The Fair Elections Protests
Protests, it seems, are much more civil than I expected: that could just be Russia’s new style. I was standing with a group of an estimated 1000-strong last Saturday afternoon, people who ranged from the passionate student, to the silent babushka, to the child in her mother’s arms, to be a part of this exciting chapter in Russia’s history. Personally, it was my first protest, and I expected drama—the shouting of drunken men, political passion turned destructive rage. However, what I witnessed was the exact opposite.
People were passionate, of course, but peacefully so, with words as their weapon of choice. In light of the police brutality that I’ve been reading about in the context of our own 2011 demonstrations in the US, the Occupy Wall Street Movement that sought for economic equality, I was actually confused by the level of civility. Where were the angry jeers? The pepper spray? The SWAT men bearing intimidating weapons? The police at the Yaroslavl rally were of course attentive, but they allowed the protestors to state their views and rally for their cause in peace. For a country that is labeled as “not free” by Freedom House, an American organization that annually monitors democratic qualities in nations around the word, I experienced first-hand a level of civility that seemed above what my own country had been exhibiting towards its protestors of late.
From the view of a Westerner who has a history of fearing the ignorant cult of American politics, I greatly appreciated this civility, best demonstrated by the honest discussions of the generally well-informed protestors that were taking place all around me at the protest, Russians, to me, express a quality that is unimaginable to Americans involved in the political scene: the ability to separate a man from his point of views. In Russia, it is possible to intelligently argue about an idea—by argue, of course, I generally mean talk in circles around a central point—but then, when the debate has run dry, the two participants can shake hands and walk away. I attribute this quality to the similarly appreciated quality of honesty that the Russian people possess— and the majority of Americans, unfortunately, do not.
It is this honesty, I believe, that makes the demonstrations for fair elections so successful and important. The deception is what spurred people to action more than the result. In a working democracy, it is most important that a government remains honest with its people, and, judging by my conversations with Russians over the past few weeks, it seems that their spite towards Edinaya Rossiya is more directed towards the fact that they are uncomfortable with a government that was developing into a single-party system, a system that is ripe for deception. In fact, when asking Russians around Yaroslavl whom they voted for, I almost received a unanimous answer: not Edinaya Rossiya. It didn’t matter whether the vote went to Fair Russia, to the Communist Party, or to Yabloko; one friend even claimed to have flipped a coin to determine his vote.
It has been no secret to the public that they have sacrificed a lot in terms of freedoms in recent years to achieve the level of stability that Russia currently enjoys: with a system of censorship through the widely government-controlled web of media, many independent voices of the opposition have been squashed out: some, like Anna Politkovskaya, have paid for it with their lives. “We don’t want revolution,” passionately shouted one of the speakers at the Yaroslavl protest on Saturday, “We just want fair elections.” The people are just calling for their voice to be honestly heard, in a democratic process that best represents them.
Putin’s Russia is by no means a Western democracy, however I feel that more and more Russians are starting to warm to the idea of having the freedoms granted to them in the Constitution. A democratic constitution does not make a democracy: it is a process that requires the will to embrace freedoms both on the side of the government and on the side of the people. In the last 11 years of Putin’s power, people have agreed to the government’s bargain for their freedoms in return for the coveted stability. However, now Russia is hungry for change: they do not want another possible 12 years of a Putin presidency, but a government that will allow not only the freedom, but the development of expression in the future.
Russia may consider herself ready for the big leap towards advanced democracy. However, unless the people can find a better candidate to represent their views in the upcoming presidential elections, they will have to settle for the controlling Putin to hold them back along the way.
2:25 PM, 10 Dec 2011
Today is a big day for Russia. From Vladivostok in the Far East to Russia’s heart in Moscow, over 90 cities nation-wide are gearing up for protests, anticipated in Moscow to be one of the largest since the fall of the Soviet Union. The network of protests is linked to the “White Ribbon” movement, which criticizes the government for rigging the recent December 4th Duma (Russian senate) elections.
At 15:00 there is a protest planned at Ploshad Yunosti, a 10 minute bus ride from my home. The editor-in-chief at Rodnoj Gorod, the local newspaper for which I am an intern, has asked me to attend the demonstration and write a lead/article from, as he puts it, the “American point of view.” The митинг (ME-ting: meeting, demonstration) in Yaroslavl intends to be peaceful: merely a gathering of White Ribbon sympathizers showing their support for the opposition. I will be going with a Russian friend of mine, and will speak only Russian. And, Mom, if there is any sense of danger, don’t worry: I will have already been running far, far away.
As my time is limited, I have included a series of links that give you background information, as well as will help you understand the gravity and scope of this event. I feel fortunate to be in Russia at such an interesting time, when Putin’s stable Russia is slowly cracking at the seams.
US State Department getting involved, to Putin’s disapproval: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/8943377/Vladimir-Putin-US-encouraged-election-protests-in-Russia.html
Вконтакте— “Ярославль готов действовать!”: http://vkontakte.ru/club32830438
Time to see democracy in action: wish me luck.
11:00 PM, 26 Nov 2011
Pop Goes Her Heart
While shopping for Thanksgiving ingredients in the giant, beloved superstore that is Globus, I miraculously happened upon some microwavable popcorn. Now, Mom, I know that you say that such food is terrible for the body, but we have to think about the soul here: you could not imagine how excited I was upon discovering the popcorn, especially as I was having an otherwise dreary and terribly long day/week. I bought four packets and brought them home, triumphant.
9:23 PM, 16 Nov 2011
On Nonnas and Babushkas
I miss you. Though I talk about you often—mostly through the tales of your great cooking—there are no stories that I can tell that can replace your smile as I sit on your lap even as a 21-year-old, or the strong smell of the Charlie perfume you wear, or the warm feeling of your lasagna pressing against the sides of my stomach because I’ve once again been unable to stop eating it.
Every day there is something that reminds me of you, and today was no exception. This morning, as I was walking to my bus stop to go to class, I noticed a little old lady scattering breadcrumbs on the sidewalk to feed a fluttering pack of pigeons. I remember how you always used to leave a little something for the birds (or that pesky squirrel!) on the stoop of the old house on Porter Street. Later in the day, when Galina Ivanovna, my host “babushka,” returned home, she brought some garlic that her charitable friend had picked for her from the garden at her dacha (country home). I told her that you ate a clove a day, and that I have no memory of you ever being sick: “It’s good for the heart, you know,” I said. Each of us proceeded to eat a clove together in your honor.
Russian babushkas are wonderful, but no one can live up to the Italian nonna.
Can’t wait to see you at Christmas! (I hope you are already preparing the octopus.)
4:51 PM, 14 Nov 2011
Храм Спаса на Крови (Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood)
I had to give this truly awe-inspiring church its own post because it deserves nothing less. The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood was at the heart of our Petersburg adventure, for every day we were in the city, we somehow ended up returning to this beloved church. It is a magical place, indeed.
7:35 PM, 28 Oct 2011
Small Town Girl, Midnight Train
My trip to Petersburg started with a train that left at 11:59 PM. Katya and I met at Yaroslavl’s main train station, and everything went smoothly (in Russian, of course) from there. We exchanged our tickets, waited for about 20 minutes, found the train with no trouble—we didn’t even have to look for our cabin, for it was conveniently stopped right in front of us—and arrived at our compartment.
Teaching my dedushka important English phrases, как начальник.
- Dedushka (in English): Money, money, money, money!
- Me: Would you like to learn a real English sentence?
- Dedushka: Давай! (Let's go!/Bring it on!)
- Me: Hand me a pen, and I'll write it down... And I'll write down how to say it, too.
- Dedushka: Good.
- Me: Okay, here it is.
- Dedushka: Show... me... What is this?
- Me: You don't have the sound 'th' in Russian. (I take the slip of paper back, and correct the transliteration and phonetics.) Here, this is better.
- Dedushka (in a thick Russian accent): Show me the money!
Even from the point of view of a Russian, I eat too much.
- Галина Ивановна: Но, ты наелась?
- Я: Да, спа—
- Галина Ивановна: Слава Богу.
- Galina Ivanovna: Are you full?
- Me: Yes, tha—
- Galina Ivanovna: Thank God.
7:33 PM, 2 Oct 2011
Supermarkets in Russia, or a Comparison of Food Culture
If you’ve been regularly reading my blog, I’m sure that it’s obvious by now how much I love food. Let me say that again: I love food. I live for food. Therefore, when my host mother, Galina Ivanovna, invited me to accompany her on her food shopping rounds yesterday, I instantly and happily agreed.
1:02 PM, 30 Sept 2011
This Friday Morning
There have been mornings that have passed normally enough, with me turning off my three alarms with a groan, rolling out of my couch-bed, and stumbling awkwardly around my room with “sleeper’s legs,” unhappily grasping the air for my toothbrush. There have been mornings when, despite the 10 hours of sleep I get, I cannot wake up, for my dreams are so powerful that I cannot leave them, and they keep me in a semi-sleep, sometimes lucid dreaming state for hours after I should have woken up. There have been mornings when I’ve woken up and have simply not know where I was.
This morning was perhaps the first morning when I woke up and completely felt at home.
By Ralph Peter
“Putin’s genius — and it is nothing less — begins with an insight into governance that eluded the “great” dictators of the last century: You need control only public life, not personal lives. Putin grasped that human beings need to let off steam about the world’s ills, and that letting them do so around the kitchen table, over a bottle of vodka, does no harm to the state. His tacit compact with the Russian people is that they may do or say what they like behind closed doors, as long as they don’t take it into the streets. He saw that an authoritarian state that stops at the front door is not only tolerable but also more efficient.”
Though I have in the past only talked about my personal experiences here, I have decided to include various articles, pictures, etc. connected to Russia that I have found interesting in my blog lineup.
Recently in Russia, Putin declared that he would run for President in the January 2012 elections, endorsed by current President Medvedev and their party, Единая Россия (Ed-I-naya Ross-I-ya — United Russia). Naturally, this sparked a flame in my Politics class, which I had yesterday. As a result, we have a debate scheduled for tomorrow that will revolve around the following question: What type of president does Russia now need? We can choose between three types: the agitator, as characterized by Yeltsin, the administrator, as characterized by Putin, and the theorist, as characterized by Medvedev.
I am planning on endorsing the side of the administrator, and this article by retired US Army officer Ralph Peters does a great job of clarifying and summing up my argument. For those in the West that look down upon Putin—which I was recently told was the general view of Putin from the West—I encourage you to read this article, which presents a different side of the story.
(A note, though: I am aware of the incredibly “awe-like” feel to this article— it’s the opinion of one man. I don’t pretend to be ignorant of Putin’s many shortcomings as well. I’m endorsing him in the debate, which should not imply that I endorse him in general.)
6:08 PM, 25 Sept 2011
And here you thought that I was weak…
I would just like to bring to everyone’s attention that I just consumed cow’s tongue with meat jelly. Yes, you read that correctly. Tongue with gelatin. (My host mother thinks it’s from a cow, but she’s not completely sure — What does it matter, anyway?) Needless to say, it was a 1.5, for the actual tongue was tasty enough, but the jelly… Oh, God. Not tasty.
Mom and Dad, when I get home, I would be very grateful for a nice, big, juicy steak. Thank you.
In other news, I have fallen ill with a minor cold. To cheer myself up, I bought the Russian translation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which has proven to be absolutely fantastic so far. I’ve already learned so much!