|Police caravan passing the Kremlin the day after Putin's election. Fifty reported arrests at protests around the city. And no, that flag is not usually there.|
It's not just that people are upset that the voting was rigged- mostly by carousel voting- it's that people are angry that there were no real alternatives. The best alternative candidate, Grigory Yavlinsky, was disqualified by Putin's administration for suspected forgery of the two million signatures he had to gather in order to get on the ballot. The feeling among my friends- whose participation ranged from being incredibly involved as election monitors to attending protests to not voting due to a feeling that to even participate would be to buy into a system that is inherently unjust-is that all of the other candidates are puppets, put up to create the illusion that there was a free election.
The night before the election one of my friends and I were walking along Red Square talking about the possible implications of the next day. There were dozens of news crews setting up to have a shot of St. Basil's in the background, and were rigging their equipment up on this scaffolding that effectively blocked the view of all of the other cameras so as to create the perception that each station was the only one reporting from Red Square. I asked my buddy if it was safe to take a photo- I never feel comfortable when there are so many police around- and he shrugged his shoulders and said, "sure, they're mostly there for the Americans anyway" (I will find this photo in my disorganized array of pictures sometime later this week). His opinion was that the entire election, from the selection of candidates to the webcams that were streaming live from each polling place, was a sham meant to portray the illusion of a free state.
The night of the election, my roommates and I, along with friends from our floor, were up until 5am rehashing the days' events. The adrenaline was running so high in our room, the energy was palpable- you could practically feel the electrons in the room vibrating with the fervor of the day. One of them had served as an election monitor to (try to) ensure free and honest polling, and I had accompanied the other to watch her vote (without looking at the ballot, of course). The process actually seemed much more peaceful than the experiences I have had in the States. For starters, there is a 'day of silence' the day immediately prior to the election- no electioneering, no commercials, no rallies, no nothing. I have electioneered for friends in local elections, as well as for presidential candidates. Regardless of the relative size of the election, I remember the entire process fostering feelings of animosity towards the other candidate. Standing in close range with folks who were pressing voters last minute to go for their candidate made me feel so uncomfortable, and also like I was in some sort of philosophical brawl for every last vote. The feeling at the polling place here was much more serene- almost like a school festival. The lack of signs and noise was replaced by people eating traditional Russian dishes in the ad hock cafeteria that was set up to serve individuals who had volunteered to work the polls. Following a day spent in this environment, capped off with Putin publicly crying- an action counter to every cultural concept of masculinity and power- our room was abuzz with rapid fire Russian and frantic English translations to fill in yours truly on the implications of the day's events.
One friend said that the election equated to violence on the Russian people's rights. I asked if this was because people had reportedly been threatened with losing their job or being offered a bribe to support Putin, but her opinion was that the violence perpetrated against people's democratic rights was because of the lack of viable political alternatives.
Paraphrasing her remarks: 'The problem is that the result was predetermined. People are protesting not just a predetermined result, but also a "predetermined future" (her exact words and emphasis).
The protests have continued with somewhat waning enthusiasm. From my limited engagement in the political scene, there seems to be a growing acceptance of the fact that the status quo, at least for the immediate future, is going to hold steady.