What the US Could Learn from Putin’s Thousand-Armed Political Aggregate

Quickly overshadowed by the meteoric rise and fall of the Invisible Children and its masturbatory answers to white guilt, the Russian presidential election was covered sparsely by Western media and quickly swept under the blogosphere’s shag rug. Myopic, as this election will majorly affect global politics for the next six years, but we had seen this coming: everyone knew who the winner would be and the US-EU conglomerate’s response, a lukewarm ‘we’d appreciate an “independent and credible” investigation, but we’ll work with you anyway if that’s too much trouble’ [1] came as no surprise.

However, as Sarah Kendzior pointed out in her article for Al Jazeera English, Putin2012 and Kony2012 might have randomly coincided, but they both demonstrate a growing media trend that will come to affect everything from ivory tower epistemological concerns to the very nature of journalism and reporting. The Kony2012 video gained legitimacy and validity with every view and repost, and the Russian implementation of live online video feeds in polling stations (promoting a new form of “voyeur justice”) made the process smack of transparency which quickly grew opaque and murky upon closer analysis. [2]

Buying a charity bracelet, like watching a live video feed from the Kaluga Oblast, draws attention away from what goes on in the hors-champ, outside of the camera’s frame. Compare this with recent debates about voter ID laws in the US: by focusing on whether these requirements are fair or constitutional (they are not, as a recent Texas Department of Justice decision indicated[3]) attention is drawn away from more pertinent electoral issues, such as the influence of the Citizens United decision, which essentially gave PACs (read: moneyed interest groups) the power to make unlimited campaign contributions.

Image: Shutterstock

The influence of campaign finance on the democratic process is far broader and far-reaching than Voter-ID issues could possibly be. In Russia, Putin took advantage of the blindfold tied over the country’s eyes to secure his victory by different means, far more effective than bussing carousels of Putinites from polling station to polling station. Putin’s campaign benefitted from the unequivocal support of all major Russian media. [4] This, tied to the byzantine process of registering candidates in Russia, ensured that there would be no real opposition, that any real threat to Putin’s power would be gagged and left in the shadow of the media conglomerate. A sick fun-house mirror image begins to come into focus when one considers the near-impossibility of any non-billionaire running successfully for office in the US.  The Green Party is offering a historic choice to voters: two strong women running on the only legitimately anti-corporate platform to come to this reporter’s attention. [5] What have you heard about Roseanne Barr and Jill Sanders’ campaign recently? Probably not much, probably, like the liberal business-oriented campaign of Mikhail Prokhorov, it has been intentionally pushed to the side, to open up more space for what matters: the status quo, be it Putin’s 13th+ year as leader of Russia or the three ring circus of the Republican primary.


The Invisible Gyre

Russian government-funded live video feeds and media preference (or prejudice) are mere technicalities however: stuffed ballot boxes or not, the elections did pronounce Putin as victor, primarily because voters saw no real alternative to him— and there was no visible alternative because Putin suppressed any dissident voices. True dissidents, like Mikhail Khodorkovsky learn quickly how troublesome it is to campaign from a Siberian prison and get bogged down in the difficulties of fighting fabricated criminal charges. Perceived or real, this premonition of electoral inevitability gels nicely with a similar situation in the United States’ democratic system: US voters see a two-party runoff as inevitable and will almost always settle for the lesser of two evils rather than casting a vote for a third party. Oftentimes, voters are left with a choice that isn’t really a choice but rather two sides of the same coin borrowed on bad faith from a bank and paid into taxes to later bail that bank out.

While Putin was travelling the country on the state’s dollar, making baroque speeches commemorating the 1812 Battle of Borodino and quoting Lermontov,[6] the opposition was focusing it’s rhetoric on opposing Putin, and not much else. Communist Party candidate Gennady Zyuganov bemoaned the decrease in standard of living since the fall of the USSR and mining tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov (who resigned from the Right Cause party, calling it a “Kremlin Puppet”[a] [which it was[b]]) ran on a pro-business platform and promised to “totally transform” Russia[c] while walking with trepidation to avoid the fate of Khodorkovsky.

Protesters (apparently funded by Russia’s enemies with “money and cookies” [7]) didn’t buy into the opposition rhetoric nor into the electoral system itself, turning out in large numbers and swiftly suppressed by police in riot gear. As widespread protests spread like wildfire around the world, this comes as no surprise, but rather as a premonition for what could be coming to the US: Occupy Wall Street will most definitely be growing this summer, and given that this is an election year, the democratic process itself will definitely be something of a powderkeg. The Russian elections do not demonstrate Russian aping of Western manipulations; rather, they can be read as a mirror: western governments have become increasingly repressive in the past ten years, and the difference between Neoliberal authoritarianism and conventional totalitarian states gets lost pretty quickly once you begin to look beyond mainstream media’s monolithic grip: Police brutality doesn’t seem to work so well when everyone has a smartphone, and it’s hard to spread faux news when everyone has access to news sources like BNV. Look well at the Russian elections America: this is what we have become. 2012 will be a historic year, the embers have been smoldering since Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in Tunisia, and a fire smokes most when someone is pouring water over it.

[a] Kramer, Andrew E., and Ellen Barry, “Amid Political Rancor, Russian Party Leader Quits”,The New York Times, September 15, 2011

[b] IDU suspends Right Cause, Russia as Associate Member, International Democrat Union, www.idu.org, 23 Sebtember 2011. Retrieved 13 November 2011

[c] Natalya Krainova (23 May 2011). “Prokhorov Promises 2nd Place in Duma”. The Moscow Times.


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