Oct 3, 2011

The Master and the Teddy Bear

It’s been a week since Dmitri “Teddy Bear” Medvedev graciously invited Vladimir “Master of the World” Putin to represent their party, United Russia in next year’s presidential election. To nobody’s surprise, the Master politely accepted, and promptly offered Teddy Bear the chance to lead United Russia in December’s parliamentary elections, all but guaranteeing that he will take Putin’s current job as Prime Minister. So the “tandem”, on which Putin holds the handlebars, is pretty certain to continue leading Russia until it hosts the World Cup in 2018 (A blog-worthy topic for another day!), because presidential terms were, conveniently, recently increased to 6 years.

The remarkably underwhelming response here speaks volumes. Of course, the United Russia conference was fully covered by the media and no doubt everyone was aware of what went on. Novaya Gazeta, a particularly vocal anti-government newspaper was particularly critical, and Mikhail Gorbachev, who led the Soviet Union in the 1980s described 6 more years of Putin as "6 lost years".

One prominent figure within the government did dare to speak out, albeit more against Medvedev than Putin. That figure was Alexei Kudrin, the (now former) finance minister, who is widely credited with protecting Russia from the worst of the financial crisis and is considered by many to be the most competent figure in the Duma (Russian Parliament). When it was announced that Medvedev would be the next Prime Minister, Kudrin said he would not serve in the next government. Medvedev was furious, and not afraid to show it. At a televised meeting the next day, he brutally reminded Kudrin who was boss. Rather like an overbearing Headmaster, the President treated Kudrin, an older man who has served in the Kremlin since 1996, like an obnoxious pupil who needed to be put in his place, demanding an apology or a resignation. Tamara, my host, who has lived under Stalin, Khrushchev et al, told me that it wasn’t right - and it wasn’t - it was a shameful humiliation of a man who, though far from blameless, deserved better. He was right to resign, and the Russian government will be even worse off without him.

Having said all this, the announcement barely caused a ripple in society as a whole. I can see two main reasons for this - firstly it came as no surprise. As I mentioned in my previous blog, Putin has consistently used the media to remind Russia who is boss. Secondly, most Russians seem resigned to not being able to do anything about it. This doesn’t mean they are apathetic. They care deeply, but the predominant emotion, more than anger, seems to be sadness. I notice this whenever the topic comes up, and I can understand why. As a foreigner it is easy for me to make jokes about Masters and Teddy Bears, and laugh at the clips and the music on this BBC report, but Russians have to live with the consequences - entrenched corruption, the looting of natural resources, massive wealth inequality and a dysfunctional state which spends millions on the Olympics when schools are falling down, hospitals are underfunded and the roads look like they’ve been assaulted by a factor 7 earthquake. Feeling that they can’t vote with their hands at the ballot box, many Russians who can choose to vote with their feet instead. After a lull in the Noughties, emigration is on the rise again, especially among the brightest and best, the very people who might be able to improve, or even change Russia’s increasingly dictatorial leadership. Which is great for Putin, but not so great for his people. On the picture below, which, I assume, is displayed on billboards from the Baltic to the Pacific, Putin tells his people “Russia needs you”. It’s true. Only Russians can change Russia, and though it looks bleak at the moment, one day, I'm sure that they will.

Russia needs you! Unite!

1 comment:

  1. I have no idea what you're saying, but you say it very well.

    (Incidentally, I started a Philosophy of Language module yesterday, and by the end of it we will probably be writing essays titled that.)