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March 19, 2004 by AK

Undue optimism?

Writing on the recent presidential election in Russia, Nikolas Gvosdev makes mostly valid points, but something must be wrong with his consolationist view of the Russian polity. I haven’t pinpointed the problem yet, but I know something’s rotten in this czardom.

But does that mean that Sunday’s presidential elections were nothing but a farce, devoid of meaning and lacking in any democratic legitimacy?

No, it was a farce full of meaning and legitimacy; still, a farce.

Yet here it is also important to recognize that potential Glazyev and Khakamada supporters in the Russian electorate may have preferred to cast a vote for Putin, seeing him as the “half-a-loaf” candidate who could deliver on some of the agenda espoused by the other candidates.

That’s right, but why did people who only shared part of Putin’s proclaimed agenda vote for him? Apparently because the other candidates were obvious lightweights: Putin’s team had removed potential heavyweights from the ring — well in advance.

And this is an important point. Putin can be criticized for his “overkill” campaign methods, but the election was not “stolen.” Kharitonov, Glazyev, or Khakamada do not speak for some silent Russian majority whose will was bypassed due to fraud or harassment. Most Russians support Putin’s vision of orderly reform and trust him as an individual.

” ‘That may be right,’ she would say then,” but Russians have no other vision to support because Putin’s clique wouldn’t let other visions be convincingly communicated to the common people.

In slightly different words, Putin was the least evil for most Russians under the circumstances and conditions he had created for them. There is no means for the Russians who supported him only half-heartedly, subject to certain conditions (I suppose they make up the majority of those who voted for Putin), to voice their concerns and translate them into public policy. That is, Putin democracy is no modern, liberal kind; rather, a raw, plebiscitary variety.

Note, by the way, that Hitler’s NSDAP got just above 30% in the last election before he assumed the chancellorship of Germany (Putin’s Unity got 37% of the vote in 2003), but a year and a half later, in 1934, 90% of the voters who went to the polls authorized him as a de-factor dictator. He was quite efficient, it seems, in between the two dates.


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