Letter: From Russia
I quite happily read Elizabeth Kiem’s article on the elections in Russia last week. As I’ve been living in Russia this year, through both the parliamentary and presidential elections, my access to the news has been a combination of the Kremlin-backed television channels and any additional news I can glean as fast as possible at internet cafes and in rare bursts of wireless. It was nice to read something that didn’t dismiss the results before, at least, it meditated on the circumstances.
I wanted to update Kiem and others on the election atmosphere here, though what she gleaned from the televised bro-down of Medvedev and Putin together was definitely how it ended. If she was in town the week prior to the elections, she probably saw buses painted with advertisements to VOTE! for anyone at all really (my States-based parents passed on that this sudden campaign to get out the vote was to ensure the 50% turnout needed to make the election valid). She maybe saw a non-United Russia candidate appear on the news for the first time, an apparent response to international scrutiny. If she was staying with Russians, she may have seen the formal invitations to vote, issued by various parties, dropped into mailboxes. She may have seen on these invitations capsule biographies of all the candidates and observed that Medvedev’s was always the shortest.
I live with a 77-year-old babushka who I believe has anti-globalist leanings (in spite of having hosted foreign students for 15 years) and has a nicely collaged wall of socialist posters, including, oddly, a Fight for your right to party! declaration that is less Beasties, more post-Soviet. She voted for Medvedev in the end but was less enthusiastic about it than the young people I’ve met, saying just, He’s a good speaker. (I haven’t been in the States since our election process was launched, but with my limited contact I would guess you could say the same thing for Barack Obama.) In the week leading up to the election, a stranger rung at our intercom and without preface asked who we were voting for. My host mother said, I haven’t decided, and turned it off abruptly but was perturbed for some time afterward. She has seen many decades of what happens to Russians who dissent.
Get-out-the-vote ads the day before the election advertised it as the first holiday of spring. My host mother was nice enough to take me to the polls with her and the atmosphere was indeed festive: a buffet, live chamber music, books for children, balloons everywhere; it was a far cry from the polls in the grim lobby of government housing in my swing state back home. Talking with my father later, I observed that the festivity was probably less the result of the relative newness of the election process and more the result of a complete lack of tension regarding the results. On the way out, though, when exit pollers stopped to ask who we voted for, my host mother barked, What do you want to know for? The poller looked resigned to this reaction in a district full of pensioners.
As for the clip of Medvedev in jeans striding toward the stage in Red Square, practically holding hands with his predecessor, it was replayed on the news almost every night for a week. I will never cease to find this amazing.
p.s. Television seeming to be the great Russian pastime, ours is always on but neither my babushka nor I saw coverage of the marches in Moscow and St. Petersburg. If there was anything to convince me of the state of mainstream Russian media, which I occasionally hope might be balanced, this was it.