Televised debates by presidential candidates in the regions are a required part of the campaign. Viewers consider this practice to be totally pro forma. Being a participant in the debates as an official representative of Grigory Yavlinsky, I can’t disagree. The very format of the regional program—26 minutes for eight debaters—presupposes extremely brief answers to the moderator’s questions (social sphere, regional politics, arms race, and so on), precluding any discussion among the guests. And certainly the format allows no serious discussion of concepts or programs. Even on the federal level, the debates did not turn into a serious discussion about the country’s future. What the audience remembered was the intense scene—in the opinion of old hands, too intense not to be planned—when Ksenia Sobchak doused Vladimir Zhirinovsky with her glass of water in response to his rude remarks. “In the battle of recognized masters of showbiz, youth and quick wit won,” was the comment of a young blogger. Political appearances are showbiz, which has been clear in Russia for a long time. No one bothers to read the political programs, since the results are clear to most people already.
Everyone is waiting impatiently for the campaign to end. Managers and heads of corporations, so they can get on with work put off until March 18; hired propagandists and activists of Putin’s’ “national front,” to get their honestly earned money; and everyone else, to stop having to watch the boring television series “we’re better than everyone else and Putin is the very best of us.”
Everyone is infinitely tired. The honest businessmen and heads of companies are tired: They may privately support an “alternative” candidate and may even vote for one, but they understand that going against the mainstream today means exposing one’s work and collective to a blow. The propagandists are tired. Their voices and faces are no longer passionate; they seem to be repeating the old clichés. Even the hastily assembled film Sleepers-2 on NTV (about agents of influence of the evil “West,” the liberal intelligentsia) was boring. Many members of the opposition and civil-rights activists are tired—yes, they did manage to free the historian Yuri Dmitriev and install a monument to the victims of Stalinist repression and a memorial plaque for Boris Nemtsov, but their voices are not heard, and the surviving dissidents are elderly. The independent publishers and journalists in the regions are tired; their courage and professionalism helped them survive the unequal battle with state giants, preserve their dignity, and even bring some investigations to court, exposing corruption and acquitting the innocent, but they could not change the situation in the mass-media market or withstand the almost total control of the state: At the last meeting with the president in Kaliningrad, they were not given a chance to speak. The president himself is tired, everyone has noticed that.
Most tired of all is the public. It is tired of being threatened—even the video of the new weapon of death in the presidential address that made everyone tremble was not an act of intimidation but a presentation of innovations. The average citizen learned little from the expert commentary, but understood that there won’t be war in the near future but there won’t be any improvement of life, either, since we have to pay for defense. We’ve all heard that before. In the early 1980s, our generation was promised communism, according to the Communist Party program. Instead, they started the Afghan war, where my peers died in the name of “international duty” and the number of dead was a top secret. It was Afghanistan that hastened the collapse of the USSR. People recall that anxiously when talking about the recent Russian dead in faraway Syria. Of course, the people fighting there are mercenaries, not drafted soldiers, for no information can be kept secret for long, and it is wrong to compare modern Russia with the late USSR. There is no apparatus of suppression controlling the country; there is no Communist Party; the borders are open; there is freedom of entrepreneurship;, albeit not quite transparent; and at least partial freedom of speech; and in general people feel very different now. But there is no real dialogue between the authorities and society or among various groups in society. Just as there was no dialogue in the regional debates among representatives of the candidates.