03/16/2024, 14.53
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Apathy among Russia’s voters

by Stefano Caprio

As Russians go to the polls, the outcome of the presidential election and the turnout have already been decided. The dissident Vladimir Kara-Murza, who is virtually interred in a Siberian concentration camp, described the support for Putin's regime as nothing more than the product of “terror and apathy". The eternal tsar is but the face of a system that excludes the human soul.

As Russia’s presidential elections are set to get underway, the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation (TsIK) released for all intents and purposes the results a few days ago, with the (never) outgoing President Vladimir Putin winning about 80 per cent of the vote, with a similar turnout.

Turnout is the key result to watch. Despite voters’ limited inclination to go to the polls, government workers and employees of companies that still want to have a future in Russia have been told to vote, while electronic voting, a system introduced during COVID-19, is now essential to remotely “round off” the turnout in a virtual world that is progressively replacing the real one.

Support for the Putin regime is the product of "terror and apathy" noted dissident Vladimir Kara-Murza, who is languishing deep inside a Siberian concentration camp waiting to be struck by the Navalny-style “sudden death” syndrome.

In deference to centuries-old traditions and traditional “moral and spiritual values”, Russians today are overwhelmed by these feelings: terror is morality while apathy is the spirit that Russians have been feeding on for over a thousand years.

In fact, according to the Election Commission, support for Putin can be safely said to be at 100 per cent or more, considering the results of the other candidates, and the fact that his only potential rival, Boris Nadezhdin, was barred from running.

Indeed, Putin's 80 per cent can easily be compared to Nikolai Kharitonov’s 4 per cent, the candidate for the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), the party reborn in 1996 against Yeltsin that paved the way for Putin's United Russia.

In past years, Alexei Navalny's call for a "useful vote" sought to involve the communists, at least as an ideological alternative, if not in a real opposition, with appeals to the sense of pride the members of a party linked to the glories of long-lasting Soviet rule might have.

However, the 76-year-old Kharitonov is certainly not a member of the most interventionist wing of the party, since he has chaired the Duma Committee on the Development of the Far East and the Arctic since 2021, and was awarded the title of "Hero of Labour" from Putin just last year.

Not much more attractive is the candidacy of 56-year-old Leonid Slutsky. Credited with 3 per cent of the vote, he is running for the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) founded in the Yeltsin years by the greatest Russian populist of the last 30 years, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who was deprived by his premature death of a joy he so much sought, namely that of witnessing Russia's revenge against the whole world in the war in Ukraine.

Vladislav Davankov, a 40-year-old from Smolensk, is running for the New People party. Created in 2020, the party is said to have a “communitarian, liberal, and progressive" orientation that sets it apart from Putin; in reality, some see it as a pro-Kremlin spoiler with the aim of taking votes away from pro-Navalny candidates.

Davankov is currently deputy chairman of the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, and has been described by some as a possible alternative to Putin's total power, after Nadezhdin's ban.

For this reason, his support fluctuates between 5 and 7 per cent, with some room for growth since the undecided hover around 6 to 9 per cent; if all this is added up, Putin’s actual support goes over 100 per cent.

Other, less official polls put Kharitonov and Slutsky ahead of Davankov, but the difference does not change the overall outcome.

The fight for second place and the crumbs dropped by the reigning tsar will certainly not mean much for the future of politics in Russia, especially since other candidates ran in previous votes just to uphold the charade that the elections consecrating the president’s third and fourth mandates were democratic.

These elections are, however, special, both because of the state of war that requires Russia to revive militant patriotism, and because of the great show of the "end of all dissent" linked to Alexei Navalny’s death just a month ago, followed by a funeral procession with flowers laid at the tomb as a silent and blatant show of grassroot solidarity with those persecuted by the regime.

Navalny himself proposed "noon against Putin", urging Russians to vote at the same time, something formally impossible to ban, although easy to confute with schedules controlled by scrutineers and law enforcement. Just in case, the authorities have warned against “seditious midday gatherings”.

Among Navalny’s supporters there is confusion though. Yulia Navalnaya, wife of the politician killed in the Kharp concentration camp, has suggested to voters to write her husband's name on the ballot, or in any case spoil it by writing words in favour of peace and against of the regime's oppression.

Others have objected to this, noting that spoiled ballots might be assigned to Putin; for this reason, they suggest voters spoil their ballot by voting for two or three candidates at the same time, or vote for Davankov to show their desire for an alternative with a few percentage points.

Amid such uncertainties, Navalny’s words from his concentration camp, written a few days before his death, resonate even louder.

“You are being tormented [by the question of who to vote for], but I am fine. I do not have this problem – convicts do not vote,” reads his letter. “But I have another problem – the thing is that you are suffering over not knowing what to do at noon on 17 March, when you arrive at the polling stations.”

“I myself have called for voting against Putin, that is, for any other candidate. But no matter how many times I repeat this, from a mathematical or political point of view, it does not matter who you vote for, you will still have to stand in the voting booth with your pen raised over the ballot. [. . .] It seems to me that the smart thing to do would be to vote for anyone who is not Putin”.

The only vote that cannot be cast is "against everyone”, an option that existed in the 1990s but was removed after Putin came to power in 2000.

It probably reminded him of the blank vote (vote blanc)[*] in the French Revolution, counted not as part of the electorate that did not vote, but as an explicit rejection of all candidates, something unacceptable in Putin's Russia, for it expresses an unacceptable level of dissatisfaction.

In any case, the flowers brought to Navalny's grave, which continue to arrive incessantly even after the funeral, remains a much more effective form of protest than any election strategy, so much so that the Prosecutor General's Office has instituted the new offence of tsvetopolozhenje, the "laying of flowers" in front of monuments and public places.

Still, it is not possible to ban this at Borisovo cemetery, especially at the start of Lenten celebrations, when people visit their loved ones ahead of the spring thaw and the Easter proclamation, when Orthodox Christians are invited to visit their dead to communicate the Radonitsa, the joy of Christ's resurrection.

The expression of any alternative thought remains an important factor, not only to emotionally share Navalny’s tragic fate, but also to express dissent despite the terror, arrests, and fines for unwelcome words and smiles, not to mention torture and murder in concentration camps.

Excommunication has been imposed upon pacifist priests, marginalised intellectuals, and activists and their associations, prevented from carrying out their initiatives, including for the environment and animal rights. A million Russians have fled abroad, followed with apprehension by their family members who have remained at home, at the mercy of the state monster.

More than terror and persecution, the truly distressing question concerns the state of the Russian people, forced to bow to the tsarist deification that threatens the world with nuclear war, and apathy, the absence of any desire in individuals to express themselves and their spirit, in this dark night of the soul that fills Putin's Russia.

Russians remember ancient and Soviet times, when the motivations for any initiative were predetermined by the ideology of the tsar or the State, and the condition of peace and well-being in social life did not include personally assuming responsibilities, either by individuals, families, or any other group, official or informal.

The trauma of Yeltsin's "liberal" decade – when every principle and every right was violated by the most violent, the most arrogant, and the most brazen oligarchs, bandits, and politicians questing only of power – generated the desire to surrender into the hands of a stable and strong "system” more than in those of an authoritarian or charismatic "strong man".

The eternal Putin is only the face of a system that excludes the human soul, and nothing would change if a doppelganger or a spectre took his place, casting a shadow over Russia and the whole world.


[*] The equivalent of None of the above (NOTA).

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Moscow, something new in youth protests
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A fine and 15 days in prison for Alexei Navalny. Criticism from Europe and the US
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Chapnin: Orthodox priests write letter defending detained young protesters
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Fr. Viktor Grigorenko: mercy and conscience towards the youth of Moscow
20/09/2019 10:05


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