Monday, 11 June 2012

Putin, Russia's Elections and the Internet

During Russia's recent presidential election, Rossija bez Putina (Russia without Putin) was one of the main slogans of the opposition. The slogan was subtly used in a couple of videos both by government sympathisers and the opposition, to conjure up the fears and hopes that Russians associate with political change. The videos are extremly interesting, both as a method of political campaigning, and as insights into different views, fears and projections of Russia's future.

An apocalyptic pro-government version asks (freely summarized and translated by myself):  

Imagine for once - Russia without Putin: presidential elections are canceled, the Duma dissolved, the opposition triumphs, 200 new parties compete for parliament, nationalists and liberals win, Western powers greet the beginning of genuine democracy in Russia. The new rulers divide the Russian economy among themselves,..., as a gesture of good-will, the Russian nuclear arsenal is put under control of the US. After internal divisions, the nationalists leave the government and start an underground insurrection. A new economic crisis hits the world, thousands of firms have to close in Russia. The government decides to close Avtovaz, workers in Tolyatti demand the separation of their region from the country. The central bank feverishly prints money, hyper-inflation, the cost of bread climbs astronomically, leading international companies start leaving... In all large Russian cities, fascist groups fight ethnic mafias...skinheads win elections in St. Petersburg...after a hungry winter, local nationalists win regional elections, a number of regions declare their independence, the republics in the northern Caucasus establish an Islamic emirate, 100.000 refugees flee the Caucasus, civil war...under the pretext of a peace-keeping operation, NATO forces occupy Kaliningrad, China occupies parts of Siberia, the Japanese put peace-keepers into Vladivostok. Georgia invades Southern Russia...the world speaks about a humanitarian disaster in December 2013, Alexey Navalny gets the Nobel price for peace and the Noble price for February 2014, Georgia conducts the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The Russian team is not admitted. In Moscow the transmission of the opening ceremony leads to street battles, electricity, telephone and internet stop working, citizens are advised not to leave their houses. Russia without Putin: choose by yourself!      


Much of the footage used is from the chaotic 1990s, implying that Putin leaving office would plunge the country back into a situation similar to post-Perestroika chaos, leaving it without defense against internal and external agressors.
Another, less apocalyptic version asks subtle questions about the hidden interests of the Russian opposition, and the ensuing re-distribution of interests and property once they have come to power:

Yet another (and in my opinion, not that unjustified) question is the one about potential alternatives to Putin in charge. Zyuganov and a return to Communism? Zhirinovsky? Navalny? Probably the major problem of Russia's current opposition is its lack of a team of credible and capable leaders and specialists to take over if Putin would step down.

A further problem is the absence (at least, until now) of a credible and thought-through programme. The following pro-opposition video paints a hopeful picture of Russia without Putin, and contains some elements that could indeed become part of a future opposition programme - the putting into place of a personal accountability system for Russian bureaucrats and politicians (instead of making their promotion dependent on their political support of the center), the re-introduction of a progressive tax system, investments into infrastructure, and a more effective industrial policy. Even though the end of the video is probably slightly utopian (by 2018, Belarus and Ukraine will have joined a resurgent Russia, making it the second-strongest economy in the world), the film makes at least some real suggestions and is not simply based on conjuring-up fear.


However, there is probably still a long way to go until Russia's opposition manages to establish a platform that could somehow rally around a constructive programme. It seems that the one thing Putin has really been effective in establishing is a system that leaves, at least for now, few alternatives to himself.

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