Just days away from parliamentary elections, Moscow shows little sign they are coming. Campaign posters do not generally grab attention, but graffiti on one for the ruling United Russia party – at a bus stop – includes the words ‘crooks and thieves’. Russians have not signalled much enthusiasm for the polls. It is hard to find anyone who thinks Putin’s and Medvedev’s party will lose its majority.
Apathy is unmissable in these elections, said socio-political analyst Boris Doubine: “We sense a kind of lassitude among Russians toward the two main figures who have filled the public arena. Apart from them there’s no one else. Time seems to have been frozen, for, say, 10 or 12 years. It’s nothing in the scale of history, but in human terms it’s a lot, especially if these are years during which the person could do something, change something.”
Two thirds of Russians today say they are indifferent about political life. Less than half of them felt that way at the last legislative elections in 2007, and before that one third of the electorate said they were apathetic.
Student Sacha said: “I think nothing will change if I cast a ballot for one party or another. Everyone knows who’s going to win.”
Her friend Macha added: “It’s practically official.”
More than half of Russians surveyed echo this. They refuse to play the game because they do not think their participating in these elections will have any impact. Whether they are students, pensioners or professionals, they say there is no real competition, and that any expression of protest is impossible.
A young oceanographer, Мarina Kravchishina, said: “I’m not going to vote; it’s not because of apathy; it’s because I’m against politics in our country. They have removed the option of voting against all the candidates – which we used to have. And I don’t see anyone on the lists who I would give my vote to.”
Politics has a brain drain effect, observers say. Various sources estimate that between 25,000 and 100,000 Russian scientists are working abroad today. This reflects oddly against the ruling party’s main claim to fame, which is ‘stability’, compared with the chaos of the post-Soviet 1990s.
Journalist Youri Saprikine takes that with a grain of salt: “The stability we have now is dark stability, without bright spots,” he said. “It’s the kind of stability you get in a coffin. Nothing happens in there either. The party in power promises us it will keep the state institutions and infrastructure the same – no change. My hope lies in all the talented, honest, scrupulous people, who love their work, and there are a lot of them. If we look at Russia’s history in the last 200 years, we see that life beats a path no matter what; flowers push through cracks in the asphalt.”