Democracy in Russia, from the Soviet to the Duma: an X-ray of a strange election

(CNN Spanish) — There are a series of questions surrounding the current situation in Russia, including the economy, the future of the ongoing war in Ukraine, the security of adversaries within the country, and the possibility of nuclear confrontation. But one certainty outweighs all these unknowns: In this week’s elections, President Vladimir Putin will win a landslide victory that will extend his mandate until at least 2030.

For this to happen, the incumbent president has to overcome obstacles ranging from potential opposition candidates with a certain popularity to constitutional clauses that could prevent his re-election.

Following the death of Alexei Navalny under unclear circumstances while serving a sentence in Siberia last month, the Central Election Commission (CEC) banned several candidates, including pacifist Boris Nadezhdin and, before him, former journalist Yekaterina Duntsova. , In both cases the agency argued administrative issues such as lack of signatures and non-compliance with certain requirements.

In 2021, Putin signed a law enabling him to run for two more terms, after a referendum the previous year allowed him to reset the clock on his term limits. In 2008, a constitutional amendment extended the presidential term from four to six years, and a temporary exchange of posts with his then-Prime Minister made him President in 2012, after holding that post between 2000 and 2008. Was allowed to return to post.

Whether because the results are predetermined or because the opposition candidates are so unpopular, the truth is that Russians do not consider this week’s elections a very interesting event. It has been assured that political observer of russia, Andrey Pertsev. Based on weekly FOM surveys, he told CNN that only 1% of citizens rated the elections as one of the most important upcoming events. “Even Putin’s supporters have little interest in the elections, because, after all, the propaganda suggests there is no threat to Putin’s power,” Perestev says.

Women pose in front of a mural depicting President Vladimir Putin after voting in Russia’s presidential election at a polling station at a local school in Donetsk, in the Russian-controlled territories of Ukraine on March 15, 2024. (Photo by Stringer/AFP via Getty Images)

What is happening in Russia?

That’s hard to answer, because “nobody tells the truth in Russia today,” warned an academic who works at St. Petersburg State University and who asked CNN to remain anonymous. It refers to the government on the one hand and the population on the other.

“At the beginning of the Putin era, a kind of social contract was fixed: Putin brought economic well-being and people stopped getting involved in politics. Above all, the middle class and the intelligentsia. At that time, in addition, there was private life. There was no repression, no anti-homosexuality laws, no nationalist wars. The state did not interfere in anyone’s affairs and what was said in the Duma (Parliament) did not matter. There was a process of deliberate denigration of the democratic system. , the media and parliament, among others. This was Putin’s strategy: everyone lies, even me. This promoted the apathy we are experiencing today,” the academic explains.

A 23-year-old young student, who left Russia in May 2022 and currently lives in Europe, described something similar when asked about polls that attribute Putin with about 80% popular support . One of them The survey is from the Levada CenterAn NGO whose numbers indicate the president’s approval ranges between 80% in September 2023 and 86% in February 2024, the same month as Navalny’s death.

“Not that those numbers are fabricated, but you should know that if they called my home and asked me if I support Putin, I would not say no, I would just hang up. Will never talk to him.” Pollutants, basically because it could get me in trouble.” She is one of those who asked not to give their real names in this article out of fear of not being able to return to their country in the future.

In this photo distributed by the Russian state agency, President Vladimir Putin (right) meets with local residents after a visit to the Solnechny Dar greenhouse complex, part of the ECO-Culture agro-industrial holding in Stavropol, March 5, 2024. Photo by Mikhail Metzel/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Apart from those who preferred to protect their identities, four other people contacted by CNN declined to provide their opinion, arguing that it was dangerous.

However, the student recognizes that there is a large sector that supports Putin. “I think in many cases there is no alternative. Especially among less educated people or older adults who watch a lot of television.”

The media are another central element of the uniquely Russian system. Those that exist are characterized by pro-government propaganda and independent propaganda is prohibited. Thus, while in many countries around the world television is in decline due to declining viewership, in Russia it is the main means of communication consumed by adults and older people. In case of young people, many people resort to VPN to access restricted sites.

wounded pride and war

There are other things shared by many older people in Russia that may explain their support for Putin, which has to do with the restoration of Russian pride. Argentinian journalist Hinde Pomeranic, author of the book “Russians from Putin. Postcards from an era of national pride and inalienable power” (Ariel, 2009), explains it for CNN: “It is the feeling of belonging to a homeland in which Leo Tolstoy, who led the Russian Revolution and who led a successful space mission during the Soviet era. And that pride is hurt because, for example, very few young people anywhere in the world today know that he was the one who created World War II. The Nazis were defeated in the war. That’s why values ​​are for Russians a religious but also an ideological issue, and therefore important.”

According to Pomeraniak, these national values ​​are above democratic sentiments or aspirations. “Both religion and values ​​are fundamental among Russian citizens and Kremlin politicians know this. Those are the values ​​that confront them with the West and which are at the basis of their support of the war and the stability of the system. Therefore, more and more “everything Beyond that, I maintain that Putin’s political cornerstone is the restoration of wounded Russian pride.”

Furthermore, poverty decreased during the war, because – for the most part – it was the poor who went to the front. “Soldiers are paid very well for their work. It is three times more than good salaries in big cities of the country. In addition, the state pays a significant compensation to the family of a soldier who died in the war. People with that money go to Ukraine. “Can do a lot of things, like solving your mortgage,” explains the academic consulted by CNN about mixed feelings in Russia regarding the conflict.

The war has also put Putin in a precarious position. The academic indicates, “The war was Putin’s crime against himself for a number of reasons. One and a half million people have left the country since the beginning of the conflict in February 2022, the largest deportation since the Russian Revolution.”

In this photo distributed by the Russian state agency, Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) poses with graduates of the Krasnodar Higher Military Aviation School of Pilots in Krasnodar on March 7, 2024. (Photo by Mikhail Metzel/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

According to him, although there is not widespread anti-war sentiment, the war had effects such as limiting middle-class travel and also established the idea of ​​imminent danger. “There are fears about the possibility of another military mobilization, which is worrying both young people and their parents.”

“The best democracy in the world”

Although, as Pomeraniak explained, democratic values ​​are not usually at the center of Kremlin officials’ rhetoric, spokesman Dmitry Peskov surprised the nation by saying during a youth forum last week that Russia was “the best democracy in the world.” Sochi, on the Black Sea coast.

But is this really democracy? The answer is complex.

for andrey Pertsev, what is there in Russia is more than a Model PLiberal compared to the democratic system. “The ruling elite manages the big media and the country’s opposition media were blocked. The counting of votes is also controlled by the authorities, so they do so through electronic voting and a vote lasting more than three days. You can adjust the results in your favor.”

The young student currently living in Europe confirms that everyone in Russia understands that this is not an election as it is perceived in other parts of the world. “It’s like a ritual in which Putin goes through a new cycle. Even other candidates understand it that way. And of course everyone knows that Putin will win, whether they support him or not . But it’s a trap because even for those who support him, none of them are capable of one day becoming his successor, taking his place,” he says.

Pomeraniak comments on this point, “Russia is not a democracy but an autocracy.” “He is a single person who controls everything. If before there were kings who said ‘I am the state’, now those kings are represented as Putin.” According to him, there is no risk of fraud in the upcoming elections: “Putin doesn’t need it. Because now there is no one who can challenge him. Everyone before was wiped out of the equation.”

A tourist takes a photo with a cardboard image of Russian President Vladimir Putin on Arbat Street in central Moscow on March 11, 2024. Russian presidential elections will be held over a three-day period from March 15 to 17. (Photo by Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images)

future of russia

Although the outcome of the election is clear to everyone even before the voting begins, many find it difficult to imagine Russia’s future without Putin.

“I like to imagine our wonderful country being independent. Maybe it will happen in 15 or 20 years, or maybe I’ll only see it when I get older. The problem is that it’s also difficult to break the systems Putin like established in Russia If he dies, but there are different possible scenarios: there is a mobilization of soldiers’ wives at the front, there was the Prigozhin rebellion, many people mobilized to say goodbye to Navalny’s remains… These are things that give some hope. “Awakens us,” says the exiled student.

“The leader is like an emperor and his legitimacy is determined by overwhelming popular support. When this plan comes into jeopardy, danger begins,” the academic dared to venture about the future.

And he added: “Putin needs these elections to show people that he is the leader, but also to confirm his position among elite groups and the heads of law enforcement institutions like the secret police, the army, etc. Also. “The Russian system is not as homogeneous as people think. Putin is not above everyone else, but rather a mediator: he serves and encompasses – at least so far – all those sectors and interests.”

Meanwhile, Putin acts as a defensive bulwark against the people’s fury. “In Russia, more or less, the wealthy class and even the middle class are afraid of the anger of the Russian people, something that has already been seen in the history of the country (due to the 1917 revolution). In this context, Putin is a Appear as guarantors of a certain stability.

But according to him, sooner or later resistance will come. “Perhaps it is in this form that sabotage has occurred many times in the country’s history. This is what happened in the USSR: no one followed orders from the authorities, not even officials.”

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