Russia is not Belarus. Technology will help unmask the authorities’ sins.

2 Mar 2012

 Russia is not Belarus, but this is little consolation. Its people took to the streets to demonstrate that Russians are no longer subjects of an empire, but citizens of a modern country. They want to play an active role in the decision process that will choose the path for the next decade.

Let’s be clear. December’s legislative elections, preceded by the “dirtiest” campaign since the collapse of the USSR, were a major setback on the way to the attainment of full democracy. But they have awoken the long sleepy and apathetic Russian society.
In a deep popularity crisis, United Russia – the party of the Kremlin – had to get the maximum number of votes to launch Vladimir Putin’s presidential campaign. And, more or less, it reached its goals.

Nevertheless, in some situations form is more important than substance. And this is the case. The Russians, who do not share the Kremlin’s view, had no alternatives at the polls. There was no room for a vote of dissent or protest. “It is unbelievable! I had to vote for the communists so as not to give it to those” said an upset thirty-year-old Moscow specialist. Now, on March 4th, at the presidential elections, it is the same!

At the legislative elections the legal guarantor or arbiter, usually the head of State, was missing. Dmitry Medvedev was the “number one” candidate in the United Russia list and in his traditional pre-election message to the nation he invited his people “to choose those who have experience in overcoming the crisis.”
If this attitude from the authority in power towards competitors continues, imagine what would happen if suddenly an alternative serious candidate to Putin, and not the usual retiree, were to appear on the political scene.

Undoubtedly, for the first time since his arrival in  power at the end of 1999, Vladimir Putin was not considered by his people the problem-solving “good czar” but rather was associated with the corrupt nomenklatura.

Politicians should understand that Russia has changed. It is no longer the place where people just listen to the voice of the Kremlin and complain “in the kitchen” like during the Soviet times. While the federal television channels broadcast hours of programmes on the government’s successes, Russians post the daily reality and express their anger on the internet. Social networks and blogs showed the dirty face of the electoral campaign.

Certainly, in past elections there were frauds, falsifications, and violations of the law as well. The difference is that today not only are common people in Russia armed with the latest technology and denounce the abuses but they have also lost their patience, especially in the regions where local authorities have become too arrogant. Muscovites and Peterburgers (a significant percent of the active electorate) have added the request for a new, more just society like in the West.
It is mainly the rich Russian middle class that is disappointed with life in its homeland. Sociologists are already analyzing today’s wave of emigration that is the strongest since the Bolshevik Revolution. The flight of capital seems to be unstoppable in these months. The Russians appear to be the first not to believe in their country.

The next President will have to deal with this psychological crisis and find the right therapy. Russians are no longer hungry like in 2000 when they gave up some of the achievements of the Nineties for stability. A fully open political system and more development of democracy are probably the needed medicine. Otherwise there will always be a Smartphone ready to unmask the authorities’ sins.

Giuseppe D’Amato

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We are a group of long experienced European journalists and intellectuals interested in international politics and culture. We would like to exchange our opinion on new Europe and Russia.



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