Something new!

Prokhorov campaign poster A friend just send me this snapshot of a campaign poster for Mikhail Prokhorov, Russian presidential candidate (and owner of the New York Jets.)

Mikhail Prokhorov

New President–

New Russia!

There’s some argument about whether Prokhorov is truly in opposition to Putin, whether he’s a faux-candidate supported by the Kremlin to give the appearance of competition, or whether he might be trying to play both games at once. In any event, he’s running, and this is one of his ads.

This poster succinctly illustrates what I see as one of the important features of the current political landscape in Russia: opposition politics aren’t particularly concerned with providing an alternate vision of policy. Rather, they’re focused intensely on being in opposition to what currently exists. It’s such a struggle even to mount an opposition that fighting the fight becomes its own cause to some extent.

For a long time, a group called Strategy-31 has been demonstrating for the right to assemble in public, a right guaranteed by Article 31 of the Russian Constitution. (They hold rallies on the 31st of each month with enough days.) I observed one of their rallies when I was last in St. Petersburg in 2010: more police than protesters. Arrests began minutes after the event, as is usual. The raison d’être of the organization is simply to show the public (Russian or international) that this supposed right doesn’t exist in practice.

For years, now, this seems to have been the state of opposition politics in Russia. So much energy is spent merely trying to exist in the public sphere that little is left even to start conversations about what opposition candidates might actually do differently, if they gained power. What should be the responsibilities of government? What problems should it try to solve? How well are current policies working, and what alternatives might be tried? Thus one of the questions I’m interested in is whether these conversations take place elsewhere, or in some other form. What kinds of relationships do Russians have to government and politics, and how do they envision citizenship?


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