Deeper Than Oil: I’d have broken the habit of a lifetime for United Russia

© RIA NovostiMarс Bennetts
Marс Bennetts - Sputnik International
The campaign for Sunday’s parliamentary polls was the only time that I’ve witnessed any degree of passion in a pre-election period in Russia.

The campaign for Sunday’s parliamentary polls was the only time that I’ve witnessed any degree of passion in a pre-election period in Russia. Although “passion” probably isn’t the right word to describe the widespread eruption of contempt for the ruling United Russia. Or the “party of swindlers and thieves,” as they are better known these days.

I’ve never voted in my life, but – if I had been eligible to do so – I probably would have paid a visit to my local voting booth this weekend. Not, you understand, that there was anyone I actually felt like supporting – it’d have just been nice to contribute to what looks like a massive electoral slap in the face for Vladimir Putin’s party.

There was still a lot of enjoyment to be had, however, out of the various anti-United Russia leaflets and posters that went up around town in the run-up to voting. My favorite was this one – a mock eyesight test that turns out to read “United Russia – party of swindlers and thieves.”

A leaflet war raged in the elevator in my apartment building in the two days or so before the polls opened, with anti-United Russia leaflets being stuck up and torn down in bewildering succession.

First we had a “Have you forgotten?” leaflet, which listed the party’s broken promises (there were a lot), then we had one against state-run media promotion of United Russia, then a “Papa, what were you doing while the swindlers and thieves robbed our country blind?”

There were more, including the eyesight one, which my two-year-old daughter, Masha, insisted on sticking up, even though I warned her that her action was – strictly speaking - “hooliganism.” A crime punishable by a small fine in Russia. She didn’t listen to me though, and who was I to stand in her way? She is, after all, a Russian citizen, so the polls had much more to do with her than me.

Exit polls announced as I sit down to write this suggest United Russia took 48% or so of the vote, which would mean they lose their two-thirds majority. As well as the ability to rewrite the constitution at will that goes with it. All in all though, it’s a pretty good showing for a party that has come to symbolize for many people here the corruption, ineffectiveness and blatant cynicism that is crippling Russia.

“Pretty good showing” is a massive understatement actually. I didn’t meet a single person here in Moscow, from cab drivers to journalists, from pensioners to political analysts, who planned to vote for United Russia. And neither did any of the friends and acquaintances whom I asked. And neither, in my Escher-like unfolding of questioning, did any of their friends and acquaintances. And so on, until a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend said his uncle, a 53-year-old watch repairman from the Central Russian town of Gryazi (the name comes from the Russian word for “dirt” or “mud”), would vote for United Russia.

So deep was the contempt for Putin and his party that it even occurred to me that people might be taking things a touch too far. That some folk might not only be holding Putin and United Russia responsible for all the country’s woes, but for their own personal life disappointments. It’s a startling transformation from the figure of action adored by the majority of people here in the 2000s.

So, no, not “pretty good showing.” More like – miracle! Or, if you believe the opposition’s claims of massive fraud at the polls and the footage of independent activists who took the trouble to document such things, not such a miracle after all.

Merely a spurt of atypical effectiveness.


The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.


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From lurid tales of oligarch excess to scare stories about Moscow’s stranglehold on Europe’s energy supplies, the land that gave us Roman Abramovich and Vladimir Putin is very rarely out of the news. But there is much more to modern Russia than billionaire tycoons and political conspiracy. Marc Bennetts’ weekly column, Deeper Than Oil, goes beyond the headlines to explore the hidden sides of the world’s largest, and often strangest, country.

Marc Bennetts is a journalist who has written about Russian spies, Chechen football and Soviet psychics for a number of UK newspapers, including The Guardian and The Times. He is also the author of Football Dynamo: Modern Russia and the People’s Game (Virgin Books).

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