Thoughts on Russian Presidential Elections

Protests in Pushkin Square, March 5, 2012 (Ridus/RIA Novosti)

The elections took place. So did the protests of the Russian opposition. Snob.ru published an article contemplating what Mikhail Prokhorov should now do: either congratulate Putin and become politically extinct, or claim that elections were unfair, that he does not acknowledge Putin as the President, and therefore become a true leader of the new Russia.

The problem I have with political journalism like this, is that it tries to forecast, predict what the person should do, and what political consequences may ensue. This is probably because we believe that we always have to be one step ahead of the time, to make a right choice. But in the situation, especially when Prokhorov had come into politics practically out of nowhere, such articles look like an advice to the poor guy as to what to do next. Which makes one wonder how independent Prokhorov is as a politician, and if he has to somehow marry the expectations of his backers with those of the people of Russia.

The situation also shows that we don’t learn from history. For as much as we despise the Russian Revolution for all spilt blood, there ARE people who seem ready to press the “replay” button. The problem is that this is happening in Moscow and St. Petersburg – the two cities that by definition develop quickier than the rest of Russia. I remember a photograph from the RIA Novosti archive in London, of a peasant family who had just got electricity in their house. While the son is looking inquisitively at an electric bulb, his elderly mother next to him is like a blank canvas: no emotion on her face or in her eyes.

Thanks to the 1990s, a lot of Russia now is like this elderly woman. Democracy, fair elections, oblique prospects are the same as an electric bulb. They mean nothing.

Also, very much like in the 19th c., our intellingentsia believes that Russian people are so thick, they cannot make up their own mind. It is true that folks do no quote the classics by heart or know many foreign languages (not that intelligentsia knows too many!), but it does not mean that they cannot know, if intuitively, what is best for them.

More precisely, there is, first, the famous longue durée, the historic time, time of tradition that runs slowly, undercurrent, and often wrecks havoc in the most brilliant plans. It baffles me how intelligentsia ignores the fact that there are massive issues in the Russian mentality that must be addressed before any progress can take place. It has already been shown by Russian historians to what extent the Mongol yoke had influenced the mentality, not to mention Russia’s relations with the West. Suffices to say that under Yaroslav the Wise Russian princes and princesses had married the heads of Europeans feudal states. However, the Mongols successfully hid Russia behind what may be called the first “iron curtain”, and it took much longer than 70 years to bring it down. Add to this the serfdom what was abolished only 151 years ago, and you may be able to understand what makes Russia so different. And no President can change it in mere 4 or 6 years.

Another problem that I’ve been studying since 2010 involves the law of attraction. I sometimes hear and read the British people stating that they are “ashamed to be British”. When it comes to cleaning the cities after the yob riots, I bet Tories and Labour go out together. There will be always be people who are unhappy with just about anything, but overall, in spite of political differences and occasional comments like the one I quoted, the predominant feeling is pride or at the very least pleasure to be living in a country that gave the world Shakespeare and Beatles (to name but a very famous few).

When I look at Russia, I see no such pleasure. Neither victory in the Second World War, nor even Pushkin is any longer enough to make someone proud to be Russian. “This is Russia” pronounced in a variety of tones – sarcastic, helpless, dismissive, negative – underpins much of the talk. Someone dropped garbage in the street? – “This is Russia“. Corruption? – “This is Russia“. Stupid pop music? – “This is Russia“.

In the 19th c. Russia was often compared to Israel as a God-chosen country that has to endure all sorts of hardships before it regains the Holy Land. Russian people were said to have the same happy but hapless fate, as Jewish people. And when you hear this cacophony of “This is Russia“, you cannot help but think that, yes, you no longer need to go to Israel. If you want to feel like an eternally despised Wandering Jew, just go to Russia, or better, get to be born here.

If we contemplate for a moment that we attract whatever we focus on, is there any wonder then that Russia is to this day in a somewhat pitiful state and condition because its own people do not believe that their country is worthy of something good? And while even the most mentally free want to do as they please, when something does not go to plan they still blame it on the powers-that-be. This means that they are incapable of taking responsibility and keen to find excuses – a typical servant mentality.

There’re probably other issues I could mention, but they can be recanted another time. I’ll finish with the last paragraphs of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Having completed it in 1944, Orwell had problems with publishing it because it was a barely veiled satyrical attack on Soviet Russia who at that point was Britain’s ally in the Second World War. The paragraphs I’m quoting, though, are on the nature of power, opposition, where it all (usually) ends, and what role people play in the whole spectacle.

That evening loud laughter and bursts of singing came from the farmhouse. And suddenly, at the sound of the mingled voices, the animals were stricken with curiosity… At the gate they paused, half frightened to go on but Clover led the way in. They tiptoed up to the house, and such animals as were tall enough peered in at the dining-room window… No one noticed the wondering faces of the animals that gazed in at the window…

There was the same hearty cheering as before, and the mugs were emptied to the dregs. But as the animals outside gazed at the scene, it seemed to them that some strange thing was happening. What was it that had altered in the faces of the pigs? Clover’s old dim eyes flitted from one face to another. Some of them had five chins, some had four, some had three. But what was it that seemed to be melting and changing? Then, the applause having come to an end, the company took up their cards and continued the game that had been interrupted, and the animals crept silently away.

But they had not gone twenty yards when they stopped short. An uproar of voices was coming from the farmhouse. They rushed back and looked through the window again. Yes, a violent quarrel was in progress. There were shoutings, bangings on the table, sharp suspicious glances, furious denials. The source of the trouble appeared to be that Napoleon and Mr. Pilkington had each played an ace of spades simultaneously.

Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.