Disunited Russia


Although Russian civilians have expressed their desire for a reformed government, Catherine Murnane wonders whether demonstration is enough to ensure such change

An arena is clothed in Russian flags. A spokesman plays his part as he speaks of a noble leader from a written script. A rupture of applause and patriotic chants suffocate a room. And Vladimir Putin accepts his presidential nomination. The scenes displayed at the United Russia party congress in Luzhniki sports arena demonstrate the type of electorate this party perceived itself to be dealing with in next year’s presidential election. An electorate that was proud to see its state’s second President and current Prime Minister take on yet another leading political role. An electorate that was satisfied with the lack of opposition he was yet to receive in this election. An electorate that was happy to see no change in the way their state is monitored and maintained.

In previous elections, there would have been potential logic in United Russia’s perception of Russia’s people. The drastic and capricious measures of both Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin in their roles as head of state led to an overall preference for soft authoritarian rule in Russia. Where the haunting memory exists amongst citizens that change is for the worst, a one-party dominant system, which can be perceived as predictable and unchanging, could have easily been perceived as favourable.

However, what the United Russia Party failed to predict was the upheaval and opposition which was to amount in response to the Putin love-in that took place on November 27th. Mass protests were organised in response to this clear attempt to maintain Putin’s power for as lengthy a period of time as possible. The slogan ‘anybody but United Russia’ quickly became the common chant amongst civilians. Putin was booed at open events, jeered on online forums and faced opposition that his party were never confronted with before.

When we consider the scandalous actions that took place during the Parliamentary elections in November, we can see that this anti-government opposition have succeeded in terrifying Putin and his party into fearing for their political security. Images of teachers marking off entire voting slips, along with those of students being paid to travel to polling stations, demonstrate the filthy tactics this government degraded itself to, fearing failure. However, regardless of such attempts to silence the newly emerged opposition, the anti-chant prevailed, with United Russia succumbing to a decrease in voter support, depleting from sixty-four per cent down to fifty per cent. As we can see, a desire to turn away from soft authoritarian rule has undoubtedly emerged in Russia.

However, will this uprising be sufficient to ensure that Putin’s U-turn to power is blocked off? Or will it merely anger and divide a nation that will remain under a similar, if not the same, ruling power? Regardless of this significant decrease in electoral support for United Russia, the parliamentary election results still substantiate the party’s position as the most popular in the state. Though fraudulent actions have led to major inconsistencies in this result, it has not voided them. It is for these reasons that the anti-government protests have grown en masse in a matter of weeks, with the most recent protest on December 24th becoming one of the largest organised protests in Russia for the last twenty years.

Whether this will be enough is another question. The most prevalent chants used by protesters thus far have translated as ‘Go Away, Putin’ and ‘vote for anybody other than the party of crooks and thieves’. Though Russian civilians continue to broadcast their desire for a reformed government most effectively, they have failed to provide an alternative to the ruling power they are opposing. While united on the ground, the anti-government opposition is simply a broad and loose alliance of politicians, intellectuals and journalists. As of yet, they have failed to put forward a candidate of their own, an individual who can take their views from the streets to government. Merely calling for citizens to vote for any candidate other than Putin will not necessarily lead to this opposition’s desired result.

Vladimir Milov, one of the current opposition leaders and former Deputy Energy Minister under Putin recently stated that, “Putin’s name is contradictory with the very idea of change”. Even if this is agreed upon, it does not suggest that any of the other current candidates are any more trustworthy.

We must also remember that regardless of how contradictory Putin’s name may be, he calls the shots in Parliament until further notice. Putin has recently dismissed this opposition movement as lacking not only legitimate leaders but a full, concise agenda. If the movement is to be taken seriously at government level, it will need to consider building on those pillars.

Throughout Russia’s lengthy new year’s holidays, there has been a moment’s silence to allow this opposition movement to either re-evaluate and rebuild, or remain a voice without an individual to carry it to government. Whether or not Putin will celebrate a presidential inauguration in a similar way to his nomination on November 27th will be determined by this opposition’s next move, or lack thereof.