Наконец-то – the elections. As projected, Vladimir Putin won. He will be entering his third term as president. He won with about 64 percent of the vote – quite low by his standards, actually. On Monday night, people gathered in Moscow to protest his victory. There was also a demonstration here in Petersburg, in St. Isaac’s square – I didn’t attend, as I was prohibited by both my program and my common sense. My presence (as an American) at an event like that isn’t exactly appreciated.
A few friends have messaged me asking me how things are here, and if I feel safe. I do! And things are fine – today and Monday were very normal, business-as-usual days. Questions like these make me wonder how the media is portraying the aftermath of these elections. My impression is that, for the most part, Russians are unsurprised by the results. Yes, there are certainly people who are very unhappy and who challenge the legitimacy of Putin’s victory. It seems, however, that this opinion is not shared by the majority of Russians.
Sunday was Election Day. During breakfast – maybe it was lunch – I chatted with my host mom and her friend, George, about the elections and politics in general. As tactfully as I could, I asked them if they knew for whom they were voting. George was firmly “за Путина”. Nata seemed less sure, but said that she would also probably vote for Putin. She said she didn’t see the other candidates as realistic alternatives.
My Politologia teacher(s) – I have two now – echoed much of the same sentiment last week. Dennis Sergeevich loves to play devil’s advocate, but in the end, said he didn’t see any other option besides Putin. Boris Sergeevich (same очество!) agreed, arguing that Putin is the only one with any real experience in the political realm. My grammar teacher, Galina Viktorovna, said something along those lines, but also that she considers Putin to be “yesterday’s news”. She didn’t vote. Or maybe she did? She said something about doodling all over her ballot…
In any case, there is certainly political unrest in the city centers of this country, primarily in Moscow. I heard that about 14,000 protesters gathered in Moscow’s Pushkin Square on Monday night. For all intents and purposes, Putin has now lengthened his time in power to 18 years – 8 years as president (two four-year terms), 4 years as Prime Minister, and now another 6 years as president (the constitution was recently amended to lengthen the term in office). Some of Russia’s leading political activists are convinced that his victory should be invalidated, citing voter fraud (which probably occurred in some capacity), and abuse of government resources to ensure a lack of real competition for Putin. Somehow, I doubt that any kind of invalidation will come to fruition, especially after the results of December’s controversial parliamentary elections were allowed to stand.
Honestly, it’s all just very confusing. I do not profess to know what is right for this very complicated and very large country. I don’t think anyone truly does. The level of discontent with the election results, however, varies greatly from region to region, as well as from person to person. The consensus among the people I’ve asked (mostly well-educated, middle-aged people), is that Putin’s victory is legitimate and deserved. I keep hearing the same phrase: If not Putin, then who?
To me, it seems that your Average Joe (or rather, your Average Ivan) in Russia is most concerned with stability. To many, especially those living simpler lives in the small towns and villages of Russia, progress is secondary. This desire for a basic, stable life may be illustrated by the not-too-minuscule percentage of people that voted for Zyuganov, the leader of the Communist Party (he came in 2nd, after all). Many Russians, usually of the older generation, wish to return to a calmer and more stagnant time, when things were more controlled and less complicated. However, this desire is not at all a cohesive one, obviously. I’ll reiterate, опять же, Russia is a very large and very complicated country.
Today, I watched an interesting video clip from Sunday night. Dmitri Medvedev, the current president (and most likely the next Prime Minister) of Russia, announced Putin’s clear victory and gave a little speech. And Putin cried. Okay, so, ‘cried’ may be inaccurate, but there were tears on his face. He later claimed that these tears were a reaction to the harsh winter wind (it’s possible – wind hurts), but I don’t know… it was certainly an appropriate moment to shed a few tears of joy. And soon enough, #putinwept started trending on Twitter, and a Kremlin parody account tweeted, “No Putin no cry” – gotta love the Bob Marley reference.
В конце концов, I’m very interested to see what happens in the coming weeks, months, and years for Russia. I don’t know if I’m able to share a concrete opinion about Putin. My host mom asked me today if Americans generally consider him a dictator. I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I was a bit vague in saying that yes, some Americans probably do think that, but made sure to tell her that generally, Americans don’t really know what they’re talking about. It’s possible she thinks I come from a country of idiots. Obviously, not true, however; I do think that the majority of American have a very tainted view of Russia and her inner workings. I certainly did, even as a person of Russian descent. I urge you all, take a closer look. You’ll be surprised at what you find. I’m surprised by new things I learn every day.
For example, today, I found out that the water in St. Pete’s numerous canals is actually vodka.