Trumped by Traffic Jams

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None of my friends knows what to do about the upcoming State Duma elections. Some think that it would be wrong to vote for United Russia since it has turned the campaign into a Soviet-style farce. Others understand that the ruling party's platform is vague, but they believe that the policies of other parties are even worse. Almost all of my friends who previously voted for Yabloko or the Union of Right Forces are now disappointed by those parties' leaders and consider them to be marginalized or outright clowns. Some want to vote for Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party, either because they are entertained by his scandalous statements or simply because they want to avoid voting for United Russia. Many die-hard anti-Communists are even planning to vote for the Communist Party as a protest vote against United Russia. Still others are planning to deface their ballots or tear them up.

Many people are sick of the elections, perhaps even nauseous. And these are not the people who are typically apolitical in other countries -- the poorest and least educated segment of society. In Russia, political indifference is widespread and even fashionable among wealthy people as well as the so-called middle class.

During my call-in radio show, I often wonder whether it makes sense to talk with callers about the elections and politics in general. They find politics boring no matter how it is presented. I have reached the conclusion that they don't want to hear anything at all except updates on traffic jams.

I think that the sociological phenomenon of Russia's voting patterns is worth studying because it overturns many assumptions. For example, according to various surveys, about 60 percent of voters believe that the Duma elections will not be conducted fairly, but about the same percentage of people nevertheless plan to vote -- despite knowing almost nothing about the platforms of the major parties. Voters don't know what Putin's Plan is, nor do they want to find out more about it. As expected, few people found the campaign's televised political debates interesting.

Even though it has been 15 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, it would seem that Russians don't react negatively to modern-day versions of Soviet propaganda. Nobody gets upset when local authorities round people up to participate in pro-government meetings or when students -- usually known for their love of freedom and independence -- attend mass rallies to avoid getting bad grades from their professors.

It is as if the last 15 years have had no impact whatsoever on the country. The old Soviet mentality is alive and well, and people are returning to their former ways. They believe this is what constitutes the much longed-for "stability" that the authorities constantly claim has arrived. They refuse to see the connection between the fact that they spend hours stuck in horrendous traffic jams and their complete indifference to the political process and elections.

These traffic jams and the vast problems of everyday life all stem from the fact that Russia is badly managed and that governmental institutions do not function properly.

Yet, Russians are unable to acknowledge their own responsibility for the country's poor governance -- that governmental institutions are substandard because the people themselves allow them to be so bad. To make matters worse, many Russians take pride in their lack of interest in politics. Perhaps there is some truth to the much-quoted saying that every nation deserves the type of government that it has.

There is another expression that is pertinent to this issue: "If you don't take an interest in politics, politics will take an interest in you." It was true back then and it is true today.

Georgy Bovt is a political analyst and hosts a radio program on City FM.