Nothing but Pig Snouts All Around By Grigory Pasko, journalist Let me say right from the start: that title isn’t mine. It’s not even Russian author Nikolai Gogol’s: in his «The Inspector-General», this is but a phrase by police chief in the final scene. In the given instance – this is a headline from the newspaper «Yaroslavskaya nedelya», which came out on the eve of the elections of the president of Russia. Front page of a Yaroslavl newspaper before the elections (photo by Grigory Pasko)
Moreover, on the front page is placed not only this banner headline, but also a huge photograph of a pig, taking up the entire page. Having seen this, I thought: what courageous colleagues in Yaroslavl, so bravely and openly telling it like it is literally right in front of the portraits of the candidates to the posts of president of Russia – Bogdanov, Zyuganov, Zhirinovsky and Medvedev. And even in front of the portraits of the candidates for mayor of Yaroslavl, too – there are also four of those… I almost wrote “snouts”, but of course, I meant “mugs”.As you have already guessed, the article about pigs’ snouts had nothing to do with journalistic courage: it was not about the elections, but about the miserable situation of a pig farm in one of the villages of Yaroslavl Oblast.There was also an article about the elections themselves: a small one, but right next to the article about the pigs. In the notation is said that the Oblast court had removed from registration the list of candidates for deputy to the Oblast duma from the party «A Just Russia». I’m sure you’ll agree that this is a strange phenomenon: this party is known as a clone of the pro-Putin party «United Russia». Unwittingly, the suspicion creeps in that today’s power is so cowardly that it can’t even bring itself to allow its obvious alliesNow it is already known that Putin’s successor has won at the elections that took place. One can speak long and completely justly about how there were no elections as such – everything had been decided by that notorious administrative resource of the Putinite regime; about how the opposition had not been given any access at all to the elections; about how democracy under Putin never did happen in Russia.All this is so. But something else it true as well: this is not the first time already that I am observing elections in Russia and I see that nobody is compelling the people with force to vote for some Medvedev or other. Russians consciously make their choice in favor of the successor of the comrade from the KGB…. Snow was falling and the wind was blowing on the day of the elections in Yaroslavl. Later the chairman of the Oblast electoral commission, Galina Svetenko, will say that the weather affected the turnout of voters: there was one percent less than in the year 2004.Electoral precinct No. 136 was situated in a chess school. In a democratic state, here among the number of candidates to the post of president could very likely have hung the portrait of the 13th world chess champion, Garry Kasparov. However, under Putin, an atmosphere of intolerance towards any kind of other-thinking has been created. Therefore, those who think differently, including leader of the United Civic Front Kasparov, did not end up in the number of candidates: people like that were severed off already way back at the distant approaches to the electoral process.Electoral precinct No. 136 was situated in a chess school (photo by Grigory Pasko)At the entrance to the electoral precinct, I ask an elderly couple whom they had voted for. They look at me suspiciously and go off silently to the side. Just a few decades ago, it is entirely likely that they would have gone to the KGB and reported me: all kinds of characters walking around, asking questions… All the more so because I had with me an “aggravating circumstance” – a photo camera.At the precinct, I talk with the chairman of the precinct commission, Nikolai Kvintitsky. He clarifies that among the 2238 voters of this precinct there are many pensioners. Understood: that means they will most likely be voting for Zyuganov – the leader of the CPRF.I make the acquaintance of the observer from the CPRF party, Lyudmila Shivanova. She’s 83 years old. She had worked 30 years in the pedagogical university named after Ushinsky. And she works there now too: she runs the museum. She’s a member of the CPRF, was a member of the CPSU for 50 years. She is confident that the majority of voters in this precinct will vote for Zyuganov. She says: it is right that they didn’t allow Kasyanov [leader of the People’s-Democratic Union—Author] to participate in the elections in the capacity of a candidate for the presidency. Why? Because she doesn’t like him and he’s not sincere. So that would mean she likes Zyuganov and he’s sincere? I guess it’s true you can’t argue about taste.I notice another colourful visitor. A little old lady asks, where are the ballots here. They give here pieces of paper, and she looks at them. It turns out the little old lady is 91 years old. They call her Valentina Makarova. She tells me: “I remember everything. Even how they built the Rubber Combine.” [Yaroslavl’s pride and joy from the era of Soviet industrialization; even the local top-league football team is named “Shinnik” (Tire-worker)—Trans.]The Rubber Combine long ago became the Yaroslavl Tire Plant, which supplies tires to the entire Russian automotive industry, as well as the aviation industry.I did not bother asking the little old lady whom she had voted for: if she “remembers everything”, then she surely hasn’t forgotten that you’re supposed to vote for the Communist Party.A taxi driver the evening before the elections said that he wasn’t going to go vote, because it’s already understood anyway that Medvedev will be president. Another taxi driver said that he would vote, but for Zyuganov.At precinct No. 129, the chairwoman of the electoral commission, Nina Ivanovna Skobelkina, reports that by 10:00 in the morning, 7% of the overall number of voters had voted. “This is just as many as at the elections to the State Duma of the RF in December of last year”, she clarifies. That means turnout will be high, in the 63-65% range. In addition to this, Nina Ivanovna tells, turnout is also high because many will be voting for the current mayor of the city. (On the next day, I phoned Nina Ivanovna and clarified that the turnout had been lower than expected: 57%. 63.58% had voted for Medvedev).And speaking of the mayor. Viktor Volonciunas has been running the city without a break for 18 years already. One can only imagine how many pro-state parties and pro-power movements this person has been a member of in these 18 years. Nowadays, he’s a member of the regional political council of the «United Russia» party. (I walked through the city and never ceased to be amazed by the Russian people: for 18 years they’ve been voting for Volonciunas, but Yaroslavl didn’t have good roads and sidewalks 18 years ago, and it doesn’t have them now either. Verily the Russian soul is a mystery!)It is noteworthy that in the number of opponents of Volonciunas was a candidate with an unexpurgated criminal record – under the article «slander, conjoined with accusing a person of the commission of a grave or particularly grave crime». The Oblast procuracy had initiated the criminal case in relation to Alexander Simon during the time of the pre-election campaign in the autumn of 2003, when Volonciunas and Simon were competitors at the elections of the city chief. In his newspaper «Vecherny Yaroslavl», Simon declared that if the townspeople would vote for him, then he would save the city “from the bribe-taker and thief Volonciunas”. The newspaper’s print run of 60 thsd. issues was seized by supporters of the mayor of Yaroslavl right in the printing facility, moreover without an appropriate court decision for this. Viktor Volonciunas directed an application to the Oblast procuracy with a request to initiate in relation to Alexander Simon a criminal case on slander and announced claims about insult to honor and dignity.In the trial, all witnesses from Volonciunas’s side (mostly his subordinates) assured the court that the accusations stated in the newspaper to the address of their boss were groundless. According to the decision of the court, Simon was obligated to pay a fine of 95 000 rubles [roughly $3300 at the time—Trans.].It should be noted that concurrently with the elections of the president of the RF and the mayor of the city, Yaroslavl was also electing deputies to the Oblast Duma and to organs of local self-administration. Among the “steam-locomotive candidates” (those whose name gets people to come out and vote for them and for someone else, but who then don’t go into the Duma themselves) to the local Duma there is a familiar name – the first woman cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova (from the «United Russia» party, naturally). At the end of the 1950s, she had studied in the Yaroslavl aeroclub.Two elections in one: “2 March elections of the president of Russia” and “2 March of the year 2008 elections of deputies of the state duma of Yaroslavl Oblast” (photo by Grigory Pasko)The local press reported joyously that the way the voting is going on in Yaroslavl Oblast is being watched by international observer Alexander Marinovich, chairman of the executive committee of the CIS from Belarus. (That means, I thought to myself, that the elections will be declared to have been fair and to have taken place without violations of legislation. And I was right).The newspapers also reported that the result at the elections of the mayor of Yaroslavl was, basically speaking, foreseeable. The mayor will once again become Volonciunas. At the same time, certain newspapers noted, that “in Yaroslavl, far from everything is as good as it may seem”. Among the city’s problems were named:
the state of the city roads (in places simply horrible),the state of the city housing-and-public-utilities sector,the absence of truly large investment projects in the city,the paltry volumes of housing construction,the state of city health care,the absence of the necessary quantity of places in children’s pre-school institutions,the shortage of hotel room stock, putting a brake on the development of tourism, incl. business-related,the practical absence of a modern infrastructure of trade, public catering and entertainments.
Looking at this list of problems, I thought about how applicable it is to any city in Russia and indeed, to Russia as a whole.At precinct No. 131, that’s in the building of the pedagogical university named after Ushinsky, I saw something strange: several dozen young people (later it became clear that there were 70 of them) got in the queue all together. By this, they obviously got the chairwoman of the electoral commission, Natalia Chernova, all flustered, because there might not be enough voting ballots, since the arrivals were not locals. I go to make the acquaintance of the youth. It turns out they’re students from Vologda. They were being taken in buses to Moscow for a grandiose – in the style of the pro-Putin organization «Nashi» – concert on Red Square. On the way, they were dropped off to vote in Yaroslavl with absentee-ballot certificates.An unexpected crowd of out-of-town students bussed in to vote in Yaroslavl threatens to use up all the ballots (photo by Grigory Pasko)I’m sure you’ll agree that this was a good move they thought up in Moscow (the initiative clearly wasn’t of Vologdan vintage). To hope that students will come and vote on their own is a hard task. At any rate, at the university named after Ushinsky as of 10:00 I hadn’t seen any. But if you just lure them in with a trip to Moscow, you can be convinced of their hundred-percent voting: where else are they going to go when you let them off the bus?A student who thought she was just going to a concert in Moscow watches an experienced voter cast her ballot (photo by Grigory Pasko)Later they showed this concert on all the television channels of Russia. They said that youth had come from all over Russia and that there were several tens of thousands of it. No doubt they were all brought together there to create a mass crowd of extras for the speeches by Putin and Medvedev: those, pleased with one another and bursting with joy, shouted out vapid slogans, like “Go, Russia!” and “We won!”At the exit from precinct No. 131, I ask local youth for whom they had just voted? They reply: for Zhirinovsky. Why? Here’s the exact reply, word for word: “Because these are not elections, but the devil knows what. And we voted for Zhirik as a sign of protest against such elections.”I recalled the words of those who were calling for people not even to go to these elections. Representatives of the Russian opposition, in particular, asserted that the requirements, principles, and criteria characteristic of a democratic society were not observed during the course of the organization of these elections, that the conditions of democratic elections were not observed, in particular the existence of choice and freedom of the press.As the former advisor to the president of Russia on economic questions, senior fellow of the Cato Institute Andrei Illarionov, declared, “if Bukovsky, Ryzhkov, Kasparov, Sechin, Ivanov participated in the elections, then the winner of such elections would have the right to be called legitimate”. In the opinion of Illarionov, we are standing “on the threshold of the largest crisis of power and of the whole political system of the country.”Earlier, Illarionov had declared that after Putin leaves office, Putinism will continue to predominate in Russia, by which he meant “a persistent level of nationalism and aggression, aimed at people inside the country and outside its bounds”.And at this time in Moscow, the leaders of SPS and «The Other Russia» passed on to the Central Electoral Commission a petition with a protest against how the elections were conducted. This resembled an attempt to stop a racing locomotive.Towards seven o’clock in the evening, at a time when in Yaroslavl there were already practically no people on the streets any more, detachments of police from all over Russia were vigorously converging on Moscow: thus was the old/new power getting ready for 3 March: on that day, the opposition had planned to hold a “Dissenters’ March”.Opposition Leaders Garry Kasparov and Eduard Limonov declared of the intention to take part in the “Dissenters’ March” in St. Petersburg. In the words of Kasparov, 3 March (Old Style) was the day that the abdication from power by the Romanov dynasty took place in Russia. In connection therewith, one of the slogans of the march ill state “Down with autocracy and inherited succession to the throne”. (The Marches took place: In Moscow, several dozen participants were arrested; in Peter, they didn’t make up their minds to arrest anyone… this time around).After the elections, the Russian television channels rushed to congratulate Medvedev and gave the word to pro-Kremlin political scientist. These, as is their wont, declared about the correctness of the people’s choice and about how Medvedev will continue the course of president Putin. [In a recent survey, Russians said that the one leadership quality they admire most in Medvedev (far ahead of all the others combined) is his loyalty to Putin.—Trans.]The game of playing at democracy continues in Russia. At the same time, it is obvious that such games are needed by both Putin and Medvedev in order to be able to demonstrate to the West; after all, it would seem, they are confident enough in the loyalty of the majority of the Russian people.Folk creativity: jokes about Medvedev* * *Medvedev, speaking in a tone of servile obsequiousness to Putin:“I am so grateful to you, so grateful. When I become president, you will be prime-minister under me!”“You are mistaken, my little friend. The premier under you will remain Zubkov, while you, as we had agreed, will be president… under me.”* * *Medvedev walks up to the podium to give his first presidential speech. His assistant says: “Wait a second, there’s a string stuck to your sleeve. Oh! And to the other one too.” Suddenly Putin’s voice comes from out of nowhere: “Don’t touch those strings – I need them!”