Russians voting against democracy - Eureka Street Russians voting against democracy INTERNATIONAL Ben

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  • 13 December 2007 Volume: 17 Issue: 24

    Russians voting against democracy

    Ben Coleridge . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

    Labor honeymoon could last

    Tony Smith . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4

    Nationals need Warren Truss to live up to his name

    Brian Matthews . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7

    Hope for deforestation breakthrough

    Sean McDonagh . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9

    Live Earth goes with the consumer flow

    Tim Kroenert . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10

    Time for due process in East Timor assistance

    Frank Brennan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13

    Climate change obscures the real moral crisis

    Scott Stephens . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16

    Emissions targets must help those affected

    Michael Mullins . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19

    An unlikely pilgrim

    Michelle Coram . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21

    Rudd Pacific Solution must include Nauru healing

    Susan Metcalfe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26

    US must finish peace process it started

    Ashlea Scicluna . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27

    How to find God in ordinary human hope

    Andrew Hamilton . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30

    Love and politics in that order

    Andrew Hamilton . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32

    Dylan writ vain but vulnerable

    Rochelle Siemienowicz . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34

    The dialect of dream

    Shane McCauley . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36

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  • Volume 17 Issue: 24

    13 December 2007

    ©2007 EurekaStreet.com.au 1

    Russians voting against democracy

    INTERNATIONAL

    Ben Coleridge

    Russia has voted. The results are well known — and also the

    discrepancies in the process. The streets of Russian cities are draped in

    Unified Russia flags, leaflets are strewn on pavements, and celebrations

    continue for the ‘Nashi’ youth. For four weeks, the election campaign has

    showered us with activism, rallies, arrests and advertising. At the State

    University in Novgorod I have been showering my students with questions.

    My role as a conversational English assistant means all kinds of topics are open for

    discussion. In the lead-up to the election, teaching became ever more interesting. My students

    are future interpreters. Their intelligence is considerable. Most speak fluent English and

    German, some also Swedish and Portuguese. They are well travelled, the majority having

    visited the US and Europe. Many want to work for the United Nations or in government. They

    are likely to play a significant role in their nation’s future.

    With the campaign growing increasingly vigorous, I began to put questions to the packed

    classes. My first was ‘Will you vote?’ Some said they would, but did not yet know for whom.

    The only party they knew of was Putin’s Unified Russia. No great surprise, given that the

    prospect of a 60-70 per cent majority for Unified Russia has been broadcast across TV and

    radio airwaves, and 60 per cent of prime time television goes to Unified Russia.

    Others hesitated and told me they had not given it any thought. The last group simply

    shook their heads, regretful, almost apologetic.

    My question to this group was ‘why not?’ The most common response was: ‘Even if we

    vote, nothing will change. The same party will always win. Our vote means nothing.’

    Apathetic regret seems characteristic of many of the young people I have come across in St

    Petersburg and Novgorod. In everyday classes it is difficult to trigger passionate response. I

    have to search for issues that might inflame students’ interest.

    For the first few weeks they were surprised at my questions. When I pressed them they

    often became distressed, bursting into the common refrain: ‘This is Russia, democracy doesn’t

    work here.’

    On the Monday morning after scores of opposition activists were arrested in St Petersburg

    by Interior Ministry forces, the topic in class was free speech. Again, the knee-jerk reaction

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  • Volume 17 Issue: 24

    13 December 2007

    ©2007 EurekaStreet.com.au 2

    came into play: ‘It’s not democracy, it’s not freedom, but compare Russia today with what it

    was like during the Yeltsin years. Our economy and lifestyle have improved, so why worry

    about free speech?’

    The feedback was more varied when I put to them the comments of international election

    monitors. Some echoed Vladimir Putin’s sentiments, that foreign observers and other

    countries should keep their noses out of Russian affairs.

    Herein lies the paradox. Many Russians will freely criticise their politicians and the

    electoral process. But any intimation of ‘foreign interference’ meets with defiance. It is curious

    that this is the point where apathy dissolves.

    Breaking through the wall of nonchalance and apathy is a challenge which can seem

    insurmountable. The university environment doesn’t help. Three days before the election a

    teacher walked into my class where we had been talking about how students could be

    activists. She began to hand out Unified Russia ‘how to vote’ cards.

    Later, in the staff room, I asked another teacher what this meant. ‘Unified Russia sponsors

    the university,’ she said. ‘They’ve just bought us new desks and chairs.’

    I had been thinking about my students’ lack of idealism. I understood now that the

    university itself, which should be a centre for critical thought and diversity of opinion, was

    drained of dynamism.

    The election seemed anti-climactic in Novgorod, perhaps because we’d known the result

    for months. Still, the outcome produced interesting reactions. The facts coming to light

    post-election presented a bleak picture to any students even remotely interested. The

    imbalance in the new Duma was an unavoidable fact.

    Yesterday, in class, as we discussed the election results, there was an outpouring of new

    feeling. Some students remained uninterested, but the majority agreed the result was negative

    and went so far as to say that something must be done.

    This dissent took the form of words only. In other places I have seen an interest and

    involvement in social issues that gives cause for optimism about Russian democratic activism.

    I spent the night before the election at a concert organised by a student group committed to

    fighting HIV/AIDS. They’re a lively, interesting group who worked hard to see the concert

    become reality. Everyone from the group had input into the planning. Hundreds of students

    from the town, my own students included. The atmosphere was festive and lively.

    When the leader of a student anti HIV/AIDS organisation got up to speak, the response was

    unanimous cheering. Badges were bought, money donated and phone numbers added to a

    long list.

    So all is not lost; there exists amongst the students a feeling for the problems that surround

  • Volume 17 Issue: 24

    13 December 2007

    ©2007 EurekaStreet.com.au 3

    them. They have only to convince themselves they can play a role in solving them.

    The election will cause widespread pessimism among those interested in Russian

    democracy. Certainly the situation seems dire. But progress is being made, the democratic

    spirit is in motion. Since election weekend I have felt more positive about the future. There is

    room for hope.

  • Volume 17 Issue: 24

    13 December 2007

    ©2007 EurekaStreet.com.au 4

    Labor honeymoon could last

    POLITICS

    Tony Smith

    The election of a new government is a cause for hope. A party in power

    for an extended period inevitably loses touch with people and their

    concerns. A new government enjoys public goodwill as it tackles a residue

    of issue