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Mainstream journalists are failing to recognise that the most resolute reactions to Pussy Riot's recent incarceration are originating from outside of Russia. Moreover, the majority of the Russian population disagrees with the group's actions. The chances of political change in Russia need to be placed within the context of the ongoing power of the Russian Orthodox Church within society, and we have to see today's differences from those historical events that did trigger mass revolutionary movements.
Before its protest on March 3, 2012 in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, most people had never heard of the group Pussy Riot before. They staged an illegal performance, which they called a 'punk prayer' at the altar of the tallest Christian Orthodox church to get rid of Vladimir Putin. Specifically, their protest was aimed at Putin's re-election and the Orthodox Church which continuously supported the Russian president. At the trial, Judge Marina Syrova reasoned the high sentence of two years in penal camp by elaborating how thoroughly the group planned their crime and how they activated internet bloggers to distribute their protest online. The church quickly branded the group members sinners and Vsevolod Chaplin, head of the Church's department for relations with society, accused the members of representing a campaign of 'satanic rage'. While such statements might cause laughter in many European countries, the Orthodox Church has a solid and influential role in Russian society.
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? I asked two young students from St. Petersburg to give us their opinions. Here is part two:
Konstantin Tarasov is a Phd student at the European University at St. Petersburg. His major is Russian History with particular focus on the Russian Revolution of 1917.
E&M: What do you think about the election results?
KT: I think everybody knew the results before the election. For me, the actual percentage doesn't matter. Only Putin could win. That's why the opposition wanted to demonstrate even before the announcement of the results.
E&M: Can you understand people who are upset about Putin's re-election and who raise the issue of fraud?
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?
Vladimir Putin is celebrating a decisive victory in the 2012 Presidential elections in Russia. After four years as Prime Minister, he returns to the highest position of power in Moscow. What can Europe expect from the return of a man who has never minced words?
Putin received more than 60% of the overall votes, although international observers such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have made several charges of fraud. No matter how (un)fair and (un)free these recent elections may have been, Europe has to deal with the return of a well-known political veteran.
It seems that Putin has managed to appease his political counterparts in Europe. While there have been statements from German chancellor Angela Merkel and from the EU's high representative for foreign affairs Catherine Ashton, praising the rise of civic movements in Russia and highlighting the need for political reforms, European leaders are mostly relieved that Russian politics look as if they'll remain stable. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé frames it in a pragmatic way: "The election has not been exemplary. That is the least you can say. Putin has been re-elected by a large majority, so France and her European partners will pursue its partnership with Russia." German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle expressed the hope that Germany would "continue and deepen the strategic partnership with Russia."
Philip, Brain Editor
Putin and the EU
Despite the protests in Russia's biggest cities among the growing and new Russian middle classes, Putin has been elected for another six years. What is to be expected from his presidency and what is the EU's role in this? In a paper published for the European Council on Foreign Affairs right before the election, Ben Judah and Andrew Wilson already see the "end of the Putin consensus." They argue that the protests have significantly changed the situation in Russia: on the international level, a weaker Putin could lead to a less co-operative foreign policy, on the domestic level, reforms seems unlikely and a more populist presidency can be expected. This leaves the EU in a difficult position – as could already be witnessed in the reactions to Putin's election. While the EU might find it tempting to support opposition movements, Russia is an important partner in terms of energy, and Putin might represent such involvement as "destabilisation from the West" to regain support. Wilson and Judah give a good, concise overview of pre-election Russia and an outlook on future EU foreign policy – worth a read.
Solving the European debt crisis?
Jürgen Habermas, German philosopher and public intellectual, argues that this is not essentially a question of printing money or cutting public spending: in the long run, the debt crisis can only be solved by an integration of citizens into the EU, a more lived democracy. Habermas points to the name of the so called Fiscal Compact, the "Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance," and maintains that the German focus on "stability" and silence when it comes to "coordination" is deeply rooted in a democratic deficit. His article is a critical analysis of Merkel's policy and its consequences as well as a description of how this crisis might open a possibility for the development of the EU. As such it is an expression of Habermas' belief in the future of this project – a must read.
How did it come to all this?