“You called us, Pu, and we came!”
March 7, 2012 12:05 PM   Subscribe

Last Sunday, Russia's prime minister Vladimir Putin was shown shedding tears on TV as he was elected to be Russia's president for the next six years amidst a wave of protests. Meanwhile, despite a vast network of web cameras installed at polling stations to prevent vote fraud and independent exit polls showing more than 50% support for Putin, his opponents have decried the elections as a sham, as reports of falsifications, ballot stuffing and 'carousel voting' abound. What will his third term be like, though? in Prospect Magazine, Rachel Polonsky takes an in-depth look at the anti-Putin mood in Russian cities and what it means for his system of power.

Street protest has become cool; being a kremlyad, as the cynical cultural stooges of the Kremlin are nicknamed, is out of fashion. Even the society lionesses—celebrity beauties who grace the covers of glamour magazines—are in on the act: the party-going gossip columnist Bozhena Rynska blogs about fair elections; Ksenia Sobchak (daughter of Putin’s old boss, the former mayor of St Petersburg, Anatoly Sobchak) does the round of TV talk shows, defending democracy. Civility, dignity, honesty, love and kindness are Moscow’s new buzzwords. “The Jew walks arm-in-arm with the anti-semite,” as Citizen Poet put it in “Wow! What a Campaign!” the clip that appeared after the protest march to Bolotnaya Square in early February. This diverse opposition movement has so far opposed Putinism’s Byzantine-KGB-style blend of intrigue, provocation, and hypocrisy with sincerity, transparency, and solidarity. “This is an uprising of gentleness and goodness against lawlessness, stupidity and shame,” the poet Olga Sedakova wrote in the liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta. “We want a country that we are not ashamed of. And we know what is shameful and what is not. You have never known that,” she continued ad hominem, “as you show off your amphorae and your biceps.”
posted by daniel_charms (26 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Q. What's an election without a scandal?
posted by TwelveTwo at 12:07 PM on March 7, 2012

Are you surprised by his tears, sir? Strong men also cry... Strong... men... also... cry!
posted by Parasite Unseen at 12:12 PM on March 7, 2012 [10 favorites]

Dude's so popular in Chechnya that he received over 99% of the vote with one precinct in Grozny reporting a 107% turnout.
posted by gman at 12:13 PM on March 7, 2012 [8 favorites]

He's fakin' it. This guy can walk.
posted by gauche at 12:13 PM on March 7, 2012

Not that he wasn't pulling strings behind the scenes anyway, but what's even the point of term limits if they're only for consecutive terms?
posted by kmz at 12:15 PM on March 7, 2012

Vladimir Putin, Action Man
posted by nadawi at 12:16 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Say what you will about goodness against lawlessness, stupidity, and shame, at least it's an ethos.
posted by sendai sleep master at 12:18 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Quoting Warbaby from another thread

Raw information is not raw power. Knowledge is not power. Power is power.

What is necessary to restrain power is countervailing force of some sort. It could be opinion, legal, legislative, electoral, even military. But in the absence of that countervailing force, information and knowledge alone will not be sufficient. This is the fallacy at the heart of the cypherpunk libertarianism: suppose we had a leak and nobody could do anything about it?

That is sort of the problem here. The knowledge of the wrongdoing existed, but the power to act on it did not.

posted by lalochezia at 12:23 PM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's like he was never gone.
posted by Artw at 12:26 PM on March 7, 2012

I swear to God, if this kid ever showed up to date my daughter, I'd ... I'd ... I'd probably hand him whiskey and car keys.

Out of fear.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:27 PM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Every week, Dmitri Bykov weaves a verse pastiche of a well-known poet out of some event in politics, which Mikhail Yefremov—a prodigious mimic with wickedly twinkling eyes—then delivers in fancy dress.

I was pleased to see Bykov get quoted at some length; he's a delightful writer. And of course the resurgence of political humor and the newfound willingness of the citizenry to protest publicly are heartening things. But ultimately they're meaningless unless something actually happens, and I'm not very sanguine about that unless Russia's economy completely collapses. As long as Putin can keep his billionaire supporters and the power centers happy, he may be annoyed by the jokes and protests but they don't actually threaten him. I'm glad Polonsky ended her piece with this rather than some sappy "It's morning in Russia" bullshit:

“Why are you optimistic?” a sage Russian historian commented on her thread: “No one is coming back. Putin is not going anywhere. These people will fight to the last. It’s time to start fearing for your husbands and your sons.”

Also, let me put in a word for Masha Gessen, a brave woman who went back to Russia twenty years ago and is reporting on Putin's crimes with the kind of thoroughness that got Anna Politkovskaya and so many others killed. Buy her book and keep your fingers crossed for her.
posted by languagehat at 12:29 PM on March 7, 2012 [8 favorites]

Is it true that they tweaked the election results? Yes, for sure, and the Chechen results are always like that as there's somewhat of a competition amongst regional governors to deliver their regions for United Russia and especially Putin personally. Is it true that he would have won anyhow? Yes, probably.

IMHO the real mistake was made when he and Medvedev said in a public press conference that the transfer of power back had been decided years before; it made all of the kabuki theatre power struggles between them look like exactly that, and made Russian democracy an embarrassingly thin sham to the point where it was impossible to deny it was a carve-up.

And I say that as someone who likes Putin compared to the alternatives...
posted by jaduncan at 12:32 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

“The Jew walks arm-in-arm with the anti-semite,” as Citizen Poet put it in “Wow! What a Campaign!” the clip that appeared after the protest march to Bolotnaya Square in early February.

Jesus Christ, they make it sound like anti-semites are like sub-atomic anti-Jews, equal in mass and opposite in charge. As if they're just as naturally-occurring as Jews themselves.
posted by clockzero at 12:34 PM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

languagehat: Thanks for reminding me about Masha Gessen. An interview with her was posted today in NYT's Arts Beat blog.
posted by daniel_charms at 12:35 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

And I say that as someone who likes Putin compared to the alternatives...

Do you define "alternatives" as only those candidates Putin's cronies deemed suitable to run? Case in point.
posted by BobbyVan at 12:38 PM on March 7, 2012

Tears? Bullshit. What happened was the fetzer valve on the hydraulics that control his facial movements had gone into the shop for routine maintenance. In order to be safe, knowing that the post-election appearances were coming up, the mechanic in charge over-oiled the valves and connector rods in the small twitch control mechanism. What you see here is excess mineral oil being leached out of the pinions as they flex.
posted by spicynuts at 12:43 PM on March 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

Nobody else you'd like has a sizable enough powerbase to face down the oligarchs if required, and even aside from that people like Kasparov and Yavlinsky don't have the poll numbers to win an election even if it were slanted artificially towards them. You'll note that even your article mentions that Yavlinsky's party failed to make the 7% cut for the Duma.

You should note that a lot of the opposition bloggers are right wing nationalists, and by that I mean fairly impressively racist. Being united in hate of Putin doesn't make people pro-Western; Alexei Navalny (and this article is very much worth reading) has a fairly long list of racist policies such as citizenship by blood even for those outside of Russia, stated that immigrants are a timebomb and can never integrate into Russian culture, and that Russia should rise against "Muslim-looking criminals".

So, yeah, I'll take Putin's brand of nationalism against that or a utterly oligarch run country, stage managed democracy or not.
posted by jaduncan at 12:55 PM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I like this quote, from Whoisioz (a few years back):

Imagine if you are Vladimir Putin. You do not drink or smoke, and aside from occasionally fucking your gymnast nymphette into catatonic submission while a 10,000 piece orchestra plays Gimn Sovetskogo Soyuza outside your window, you do not carouse. Your life is occupied with grim, atavistic fantasies, which are just now coming to fruition, and as you nurse your bloody dreams in the Siberian expanses of your glittering, Satanic soul, you flip on the teevee and see the only force on earth with any capacity to foil or retard your ambitions rapidly consuming itself in an orgy of abject ridiculousness, a Marx-brothers comedy of political ineptitude so baroque in its Vaudevillian slapstick that it melts, for just one moment, the crimson popsicle that is your KGB heart and from your mouth, for the first time since you traded your soul for life eternal and a thirst for blood one thousand years ago, you let out one brief, delicious: Ha!

In some ways dated, in other ways not.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:12 PM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

The new Vanity Fair has Gessen's Putin/Khodorkovsky article in it.
posted by eegphalanges at 1:15 PM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

jaduncan: I guess if we can only choose between 1) racist nationalism, 2) absolute oligarchy or 3) "Putin's brand" of "stage managed democratic nationalism," I'd go with Putin also... But that's a rather stacked deck you're playing with.
posted by BobbyVan at 1:59 PM on March 7, 2012

Dude's so popular in Chechnya that he received over 99% of the vote with one precinct in Grozny reporting a 107% turnout.

Speaking of Grozny, Robert Young Pelton has a piece in FP on the similarities between Grozny and Homs: Kill the Messenger
posted by homunculus at 2:06 PM on March 7, 2012

>So, yeah, I'll take Putin's brand of nationalism against that or a utterly oligarch run country, stage managed democracy or not.

In context, Putin has always struck me as fairly anodyne. And his occasional belligerence seems almost entirely rhetorical, meant for internal consumption more than anything else.
posted by darth_tedious at 2:06 PM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

The danger is that his tolerance of petty corruption comes at a long-term cost. Gessen has made the point that the people won't tolerate being treated like serfs forever. Continued corruption and kleptocracy is setting the stage for eventual social unrest and potentially brutal repression.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:13 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine moved to St. Petersburg a bit over a year ago. Last week, he told me - oh, by the way, [girlfriend] and I are heading out to her parents' place in this little town, and the internet there is unreliable, so when Putin wins the election and there are riots, don't worry about me.

I found myself telling him: dude, if the country collapses, shoot me a text to let me know you're all right. This is a very strange future we live in.
posted by cmyk at 2:37 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

jaduncan: I think the reason why Navalny is so popular with the urban middle class is because he's shown them that the letter of the law still bears a certain weight; that the same laws apply to everyone and with enough perseverence, you can make them work for you. And this is a real change of mentality for the Russian intelligentsia (but also the people in general) who are used to thinking that if the czar is illegitimate, then so's the whole system and you don't have to give a damn about its laws. Now they've started to realize that the law is not the same thing as the government. That the police are not just another armed gang trying to rob them of their money, that they can actually be useful for the little people (or 'hamsters'). That knowing your rights makes you strong (and a lot stronger than just knowing that you're right). Navalny has been one of the people setting an example in this respect: for instance, when he's been arrested, he hasn't complained about it or declared that his arrest was illegitimate; he does complain, though, if he or someone else is being charged with something they didn't do. But he hasn't been the only one and it hasn't all been about politics, either.

What they're proving is that you can lead a normal life under any old ruler, as long as the legal system functions. And I think this is a good thing, no matter who their president is.
posted by daniel_charms at 11:34 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

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