Sunday, March 4, 2012

Up next in news that shocked absolutely no one: Vladimir Putin declared victory in the Russian presidential election this evening.  Since my arrival in late January, I have spoken casually with a few dozen people about the elections, and more in depth about the process with a few new friends with whom I am becoming close. 

Before I even left DC I was told- implored, really- by several people not to attend any political rallies, protests, etc, which have been going on for the past several months following the December legislative elections.  The protests in question have been played up in the media as “Pro-Putin” vs.“Anti-Putin”, but from what I have gleaned is that, as with most things, the story is more grey than this simplistic black and white (also the color of the ribbons the protestors wear, at their own peril I might add) delineations.  I should add that it’s not just the media boiling it down to this: a very well educated friend of mine and I were talking about US & Russian political differences, and he asked if I was a Democrat or a Republican, then prompted me to question him by saying, “You can ask me the same thing: Am I Pro-Putin or Anti-Putin”.

I can in no way portray myself as anything other than a very poorly informed student operating on the fringes of this issue, but from what I have gathered is that the demarcation is more “OK with how the system is/Don’t want to cause trouble/I might lose my job if I don’t publicly support Putin” vs. “Frustrated that government leadership so flagrantly falsified election results in December/Fed up with the current economic and governance structure that operates with large reliance on informal payments (also known as bribes) and graft/Fury at lack of free press and transparency”.  I in no way want to paint a picture that undermines people’s frustration with the current administration: certainly, there are people that are vehemently against Putin.  Most especially- from my reading of the most free press sources available in English within the country- this frustration is with his portrayal of questioning the system, specifically his continued leadership of said system, as being ‘dangerous’ for Russia’s stability and welfare.  

I don’t care who actually said it first: to me, dissent is the highest form of patriotism.  My country would not exist where it not for a very few, very brave individuals who made the decision to push for changes to a governance structure that no longer responded to their needs.  I treasure this heritage, and it gives me goosebumbs to read quotes of the leader of the largest country on the face of planet Earth stating that questioning one’s government is a threat to national well-being (I will find this specific article and post link soon- internet is running very slowly at the moment).  

The aspect of well-being I most value is my freedom to decide my own fate, which includes, by extension, freely choosing who leads my government and having a voice to shout out when I feel that those tasked with ensuring the well-being of my country are falling short of their tall orders.   Hence, from where I stand, the largest threat to national interests that I can see is successfully convincing citizens that it’s in their best interest to remain silent in the face of actions that demand calls for change. 

I actually see a lot of similarities between the current state of discourse in the U.S. and the situation playing out here, especially in regards to leaders and the media playing on people’s fears (go turn off Fox News, Dad).  More thoughts on this and the presidential election in the coming days.   

Until then, congratulations, Mr. President, er, Prime Minister, um, I mean, President…again.  

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