Russian elections: Organized voting will give Putin another term

  • Written by Steve Rosenberg
  • Editor of Russia, Borovsk

Comment on the photo,

Vladimir Ovchinnikov's street art adorns the walls of Borovsk, except when it becomes too political

As I walked around Borovsk, two things caught my attention about this city 60 miles (100 kilometers) from Moscow.

First, there is almost no sign of the presidential election approaching this weekend.

I see few election signs or billboards and no political flyers being distributed.

Not surprising really. The absence of electoral preparations reflects the absence of drama surrounding the organized event that will grant Vladimir Putin a fifth term in the Kremlin.

Another thing you can't help but notice in Borovsk is street art. It's everywhere.

Many of them were created by street artist Vladimir Ovchinnikov. Throughout the city his work stares from walls and buildings.

Most of his paintings are uncontroversial. Like a giant globe that tells the history of the city. Or a photo of a famous football player.

But increasingly, when Vladimir paints a picture of Russia today, it turns out to be very bleak.

“I call this the height of ambition,” the 86-year-old artist told me. The painting he shows me at home shows a man in a martial arts uniform walking a tightrope over a mountain of human skulls.

“This is what the ambition of someone in the highest power can lead to.”

Even more dramatic is his photo of two meat grinders mincing people – one marked 1937 (the year of the Great Stalinist Terror); And another special military operation (Russia's war in Ukraine).

“We have not learned any lessons,” Vladimir concludes.

After the artist painted similar meat grinders on the wall, he was fined for “defaming” the Russian army. The same result for street art showing missiles falling on a girl wearing the blue and yellow colors of Ukraine.

Vladimir uses his art not only to comment on the present, but to highlight Russia's dark past – repression under Stalin. His writings criticizing the war in Ukraine are not well received by the authorities. It is drawn quickly.

“My paintings make people think: Are we right or are we wrong in this conflict?” Vladimir tells me. “I believe this is a crime against the territorial integrity of a neighboring country. I will condone it if you remain silent.”

“Many people remain silent because they are afraid of repression, of losing their jobs, and of being criticized by others.”

After opposition leader Alexei Navalny died in prison, Vladimir painted Navalny's portrait on a local memorial stone honoring victims of political repression.

“On the same day someone erased it,” Vladimir told me. “But I had drawn a rough draft on cardboard at home. So I took this later and put it next to the memorial.”

Comment on the photo,

Vladimir says his paintings make people think about the conflict in Ukraine

How does Vladimir see the future of Russia?

“Some predict more repression, and that we are heading towards totalitarianism and complete dictatorship,” he says.

President's photo

Vladimir Ovchinnikov told me that he never watches TV.

If he does, he will see a completely different image of Russia on state television.

Vladimir Putin version.

Nor mountains of human skulls. No meat grinder. Alexei Navalny was not mentioned.

This is not a Russia that is aggressive abroad and oppressive at home. It is a Russia with a glorious past and an equally glorious future. Russia's heroes and patriots gather around the flag to defend the motherland from external aggression.

It is Russia that loves its current leader.

Image source, Getty Images

Comment on the photo,

Vladimir Putin is expected to win a fifth term in these elections

A few days ago, Russia's Channel One evening news showed apparent Putin admirers greeting the president like a pop star.

“Take care of yourself,” one of the women shouted before kissing him.

“Long life!” A man shouted.

If you relied solely on Channel One for news, you would likely conclude that Vladimir Putin has the odds of a landslide victory in the presidential election.

But, as with paintings, context is important.

Context here is crucial.

The Kremlin not only controls television in Russia, but runs the entire political system, including elections.

President Putin faces no serious challenge as he seeks a fifth term in office. Most of his critics have fled into exile or been imprisoned in their homeland. Mr. Navalny, his staunchest opponent, has died.

But the Kremlin likes to boast that Russia has the best democracy in the world. So, besides Putin on the ballot, there are three contenders officially approved by the Kremlin-friendly Russian parliament.

I met someone recently. It was a strange experience.

“Why do you think you would be a better president than Putin?” I asked Nikolai Kharitonov, the Communist Party candidate.

“I have no right to say that,” Mr. Kharitonov replied. “That wouldn't be true.”

Comment on the photo,

Nikolai Kharitonov (left), presidential candidate, believes he has no right to say whether he would be a better president than Putin

“But do you think your statement is better than Putin’s?” I continued.

“That's up to the voters to decide.”

“It doesn't matter what I think. It's up to the voters.”

Instead of talking about himself, Kharitonov praised the incumbent.

“Today, Vladimir Putin is trying to solve many of the problems of the 1990s, when Yeltsin dragged Russia into unbridled capitalism,” Kharitonov said. “He is trying to unite the nation to achieve victory in all areas. And it will happen!”

Something tells me that Nikolai Kharitonov's heart is not in this race.

One politician who tried and failed to get on the ballot was anti-war politician Boris Nadezhdin.

“It is absolutely impossible to say that our presidential elections are fair and free,” Nadezhdin told me. He claims he was prevented from running because his anti-war message was too popular.

He added, “Opinion polls show that about 30 to 35 percent of the people in Russia want to vote for a gay candidate who talks about peace. This is an absolutely impossible result for our government.”

The picture is on the street

When I returned to Borovsk, I enjoyed the stunning views from the bridge over the Protva River.

From here the city itself looks like a painting: a picture of Russia that I could imagine hanging in the Hermitage. At the top of the hill is a beautiful church, with quaint snow-covered houses below. People, wearing warm coats, walk carefully along the icy paths.

I also tread carefully as I head into town to gauge the mood. On the streets of Borovsk, what do people think about the war, the elections, and their president?

“No matter how you vote, everything is decided in advance,” a young woman named Svetlana told me. “I don't see any point in participating.”

But many here, especially older Russians, told me they would vote. When I talk to people, it becomes clear that Russia as seen on TV has many supporters.

Comment on the photo,

Russia wants its citizens and the world to believe that everything is fine

“I hope Vladimir Putin wins the election and that will end the war,” Lyudmila told me. “Many young people have been killed. When peace comes, many countries will finally realize that Russia is unbeatable.”

“Why do you want Mr. Putin to win?” I ask. “After all, he is the man who started the special military operation.”

“There are many opinions,” Lyudmila admits. “Some say this war should never have started. Some say he was right. I won't judge him now. We don't know all the ins and outs of politics.”

“Putin has been in power for almost a quarter of a century,” I point out. “In a country of 145 million people, isn't there someone else who can do their job?”

“Oh, no,” Lyudmila answers, “we have many talented leaders who, in emergency situations, can run the country.”

Nikolai will also vote for the current president, who seems unfazed by Putin's two-and-a-half decades in power.

“So what? We had tsars who ruled for a long time,” says Nikolai. “There were good tsars and bad tsars. We had Stalin and Brezhnev. You can change the leader, but it doesn't make much difference in our lives.”

See also  Want to save the planet? Eat protein from mushrooms and algae instead of red meat | Adrien Mattei

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *