“У тебя есть голос!”

I rose late today, regrettably so on a studying day. In fact, my actual studying for the past few days has been lacklustre, in no small part because of Grigory Melkonyats’ best efforts to amuse and distract me with his “СурковскаяПропаганда.” I was surprised I had not even considered popping by the Russian Consulate in Strasbourg to cast my “vote”, a reliable source having informed me that prior registration wasn’t even required. The first Russian elections in which I would partake, that would be worth remembering.

I enter the Consulate, “Elections for Deputies 2011” spread across its entrance. Flash news on “Россия 24” proudly proclaim that voting has already ended in four regions of our country. I take a seat to register, in a room boasting a portrait of Pushkin, a clavichord, if I am not mistaken, and a glamorous chandelier, confusion no doubt arising when my passport has been issued in Argentina, not having a Russian address, perhaps holding a permanent address in Scotland yet a temporary one in Strasbourg. I’m asked if “is this the first time you are voting?” I nod, admittedly hesitantly, given my wonderful acquaintances with Westminster and Holyrood democracy, and I’m handed a badge with the inscription “you have a vote!” The irony is macabre.

I grasp the ballot paper and enter the polling booth. I make sure its curtains are firmly shut, and try to take a picture of the ballot, clueless as to whether this is an illegal manoeuvre or not.The battery is low enough to disable the picture-taking capacity, bollocks. I carefully read the ballot, its rules and regulations…and seven decent choices. A Just Russia, Russian Patriots, Liberal Democrats, Communists, United Russia (refereshing my memory that Dmitri Anatolievich now leads this list), Yabloko and a Right Cause, the latter whom I am genuinely surprised to see here after its shambolic founding year. I also take note of where my vote would be redistributed…Krasnodar and Tver not among the regions most geographically pertinent to me. I read over the ballot and consider my decision prior to coming her. Perhaps Yabloko, the only semblance of a liberal democratic entity listed here? A Just Russia, apparently now evolved into a political force espousing social democracy, while in truth still Putin’s puppet project? No, I proceed to scribble, with difficulty as the blank space is limited, and I want to make my message clear rather than illegibly spread it across the ballot – “Я не голосую за жуликов и воров!”, or “I do not vote for swindlers and thieves!” Borrowing Navalny’s catchphrase, or at least part of it, but no, I have not given my vote “to anyone else” as he had energetically urged. I remembered Kasyanov in October at the Council of Europe stating that PARNAS was encouraging people to vote yet spoil their ballots. His remarks played on me, but it was a thoroughly personal decision. I could not bring myself to give a modicum of credibility to a charade of an electoral process, the most hideous in our last twenty years. Yes, as tempting as it is to help out Yabloko, or all the remaining dangerously extremist, irrelevant or archaic bastions of opposition available to me, and try and apparently diversify the parliamentary makeup, they all consent to Putin’s machinations and their interventions, if any, will make little difference in a rubber-stamping institution. My “vote” may in all probability be mysteriously lost, swapped, changed or something else, even seen as immature, but it is it he only way in which I can honestly and uncomprisingly express my antipathy towards the regime and its system.

I fold my ballot paper three times over, just to avoid any hint of suspicion, drop it into a rather transparent box and leave, thanking the embassy staff. Perhaps I do feel some sympathy for them, expressing gratitude for their probably honest efforts while having effectively undermined their work. The afterthought, upon descending the consulate’s stairs, of adopting a principled stance against the backdrop of such deceit is a sweet one. The one that immediate follows though, that of a desperate measure in a desperate context, regardless devalued, is not so.

First published on 4 December 2011

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