Transmissions from a Lone Star: A Young Person's Guide to Russian Politics

© PhotoDaniel Kalder
Daniel Kalder - Sputnik International
Following recent street protests in Russia, international attention has been focused on the country’s political scene.

Following recent street protests in Russia, international attention has been focused on the country’s political scene. A young person tuning in to the news coverage might be confused by all the long names ending with –ov and –sky and the series of heads that resemble slabs of meat, lumpy potatoes or some other comestible. Too much of the commentary is targeted at initiates; beginners need a jumping on point. After all, today’s 20 year olds were barely crawling the last time Vladimir Zhirinovsky scored serious headlines in the West. So strap on your shapka and let’s go!


VLADIMIR PUTIN: In 1999, when V.V. Putin was appointed prime minister by the celebrated disco dancer Borya Yeltsin, many articles appeared in the press noting that all he had to show for a long stint as a KGB agent in the 70s and 80s was a bronze medal from the Stasi; the implication being that he was a lightweight, a gray mediocrity, etc. Nobody remembers that stuff now. He is a master of political chess and whether you like him or not, he compares favorably with most (if not all) Russian leaders of the past 100 years.

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: An elusive, mystical figure who has shown historic levels of personal restraint since winning the presidency in 2008. Indeed, he is very possibly the first man in history to rise to supreme office and then volunteer to return power to his predecessor. Historians shall ponder his enigma for centuries to come.

That’s all you need to know about the establishment. Now let’s get down to the parties of the disgruntled.


THE PROTESTORS: Russia has experienced anti-Putin protests for years but until 2011 the crowds consisted of marginal types such as communist pensioners, rabid nationalists and international chess grandmasters. This changed in the aftermath of last year’s Duma elections, which were widely viewed as rigged. There is nothing new in that criticism but, perhaps inspired by events in the Middle East, individuals who look surprisingly middle class have started to object. Alas for them, the opposition is completely useless.


GENNADY ZYUGANOV: In all the breathless Western media coverage of Russia’s street protests the one thing most journalists have neglected to mention is that the largest and best-organized opposition force in Russia is…The Communist Party! That’s right, the party of Stalin and Brezhnev, which has a long tradition of tyranny and disastrous economic policies! Gennady Zyuganov has run the show since 1993, when everybody with talent and ambition abandoned the party to make a quick buck. His is the saggy-jawed face of stagnation, the root vegetable-shaped head of hopelessness.

VLADIMIR ZHIRINOVSKY: A professional clown from Kazakhstan famous for his long-running performance as a radical nationalist. Not to be confused with an actual idiot, Zhirinovsky studied Turkish at Moscow State University's Institute of Asian and African Countries, then law (also at MSU) and finally landed himself a PhD in philosophy (also at MSU, although he attained that last qualification in the 90s when standards had slipped). Impressively, he has never once broken character in twenty years of playing “Zhirik”, the burly, brawling politician-buffoon. He slyly subverts the very concept of “opposition” by endorsing everything Putin stands for whenever called upon to vote in the Duma.

MIKHAIL PROKHOROV: Russia’s third-richest man, worth $18 billion according to Forbes, yet he has never shared any of his coin with me, the swine. He is the owner of SNOB, the magazine of Russian bourgeois self-satisfaction, and the New Jersey Nets basketball team. When he declared his candidacy I assumed he was a Kremlin double agent, however the numerous sympathetic articles about disgraced 90s billionaires that have appeared in SNOB lead me to suspect he is sincere in his opposition to Putin. Apparently not joking when he floated the idea of making the loathed ex- billionaire and current convict Mikhail Khodorkovsky his prime minister, this goes some way to explaining the 3% support he currently enjoys in the polls.

SERGEI MIRONOV: Some dude with a beard who, last time he ran for president, said he would vote for Putin rather than himself. Now supposedly an actual genuine enemy of the establishment, he poses absolutely no threat whatsoever.


GRIGORY YAVLINSKY: When he was disqualified from running for president following the discovery of thousands of forged signatures on his application, this was reported around the world as something significant, possibly an act of skullduggery on the part of the establishment. In fact, Yavlinsky is a has-been with miniscule support among Russians, even if he means well. Fun fact: in 1990, while still a member of the Communist Party, he co-authored a surrealist manifesto masquerading as a serious proposal to transform the USSR into a market economy in 500 days!


Of course, many blame Putin for preventing a viable opposition from emerging on Russia’s political scene over the last twelve years. If that is true, he has been highly successful. I mean, presented with that selection of candidates, who would you vote for? Be honest, now.

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

What does the world look like to a man stranded deep in the heart of Texas? Each week, Austin- based author Daniel Kalder writes about America, Russia and beyond from his position as an outsider inside the woefully - and willfully - misunderstood state he calls “the third cultural and economic center of the USA.”

Daniel Kalder is a Scotsman who lived in Russia for a decade before moving to Texas in 2006. He is the author of two books, Lost Cosmonaut (2006) and Strange Telescopes (2008), and writes for numerous publications including The Guardian, The Observer, The Times of London and The Spectator.

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