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Young people are provoked by University Post questions in this, a first report from St. Petersburg before parliamentary elections Sunday
In a country with corruption, oligarchs, inequality, and limited opportunities for small parties to run for election due to bureaucracy, you might expect widespread ignorance of politicians and politics in general.
But this is not the case. The turnout from previous Russian parliamentary as well as presidential elections is at the same height as in many European countries.
However, Russian students and young people are suspicious about politicians, the political process and even me, when I ask questions about it.
This morning, I met up with some Russian guests at my hostel. Coming from Denmark, my perception is that Putin is the Russian version of Berlusconi, an unsympathetically authoritarian macho suppressing the Russian people and democracy. So it was a bit of a surprise only to hear good words about him.
The door is open to a room with four young men chatting, so why not venture the opportunity, and ask them about their opinion on the upcoming election? Fortunately, one of them is German, studying in St. Petersburg at the moment and he helps out translating to me from the Russian. I ask the three Russian men, all in their mid twenties, and who turn out to be professional soldiers: Are you going to vote on Sunday?
»Yes, of course we are all going to vote since we want to explain our own opinion,« says Sasha, adding that »the main party, Putin’s party United Russia, is definitely representing our point of view.«
One of the other men interrupts Sasha and tells me that he actually finds my question provocative. But the reason for this provocation stays unknown.
Later I talk to my roommate Natalia, 20 years old, and a nurse.
»I like United Russia the most and I am fond of Putin,« she says, adding that her vote for United Russia is the most natural thing to do.
Olga is 25, is the receptionist, and she graduated with a bachelor in literature two years ago. She is not going to vote this time since she comes from a region outside the city, and is not registered as a voter here.
»But next year, at the presidential elections, I am going to vote because I think it is important,« she says,
adding that she likes Putin and his party, and she has always voted for him.
»Before Putin, we had Yeltsin and he was very bad. I definitely feel some changes in the system having Putin, for instance in education and health care. Now it is for free to go to the doctor, it is easy, and you even get some medicine for free.«
After one day in St. Petersburg, my first impression is that finding somebody to speak out publicly against Putin is difficult. Oksana, is a 26 year old, who works in a small business, Asking Oksana if she is going to vote, she replies:
»No, I will not go vote, because it is the same if people go or not«, she says. Irina, her colleague interrupts in disagreement.
»If you do not go they [the people from the election committee] will just vote for you using your name«.
Oksana and Irina then profess that they in fact like him, but they cannot explain why.
The ambiguity of everything is underlined, when I ask Irena what she thinks about Russian democracy.
She retorts: »Do we have democracy in Russia?«
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