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RUSSIA/ Towards the elections: skepticism, exhaustion and the desire for happiness

Giovanna Parravicini describes the current situation in Russia on the eve of the parliamentary elections, where discontent but also exhaustion is rife. Is there a chance for a new beginning?

Vladimir Putin   (Imagoeconomica) Vladimir Putin (Imagoeconomica)

Russia is on the eve of the elections. The parliamentary elections are on Sunday, December 4 and the presidential elections will be in March. The results are largely predictable, and the dominant feelings among the people seem to be indifference and skepticism.

For months, opinion polls in Russia revealed a devastating crisis across the country: a crisis of personal identity, of confidence in reality and in a higher meaning to which to devote one’s life. Respected political analyst Boris Dubin, the author of an essay provocatively entitled Malaise as a norm of social life, speaks of a "fragmented society" in which most of the population (75-80%) is limited in daily communication to their inner circle relatives and believes they cannot trust anyone else. It is becoming an increasingly widespread idea that power and politics are dirty things, corrupt, where everyone is hired or acts based on personal interests.

Another feature highlighted by sociologists is the trend of various groups of people, primarily young people - students or recent graduates - to leave. Leave for good, and not simply to spend some years abroad in order to gain some money or to complete their studies. According to a survey last May, 28% of young people under the age of 35 would like to leave Russia permanently.

Mechanisms similar to the Orwellian doublethink – experts note - make sure that people on the one hand are willing to adapt to worse and worse conditions, to buy into the system of favoritism, servile with regard to the people in power at the moment, but on the other hand, the complex of being a great power that has been humiliated is spreading. According to the surveys done by the Levada Center, for example, about two-thirds of Russians in recent times think that Russia is a great power, and at the same time believe that the country does not have the place it deserves in the world, or the one that they wish it to occupy. Indeed, there is a widespread feeling of being in the crosshairs of impending danger from the outside (whether from the U.S., from Islamic terrorism, from the people of the Caucasus, China and so on). In this context, violence has become a veritable code of social life. It is the language that Russians speak nowadays, and it is the way to treat people on the train or in the traffic of Moscow, a mixture of stress, resentment and repressed anger.

These are the aspects which those in power use as levers, stoking the myth of a "special road" reserved for Russia, where otherness is presented as something destructive, a violent interference in Russian identity, which is, however, completely undetermined. Underlying it all - Dubin notes - is a "mechanism that offers a convenient alibi, excluding Russia from the general political, moral, and social rules of civilization, allowing them a belonging that does not imply participation or responsibility".