Sunday, December 02, 2007

Reluctant Democracy?

Spiegel Online has an long and interesting article titled Portrait of a Reluctant Democracy. On the eve of the carefully orchestrated Duma elections, Spiegel provides a sort of cross-section of opinions and the political times in Russia. Their case study involves a series of cities across Russia, and by god, for once it doesn't include Moscow. Ivanovo, Magnitogorsk, Tyumen, Bedime, and Vladivostok are chosen as representative of the successes and failures of Putin's tenure as President of the Russian Federation.

Some of the more interesting tidbits from the article:


Vladimir Ryzhkov (whose Republican Party was dissolved in May by the Russian Supreme Court and after 14 years will no longer be part of the Russian Duma): "This is not an election, it's a farce." Ryzhkov states that the controlled multi-party system that is being formed in Russia reminds him of the former East Germany.


Boris Nemzov, a leading candidate of the "pro-business" SPS (but that protesters characterize as "Party of the Oligarchs") is asked by a reporter if he could imagine cooperating with the dominant United Russia party.

"If you mix a kilo of cranberries with a kilo of shit," Nemzov replies, "you get two kilos of shit."

There's the spirit of pragmatism and compromise upon which successful democracy's are built! Nemzov's SPS party is deemed unlikely to meet the minimum 7% for inclusion in the new Duma.

Another telling moment:
Nemzov says, to an audience at Ivonovo's "Silver City" shopping center: "Do you want me to tell you what the cleanest spot in the country is? The ass of the president! That's because someone is kissing it from morning to night."

Three female students giggle. A furious-looking soldier turns red in the face. Putin is his idol. An agitated pensioner calls out: "You stole our pensions in the '90s, you thieves!"


Nemzov is prepared for these accusations. He pats the angry pensioner on the back and responds to the attack with numbers: "When I was the energy minister, the price of oil was only $17. Nevertheless, Boris Yeltsin spent 7.5% of the national budget on pensions. The Putin administration spends only 4.2% on pensions."

And didn't Gazprom, the state-controlled energy giant, pay $13 billion for Abramovich's shares in the oil company Sibneft? Thirteen billion dollars, says Nemzov, is more than the government spends on its "national projects,"
much-touted programs devoted to healthcare and building low-income housing. "In other words," says Nemzov, "the most important national project for Mr. Putin is the oligarch Abramovich."

Ever since the arrest of oil billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2003, Nemzov tells his guests, everyone who hopes to do business in peace knows "where they have to leave their money" -- with United Russia.
In Magnitogorsk, almost 90% of the city's tax revenues are derived from the steel mill Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Combine (MMK) owned by Viktor Rashnikov and operated by Andrei Morozov. Morozov and MMK have somewhat reluctantly decided to support United Russia. This support is not without its detractors among the workers in the city.
When it came out that the mill's managers would support United Russia, critics in Magnitogorsk began parodying the party's Russian name, Yedinaya Rossiya, calling it "Yedim Rossiyu," or "We eat Russia."

"They have learned nothing from history," complains Gennady Grabaryev, a local opposition politician. [..] He sees a group of aging MMK veterans demonstrating on the square behind the city hall. Mariya Lyssenko holds a placard: "United Russia's members of parliament have cheated the MMK pensioners." She and her husband worked at the MMK for a combined 106 years, only to be pressured by
management, following the privatization of the combine, to sell their shares at rock-bottom prices. Lyssenko and her husband were told it was their duty to save the plant from an outside takeover.

Lyssenko, whose shares would be worth €120,000 today, must now make ends meet on a monthly pension of about €100. According to a Russian proverb -- "Nye poyman, nye vor" -- those who are not caught are not thieves.
And yet in other regions of Russia, such as the booming city of Tyumen, travel agency entrepeneur Natalya Mironova, flatly remarks regarding United Russia:
"Why should we vote for anything else? We're doing very well here."

[..] Born during the Soviet era in the city of Asbest, {W. Shedd notes: Russian for asbestos, which should give you a clue what they mine there} an industrial hell west of Tyumen, Mironova worked as an English teacher in the 1980s and moonlighted as a tour guide for Intourist,
the state-owned travel agency. The economy stagnated, while private business ownership was forbidden. "Not in my wildest dreams would I have thought that I would establish my own company one day," says Mironova.
Update: Reuters reports that early results show that United Russia is winning approximately 63% of the voting.

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19 comments:

Michael Averko said...

This morning’s, NBC cable affiliate MSNBC portrayed a questionable result based on the stated impression of an over 60% Putin tally being overwhelming by Western standards.

In Georgia, where was the second guessing when Saakashvili received a 96% presidential vote tally? Likewise with Shevardnadze’s 92% win, when he was in the good graces of Soros and the neocons?

On the mentioned morning segment, NBC’s Jim Maceda said that the Russian political opposition believes the claimed rigging could’ve actually meant Putin receiving a vote in the low 50% range. Rather than note the lack of outrage in Russia with the result, Maceda uncritically quoted Russian opposition leaders saying that they could’ve won. He mentioned an Igor “Lavitsky” (last name spelled as it sounded) as one of the opposition leaders. I gather he meant Grigori Yavlinsky. Such is the level of knowledge of some of the non-Russian English language mass media reporters in Moscow.

This morning’s televised BBC feed to America showed a small gathering of Nashi supporters outside the BBC’s Moscow office. The impression was given that they served to intimidate opposition figures from going to the BBC. Yet, that same segment showed a Western observer criticize the Russian election on an unnamed Russian radio station (probably Ekho Moskvy, which is owned by the “Russian state giant” Gazprom). Russians are free to travel and have access to other views from United Russia. There isn’t a great “outrage” among Russians on the election. As one Russian in the BBC segment said, there’s a “zombifaction” of Russian society on political issues. Sounds like my own country of origin.

On the matter of elections, it was reported that the Venezuelan president didn’t get enough votes to have a prolonged stay in office, well past five years. No applause for Venezuela conducting a “free and fair election,” despite the result being the one preferred by the American foreign policy establishment at large.

This leads to the view that some in the world don’t seek to please Uncle Sam on account that official Washington will not offer much in terms of a positive feedback. I suspect that Russia falls into that category.

Michael Averko said...

As per last post at his thread, that’s “zombification.”

W. Shedd said...

I actually thought the 61% or whatever number, was rather low considering opinion polls showed considerably higher favorable ratings for Putin among the Russian population.

C.M. on SRB indicated that he believe the overall result would be fewer, not more, seats in the Duma for United Russia.

Michael Averko said...

Is Russia democratic?
Yes - but so what?
http://www.antiwar.com/justin/?articleid=11996

Chrisius Maximus said...

I didn't factor in that the parties with under 7% of the vore would have their seats "shared" by the parties that did. So UR did get a handful of more seats. (So did the KPRF.)

Personally, I wish Nemtsov would just go away. I can't stand the fucker. He looked so freaking ridiculous with his "Free Garry Kasparov" sign, as if Kasparov were Nelson Mandela. The whole lot of those guys are such a bunch of hypocrites, considering what Yeltsin did to the KPRF in 1996. "Democracy is when people I like are in power."

Michael Averko said...

Awhile back, a certain NY based academic noted Nemtsov's ties to the dubious Russian oligarch money grabbing of the last decade. Prior to that, BN was thought to be a potential future leader.

American CSPAN aired Sunday's RTTV election coverage. It included plenty of sharp criticism from Zyuganov, Kasparov, Yavlinsky and Nemtsov. Some pro-Russian government propaganda outlet.

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