegedly transported pro-Putin punters from one polling station to another in order to register multiple votes. I spent today watching the progress of the election (yes, I have a life) through the system of webcams that had been set up to prove to the world and “those who wanted Russia destroyed” (according to Putin) just how ‘free and fair’ the elections were. This is one of the images I stumbled upon…

Casual electoral behaviour? Even more amusing was the image of Chechnyan soldiers (or was it rebels?) turning up at the booths, machine guns slung over the shoulders. I am by no means suggesting that Britain is politically superior: whilst Russia is almost shamelessly corrupt, we can’t claim to know half of what goes on behind the closed doors of Downing Street and – to be honest – I’d rather we were more blatantly undemocratic instead of being continually fed this ‘fig-leaf democracy’ claptrap. It will be interesting to watch Russia’s political landscape under Putin… Reporters are already questioning whether Moscow will witness its own Russian Spring…

(photos: via @MiriamElder)

© Francesca Ebel D-504 blog

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Russian Elections 2012: The end is nigh... Or is it just the beginning?

This Sunday, the world will watch as the Russian Federation democratically elects its successive Head of State. Each citizen has the right to a single vote. Every ballot paper is sorted by independent and uncorrupted officials. The results are transparent, proportional and fundamentally egalitarian.

… Or so the story would go if Vladimir Putin really had been assassinated back in January. When a friend scampered up to me on Monday morning excitedly jabbering that the FSB had foiled an “attempted assassination plot” against Putin I thought she was joking. Having studied the French Revolution last year, I was instantly reminded of a similarly authoritarian character: Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1804, it was announced to the French that their precious First Consul had discovered an assassination attempt on his life. The apparent perpetrator was the Duke d’Enghien, who was swiftly executed. On December 2nd 1804 at Notre Dame Chapel, Napoleon was declared Emperor Napoleon the First, gaining absolute power and control over his nation and the flourishing French Empire. This tactic is a timeless trick that has been used by rulers throughout History to unite and gauge the support of their realm. And guess what? It’s fool-proof.

But can you really keep a straight face at the Russian government’s allegations? Putin’s d’Enghien is an unsuspecting Chechnyan rebel who publically aired his guilty conscience on Russia Today – the state-controlled TV channel. Well, I guess if I’d tried to kill the future President of Russia (oh excuse me, is it too bold of me to jump the gun?) I would definitely broadcast my humiliating failure; putting my friends, family and country in critical danger – because that would be the normal thing to do right? It baffles me that the authorities have only just this week, seven days before the entirety of the Russian franchise are to make their presidential choice, announced this supposed conspiracy… surely if it had happened in January they should’ve proclaimed it there and then? It must have been all that paperwork…

The fishiness doesn’t end there. UK based exiles and renowned OPPONENTS OF PUTIN, Boris Berezovsky and Akhmed Zakayev, were revealed on Wednesday as being responsible for the killing of Anna Politkovskaya – the Russian human rights activist, journalist and OPPONENT OF PUTIN who was shot inside her apartment building in 2006 (it should be noted, on Vladimir Putin’s birthday). Look at those capitalised words very carefully… “My enemy’s enemy is my friend”…

I honestly can’t decide whether I support the courage of the white ribbon protesters or the advantages of Putin’s leadership… I’ve spent the last week parading about in a t-shirt bestowed on me by a friendly passing Russian activist which proclaims: “Vladimir Vladimirovich can fuck off”. But do I actually subscribe to this statement? I won’t pretend that I’m a little apprehensive about publicising my views on Putin – I know little about the internal workings of Russia; I have no idea about the realities of living in a politically suppressed state; I am only a young, western onlooker that records what she observes (and I want to impress this upon any Russian- based readers). However, it does seem that Russia is resigned to its fate. There is little hope for a dramatic and unexpected twist in Sunday’s results: whilst Russia’s governmental system echoes that of the Soviet-era with its domination of the siloviki (over 70% of Russian governmental officials derive from the secret intelligence service); the oil business, the power of the oligarchs and Russia’s own instrinsic corruption (referred to today in The Week as having the same features as that of the ‘gangsta’ tradition) will continue to shape the country’s hopes for a real democracy. Is it possible that Russia just doesn’t suit democracy? Although my head is with the reality of what is inevitably going to be a deeply flawed election, my heart is with the young people of Russia this weekend.

Recent demonstrations include those of the ‘human chain’ and 'Pussy Riot' (an all-female punk rock band): the recent uprisings have a symbolised a shift in Russia’s attitude (at least in the metropolitan areas) towards Putinism and the state of Russia’s democracy – tens of thousands of protestsers have braved the fiercely cold weather and even fiercer authorites in their struggle for “a true democracy”.

© Francesca Ebel D-504 blog