Road to Democracy?
On Friday evening (early Saturday a.m. Russia time) I emailed George Gogolev, a childhood friend and PR/Marketing consultant who lives in Moscow, asking him if he was planning to attend the December 10 protest against the election fraud that occurred during the December 4th Duma elections. He was.
“It’s 11 a.m. I’m drunk. and need to go pick up my body armor,” he wrote.
The next day, he sent me a note: “All went smooth and even a bit boring the best picture is here http://www.airpano.ru/files/Moscow-Bolotnaya-Square-Rally/start_r.html”.
On Sunday, we finally connected over Gchat (my laptop camera wasn’t working).
me: Can you briefly tell me why the protests were “boring?”
George: Because they were poorly organized, e.g. low interaction between the speakers and the crowd, there was no sound retranslation, so 90% didn’t hear a word, there was no petition signing etc. People just showed up and hung out but the atmosphere was great and friendly—everyone enjoyed themselves.
me: How long were you there? Do you feel like anything will change in Russia? Or was this just a calculated strategy for the powers, a way to make it appear like they were listening to people. Do you think the reality is that things will go about in the same fashion?
George: No, the government is actually afraid and it listened.
me: Are Russians finally becoming more political?
George: People are definitely way more politicized than ever in the last 15 years. Even more than in 1996, maybe almost the 1993 level, though still below 1991.
me: When I visited in 2008 no one would discuss politics with me.
George: There was no point.
me: And now there’s a point? Do you think a viable leader will emerge? What is the mood in general about Navalny? Yulia Latynina said he was the only electable leader, but do you think he would be good for the country?
George: After he participated in the Russian March, Navalny is now deemed as a close to Nazi figure, a dangerous man, and definitely a leader. I’d agree with Yulia on her point, but I think he’s a dangerous man, though I like him, at least for now he does the right things.
me: What do you like about him? Aside from his anti-corruption blogging?
George: He speaks well. He looks good. And he goes for it.
me: Aren’t nationalists really strong in Russia right now?
George: Nationalists are strong, but not in the protest crowd.
me: Who is strong in the protest crowd?
George: Intelligentsia, mid-level office professionals. My friend who was arrested on Monday, said his bus had 8 people, all with degrees, 3 Ph.D.s and one laureate of the national Physics contest, that explains who’s out there.
me: How good do you think Navalny’s chances are? And given the fact that he is a nationalist?
George: He’s not an extreme nationalist. He claims he just wants them on his side. Anyway, he’s in jail for now.
me: For 15 days.
George: It will take at least 2 years of his face on TV for the masses to vote for him, so right now there’s no alternative to Putin. And everyone in the crowd knows it’s no longer an option.
me: So we’re looking at a) the possibility of Putin changing his tune a little bit and giving in more to people’s demands or b) the status quo?
George: The point of what’s happening is that people woke up to the reality that the vertical of power is shaking and about to fall apart, but there’s no alternative, cause nobody gave a shit before. Now they’re all discussing and starting to think about the possibilities. If Putin doesn’t give in, he’s in trouble. So far he’s just in deep shit. I went to Bolshoy on Sunday, it was filled with ambassadors of every imaginable nation, the guards said the PM is expected, guess what, he never showed up, he’s too afraid to show up in public after he was booed after a Mixed fight match a few weeks ago, and that’s before the parliamentary elections scandal.
me: I feel like the only possibility is to dismantle the system entirely—something that was never fully done in the 90s—but how possible is this? Russians are very skeptical of democracy, and that’s part of why Navalny is so popular I think, he never uses the term democracy do you think if he ever did make it into the Kremlin he’d be an autocrat? What are your friends attitudes toward democracy? What do you think would be the best system?
George: Who was that Socrates? Or Aristotle, who said an enlightened dictator is the best (though he always said it should be a philosopher).
George: Democracy takes time to build. Now, for the first time, we see the manifestation of the middle class—it exists and it wants something. If they fail, we’ll have the commies in control.
me: Which it looks like a lot of people want. Sigh.
George: No, a lot of old people are sort of for it.
me: They got the most votes out of anyone.
George: They’ve got their standard votes, nobody is really for them though, there are a lot of people, who just always vote for the same shit, without looking into it. A lot of people voted for them, so their vote is not stolen or dissolved.
me: Does the current atmosphere make you want to stick around to see what happens or get the hell out?
George: I’ll stick around
me: How come?
George: I like change. It’s always interesting and profitable if you’re not dumb.
me: Do you think a lot of people will lose their jobs after this? Or will the govt be too afraid?
George: So far they’re waiting to see what happens. They have 2 choices to give in or to crush. Putin is not the kind of guy who likes to give in, but they see they [United Russia] have no support. The government is now like a deer in the headlights, stunned at what’s going on. Making fake demonstrations, hiring kids from small towns around Moscow to participate, but is not engaging with the real protestors in any way. Well, at least they stopped arresting people for now.
me: One more thing, were you kidding when you wrote that you needed to pick up your body armor?
George: Nope, I wore a Kevlar Vest
me: You were scared they’d shoot?
George: Little chance, besides you can’t have the steel plates in because of metal detectors. It saves from knives and small arms at a reasonable distance. And you never know, better safe than sorry. In fact, the vest turned out to be very warm.