Grigory Pasko: The Elections in Russia’s Backwoods

Vote and dance – thinking is optional, part 2 The elections in the Russian backwoods Grigory Pasko, journalist The time was 10:00 AM. People weren’t exactly arriving in droves: by 10 in the morning, 15 people had voted out of the 446 voters assigned to precinct No. 70. Galina Tyulyayeva clarified that it’s always like this: by the time they wake up, by the time they get here… With the help of two canes came a little old lady from Gagarin Street and announced that she wanted to vote in this particular precinct and no other, inasmuch as she’d never be able to get to her designated polling station. They wrote her in on a separate list, and she voted. (I later asked whom she had voted for. She replied: “For the party «A Just Russia», because this party promised to raise pensions”).

Galina Tyulyayeva told me that she’s been working as a member of various electoral commissions for 20 years already. And her colleagues too are no novices in this business. So they know what situations can arise and how to resolve any question that may arise.I then went to precinct No. 71, which is also in the center of town. This school was a bit farther away from the United Russia banner on the Palace of Culture – around 300 meters. At the entrance to the park next to the school, I saw three posters with calls to vote for Putin and «United Russia». From the entrance to the park to the doorstep of the school was also more than 50 meters. But to come up to the school from the side of this part of town without seeing the brick posts with the posters was impossible.plakaty.jpgEntrance to the park not far from precinct No. 71. The posters proclaim “Kirzhach votes FOR PUTIN!” and “For Putin! For a united Russia!” (photo by Grigory Pasko)They had laid out the electoral precinct in a classroom of Russian language and literature. The time was approaching midday. There were a lot of people; all of them did not fit into the small classroom. The chairwoman of the electoral commission of this precinct, Elena Antipova, clarified that to get to the school gym, where the elections had taken place in the past, one had to walk through the entire school, and that this was difficult for older people. And so it was that they had decided this time to set up the precinct in a classroom.A young lad by the name of Andrei asked to explain what needed to be done and how. They explained to him and gave him a chocolate bar as a gift: it turns out that everybody who is voting for the first time in their lives gets a chocolate bar as a gift. At the exit, they also handed Andrei a free ticket with the inscription “Vote, dance”. Later, I asked Andrei whom he had given his vote to. Andrei said honestly: “I didn’t even think about it, to tell the truth. I wanted to vote for Zhirik [Vladimir Zhirinovsky and his «Liberal Democratic Party of Russia»], but I put the check mark for «United Russia». And he added: his sister had voted for Zhirinovsky’s party. I expressed interest: on what principle did he exercise his choice? He replied: You hear about Putin’s party everywhere, but about the others – nowhere and nothing.Well, now Andrei can boldly go dancing: he has, with practically no thought, given his vote.loh1203.jpgAndrei wins a chocolate bar for voting (photo by Grigory Pasko)Here I recall how colorfully, frequently, and obtrusively the party «United Russia» and Putin had been calling to vote just for them.Hanging in the classroom above the electoral urns [ballot boxes] was a poster with the words of the author Alexander Kuprin: “The Russian language in able hands and experienced lips is beautiful, melodious, expressive, cunning, obedient, dextrous and capacious”. It seems that in the hands of Putin’s propagandists, it is also simple in a soldierly way and, like a trader at the market, obtrusive.At this precinct, like at the previous one, among the number of observers were only representatives of two parties: «United Russia» and the CPRF.In the park, I asked an elderly couple whom they had voted for. The woman answered: for «United Russia». Her husband – for the CPRF. “Why, what’s the matter?”, they asked me. “Nothing, nothing at all”, I replied. “Happiness to you in your family life…”Actually, this couple by its example showed what the “opposition” of Zyuganov and his Communists is really worth. A soap bubble, because the CPRF can fully, as is clarified for not the first year already, coexist with the party of power, not hindering it from ramming through those laws that it – or, more accurately, its masters – considers necessary. Such a peaceful, practically familial, coexistence. Like a husband and wife…All over the town you could hear the loudspeakers that had been hung up on posts. The local municipality’s radio channel was calling to go vote. Then a word was granted to the governor of Vladimir Oblast, Nikolai Vinogradov, who sang the praises of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. The law on this account asserts that “pre-election agitation on channels of tele- and radio broadcasting… shall cease at zero hours [midnight] local time twenty-four hours to the day of voting.”If one could, at a stretch, somehow manage to avoid punishment in court for those 50 meters, the calls of the governor in the neighbourhood with praises for the leader of a party participating in the elections clearly smack of a violation of the law.It should be noted that the elections of deputies to the State Duma in Kirzhach were combined with elections of the head of Kirzhach and the heads of the municipal settlements. Four candidates were laying claim to the office of head: the former head (he’s also the former chief of the local [prison] colony), two entrepreneurs, and one “deputy director for general questions” of a company with the enigmatic name «Mik-gaz». This is, of course, a remarkable fact, but employees of the KGB-FSB among the candidates were not discovered.The first scandal at the electoral precinct occurred just where the fate of the elections of the head of one of the settlements was being decided. As the chairwoman of that precinct commission, Rimma Kuznetsova, told me (I had come by half an hour after the scandal), authorized election agents of one of the candidates had impeded the work of the precinct, demanded the voter lists, called to vote for their candidate right in front of the building of the precinct… In short, they had to call the police.fedorov1203.jpgExterior of the scandal-ridden precinct No. 98 (photo by Grigory Pasko)Electoral precinct No. 98 amazed me by its sizes: a teeny-tiny room, maybe 10 square meters in size. Full of people. It was hot and stuffy, although it was freezing in the yard. In the anteroom, a young person with a military bearing and the face of a person who has gone through all the local wars of the Soviet Union and Russia was loudly bawling out songs. He was singing about birch trees (that makes sense), daggers (that doesn’t make sense), and songs from the repertoire of the famous war song bard-turned-State Duma deputy from the party «United Russia», Alexander Rosenbaum (that makes total sense). Oh, and he also sang a suspicious, I would even say seditious, couplet: “…They’ll find you anyway, grab you by the horns and toss you in the stable”. I was getting ready to ask the local Orpheus exactly who they were going to find and into what stable they would lead him, but he carefully – like asniper’s rifle – put his guitar into its case and went out for a smoke.fedorov-2.jpgVoting inside precinct No. 98. Yes, that’s Lenin on the wall. (photo by Grigory Pasko)By the way, voter turnout was especially high at that precinct: by the middle of the day, a third of the overall number had already voted. Either the scandal had played its role, or maybe the song about the stable and the horns.…When Rimma Kuznetsova and I were saying our goodbyes, I saw that she had on her desk a poster with the inscription: “Vladimir Oblast – the heart of a united Russia”.The author Kuprin was right: the Russian language in able hands really is cunning and obedient.