It’s been a busy summer in Russia, electorally speaking. Powerful constituencies have emerged, and they’ve been lobbying hard for their interests and their candidates. Best of all? They are really, really hot.
First came Putin’s Army. It was led by Diana, a self-proclaimed college student in vertiginous heels and cleavage to match, a girl who claimed to have “lost my mind for a person who has changed the life of our country.” That man, shockingly, was Vladimir Putin, decider of the question of the year: Will he change status from “basically in charge” to “officially in charge”?
Last month, Diana and the girls of Putin’s Army announced a contest to “Tear it up for Putin!” — “it” being, say, your shirt. Putin’s Army even had an official draft day in Moscow, where young ladies, wearing undershirts printed with Putin’s face, gathered to parade on a catwalk and draft soldiers to their cause.
Medvedev’s supporters, however, were not to be left behind. They formed an army, too — an army of three — called it Medvedev’s Girls, and came to Moscow with a different gimmick. In support of Medvedev’s anti-beer initiative, they asked the strollers-by: “Choose beer or us!” What this meant was that people could dump their beers into waiting buckets, and, for each beer dumped, Medvedev’s Girls would dump an article of clothing.
Then there’s “I Really Do Like Putin,” which staged a bikini car wash in Moscow to support the premier. And then there’s my personal favorite, a music video by the group Girls for Putin. It’s funny, this stuff, and yet it betrays something deeper even than the predominance of sex in Russian public life or in Russian youth politics. That part is obvious: Sex sells. More important is what this says about the current incarnation of the Russian political system.
There is monumental corruption, creeping stagnation, mounting ethnic tensions, a breakdown of safety oversight for transportation systems, a stumbling reform of the decaying military, insurgency in the North Caucasus, an atrophied industrial sector, moribund and corrupt education and health systems.
And yet, somehow, with only four months to go until the Duma elections, and seven months until Russians elect a president, we are not hearing anything about it. All we get from the two supposed candidates for president is how and when they will make the decision to even run. It’s a fake party here, a staged election stunt there.