Unlike 2011 Duma Elections, Protesters Are Expected To Be Muted
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
There are parliamentary elections this Sunday in a country where many say elections don't truly matter. It's Russia. Five years ago, allegations of widespread voter fraud sparked street protests that shook Vladimir Putin's government. And it triggered a crackdown on dissidents that is still going on, meaning opposition voices in this election are expected to be muted. NPR's Corey Flintoff joined us in the studio to talk about why.
Now, Corey, just help me understand something here. A lot of what Vladimir Putin seems to be doing, tightening these controls heading into an election, isn't that exactly what has people so angry five years ago, getting them onto the streets? Why are we not going to see that this weekend?
COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Well, because a lot of what made people angry was a blatant vote-rigging and fraud that people could see with their own eyes at the polling places - you know, things like ballot stuffing and multiple voting, that sort of thing. Analysts that I talked to say that there'll be a lot less of that this time because the government has already assured that opposition candidates won't be able to have a very strong showing in this election.
GREENE: Oh, that they have so much control, they don't even need to do the ballot stuffing.
FLINTOFF: Exact - right. No need for ballot rigging because they already know they're going to win.
GREENE: So the people who took to the streets five years ago, I mean, are they - is it a sense of resignation in Russia now?
FLINTOFF: Yeah, I think I have to say that a lot of people have lost hope, you know. And some of them are actually scared that if they speak out against the government, they could face reprisals. I talked to a woman in a cafe in Moscow last month. Her name is Maria. She is 40 years old. She has a young son. She has a good job in the hotel business. So she has a lot to lose now. And she told me that she was passionately involved in those protests in 2011, and that she found it to be a very positive experience. But she's lost hope.
MARIA: However, the human being is not that strong to keep this emotions for a long time. Then you start thinking of your own life, of all projects that you have, if this can affect anything of that. And if so, you make a step back. Even when I heard that you would like to talk to me, and I said OK, but still I was thinking to myself, is it OK? Or would I have some problems afterwards?
GREENE: God, that's amazing, Corey. And you described her as Maria. Would she not give you her last name?
FLINTOFF: She was afraid that she could actually face reprisals at work if she spoke out against the government.
GREENE: That's amazing because five years ago, I was just leaving the post in Russia. You were coming in. I remember it was a period where people were becoming less fearful and speaking out more. It sounds like things have gone in the opposite direction.
FLINTOFF: Yes, I think it has, you know. I mean it - and it doesn't bode well for the future of democracy in Russia.
GREENE: What do you do if you're someone like Maria?
FLINTOFF: Maria told me that she's thinking very seriously about leaving the country. And that would be a real challenge for her because she's got a good job now. She has a child in Russia. She's a lifelong Muscovite, and she says she loves her country. She told me that among her friends, people are concentrating on just living their lives as well as they can, you know, outside of politics. And they're hoping that things will get better in the future.
GREENE: All right. NPR Moscow correspondent Corey Flintoff.
Corey, thank you.
FLINTOFF: It's a pleasure to be here, David.
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