Well, we’ve slogged through a nearly sleepless March 4 and 5 in the newsroom and are now standing on what is known as the other side of the elections. What just happened and what’s next?
The above picture, photographed by Reuters and featured on the front page of the Moscow Times on Monday, has been the image that’s stuck with me over the last few days. Don’t you find it disturbing?
Reporting and turning stories the last few days has been a bit sad. It’s all been simmering in my brain for a bit now, and I have so many questions…!
It’s probably the somewhat troubling result of constantly watching and writing about Putin at work, but I’ve find myself becoming unwillingly obsessed – thinking up interview questions for him while brushing my teeth or walking to the metro…what’s going on inside his brain? What strange mix of deep insecurity, paranoia and pride makes someone build an entire country around themselves with millions of people across multiple time zones jumping to lie, cheat and steal in order to keep him in power? Of course the issue is much bigger – which comes first the chicken or the egg? And do politics follow culture or does culture follow politics?
The phrase playing through my head is that it really has become all about Putin. The politics, the system, the government all seem to be geared towards one man…loyalty seems to be the highest value in Russian politics today.
The fraud in Sunday’s election appears to have been endemic, with stories popping up of whole offices of people across Russia being threatened and bribed to engage in carousel voting.
A BBC journalist called it ‘fraud on an industrial scale’.
Perhaps Putin could have won the election outright. He’s still a pretty popular guy outside of Russia’s big cities. So why all the cheating?
The pressure on officials to come up with large vote counts for Putin is enormous, I think. The New York Times, in an article about fraud in Russia’s North Caucasus described, “violations of election law are uniquely brazen, from a combination of top-down pressure, cultural factors and, in Chechnya, a fearful milieu of police intimidation.” There exists in Russia, the article went on to point out, a “deep tolerance of undemocratic practices.”
So a lot of people in Russia are pretty upset.
There were big anti-Putin protests in Moscow on Monday night, and they’re planning to protest again on Saturday.
What will happen? What will the opposition do? What will Putin do?
It looks Russia’s in for the long haul, but my big question is what is going to be made of all this wonderful new enthusiasm and active participation in civil society? Will the Kremlin value it? Will the oppostion value it? Or are both sides just hungry for more power???
If nothing else, check out this short news video by the BBC on ‘The Story Behind Russia’s Elections.’ It’s very good, only about 6 minutes long, and totally fascinating.