Sunday, 27 May 2012 06:27

Under Russian Eyes Part 1

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Vladimir Putin has been officially inaugurated as the new President of Russia, again. But is the country he is about to lead the same as it was when he stepped away from power in 2008? How do young people in Russia perceive Putin now and what does his re-election mean for the perspectives of their country? E&M asked two young students from St. Petersburg to give us their opinions in a two part series of interviews:

Oleysa Fedorenko was born in St. Petersburg in 1991. She studies both Tourism and Hotel Management and Conflict Resolution at Saint Petersburg University of Humanities and Social Sciences. She has spent time in Germany during an exchange semester at Fachhochschule Ludwigshafen.

E&M: Before and after the elections, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to show their frustration. Why do you think that was?

OF: People were angry because everyone knew they didn't vote for United Russia, they saw the fraud and it was horrible for them. In general, Russian people can be patient for some time, but when something like that happens they get a kick start and then they go to demonstrations. I think their most important demand was a re-run of the elections, but I can't say precisely.

E&M: Did you participate yourself?

OF: I was in Germany back then so I didn't participate myself. Also I wouldn't because I would be afraid for my safety, with the huge crowd and the police. They would just start a fight because of excitement.

E&M: What do you think about the election results?

OF: Of course there is falsification. I read stories of how people are getting paid to vote for Putin. I watched the elections live on the internet and when I selected one webcam in a ballot station I could see several people putting four or five ballet papers in the box. It's clearly not good but Putin would have won anyway. I was also surprised that there was only a 65% participation rate. But then, people who wanted to vote for Putin did so; people opposing him didn't because they thought nothing would change.

"I selected one webcam... I could see several people putting four or five ballot papers in the box."

E&M: Putin, politicians and Russian media all often point out the importance of stability under Putin's rule as president. How do you feel about that?

OF: I don't even think I would call it stability. After Yeltsin, he was needed, Russia became stronger, European leaders respected Putin. Now we need something new. He might be experienced but I would like to see a change.

E&M: But aren't there worse political forces in Russia? Tell us about the parties, better and worse. 

OF: Sergey Mironov, from the social democratic 'A Just Russia' Party, is saying most of the right things at the moment but I don't see him as a president. I don't even want to talk about Vladimir Zhirinovsky from the Liberal Democratic Party with all his nationalist rhetoric! Gennady Zyuganov from the Communist party wants to change the whole system and simply isn't able to do so, and Mikhail Prokhorov doesn't even have a party! But Prokhorov's program was innovative. Besides abolishing corruption, he is the only one to mention concrete goals that he wants to pursue. If he stays in politics, I think he might have a chance in the next election.

E&M: How do you explain the broad support United Russia and Putin still have, especially in rural areas, and is this divide between country and city a problem?

OF: People in rural regions clearly have a life different to the big cities. For them continuity is good. Moreover, they receive funding from the government, as seen in Chechnya for instance. Prokhorov is more famous in St. Petersburg and in Moscow while being rather unknown in rural areas, in contrast to Putin. It's really hard to rule a big country like Russia, where all the regions are different. There are even different religions and languages in some regions. It might be better to grant autonomy to some states. As I see it right now, large amounts of money that are sent from Moscow to the regions are just stolen. If the regions took care of themselves this might change.

E&M: And how do you see Russia's role in relation to Europe?

OF: The first thing that comes to my mind is gas supply. Right now this is the most crucial part of Russia's relation with Europe. Within Russia, Moscow and St. Petersburg might be European from a cultural perspective, but the majority of Russia is a mix of Asian, Russian and European culture. It's a very interesting mix, especially when you live here. Most of the Eastern parts don't relate to Europe at all.

E&M: And what does Europe mean to you?

OF: It's a big region where I would like to travel. It's beautiful and has a particular culture in every region. I enjoyed it very much there. I can't really talk about it from a political perspective but I love Europe when it comes to travelling.

E&M: Thanks Oleysa! 

Last modified on Saturday, 02 June 2012 10:46
Simon Schmidt

Simon Schmidt holds a BA in International Business and is an alumnus of the International MA program of Political Science with respect to Russia and Eurasia of the European University at St. Petersburg. His main interests are Russian-EU relations and energy, security and economic developments in post-Soviet Eurasia. He currently lives and works in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

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