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Russia’s Undecided Voters or Banging the Drum in Ostozhenka

By October 29, 2012Lifestyle

AGGGHHHH!  I hate this last week before Election Day! 

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You can scour politico.com and 538.com for hints.  You can download and listen to the screaming talking heads on both sides of the political spectrum all you want, but until November 6th (that’s right minority voters in Pennsylvania for whom English is not a first language – November 6th not November 8th as the robo calls are telling you!!) we won’t know what the next four years have in store.

As usual, it is going to come down to undecided voters, and that is not a crowd I like to put my chips on.  Since I can’t stand the idea of toned blond soccer moms in tony Virginia suburbs weighing the virtues of reproductive rights against a more robust economy, I’ve decided to focus on a different set of undecided voters — the Russians.

There is a thing going around the Moscow-based Facebook community lately.  It goes like this:  under a split screen shot of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in Russian reads:

Strange people those Americans.  A week to the election and they still don’t know who the president of their country will be.

It’s a good joke and like all good jokes, at its core lies a kernel of truth.  Russians really are baffled by our electoral brouhaha.

Can you blame them?  As I’ve written before, Russians are accustomed to very short, rather boring, and distinctly cut and dry elections.  The favorite traditionally is too busy to debate, and so, stunningly to Americans, just skips them – something most people on my side of the aisle fervently wish had been the case in the first debate.    Russian friends were stunned this autumn when I yawned and said I’d got up at 4 am to watch the presidential debate.  In Russia, you never have to stay up past anyone’s bedtime for any political result.  A friend of mine who lives here but votes in a battleground state floored his Russian co-workers by paying a whopping $100 to FEDEX his absentee ballot in.    They thought he was delusional.  Pay to cast your ballot?  No no no, they told him, that river flows in the other direction.

During the last election, HRH, my “Handsome Russian Husband,” was convinced that Barack Obama didn’t stand a chance.  How could he?  HRH looked at that election contest through a very Russian lens.  In his world, an ethnic Russian decorated war hero with a pronounceable name – like Vladimir Ivanov for example — with decades of government service under his belt and all the contacts in Washington one could ever need, is pitted against some whippersnapper Tadzhik regional Duma Deputy with a Chechnyan rebel separatist type name.  In HRH’s world, the Tadzhik guy didn’t stand a chance.  He was truly flabbergasted when Obama won.  It was dead satisfying.

This time around, opinion is more divided.  The margin for error is larger.   And, since I’m too far away to bang on doors in Ohio, I’ve taking to banging my drum on Ostozhenka.  I do what I can to chip away at any creeping Mittmentum.

Russians feel Mitt looks like a President.  If you called up Mosfilm Central Casting and said, “send me a guy who looks like the President of the United States,” they’d send you Romney.   He’s an alpha male type and Russians like that.  He’s clearly an oligarch and they like that too.    Oligarchs are supposed to run countries.

“Yes,” I say with relish, “but did you know that he belongs to a cult religion that believes that after he was crucified, Jesus Christ went to the United States of America?”

This hits home every every time.  Russians are going through a very religious phase at the moment, and you have to tread softly these days, lest you tread on their Orthodox sensitivities.    You want to be very careful about how you interpret the life of Jesus Christ.  The idea that he would go to the United States is as offensive to them as is the rock musical “Jesus Christ Superstar,” once an underground cultural icon of late Soviet life, now banned in Krasnodar.  I go on to tell potential Mitt voters that Mormons don’t drink alcohol or caffeine and this swings a lot of voters back to the undecided camp.  I describe the Principle of Plural Marriage as I understand it (admittedly, most of what I know is from Big Love) and Mitt loses more voters.

Then there is foreign policy.  Never mind that Mitt doesn’t know how the Iranians get to the ocean or the whole Libya thing.  What’s important here is that Mitt Romney thinks Russia is a threat to the United States.   Which is good, Russians think.  But then, they learn, during a debate, that Mitt said that Iran was a bigger threat than Russia.  Mitt hemorrhages hundreds of thousands of potential Russian voters:  Russia may be many things but a smaller threat than Iran she most certainly is not.

Here’s the good news for the Obama camp:  Russians in the end of the day are change adverse and Russians are used to Barack Obama by now.  He has kept calm over Syria, if he stays the course, he’ll screw up Afghanistan and not before time either.  He’s given the Russians a US Ambassador who Sergei Lavrov can use for target practice, and he didn’t kick up much of a fuss when Russia booted USAID out the back door.  He’s fantastic fodder for all manner of Russian satire and funny songs like this one. (see my rough translation of the key phrase below)*

So, Russians are sticking with the devil they know.

Any volunteers to move to Ohio?  Like tomorrow?

Being President of Russia is not child’s play

Certainly Obama couldn’t be President of Russia

And not just because he’s black skinned, but

If we’re honest, because of that too.

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Join the discussion 13 Comments

  • Habiba says:

    Hi,
    I recently discovered your blog and that’s because I recently started dating a Russian man here in the US and just out of curiosity wanted to know what life in Russia is like. So in the process of googling all manner of things your site came up and I really appreciated it because 1) It’s in English and 2) Because I, though not American can somewhat relate to what you’re talking about e.g. expat community, halloween e.t.c.
    I really enjoy reading your blog keep it up!
    I was particularly intrigued by “hrh and the puffy..” I had my boyfriend read it because I was interested to hear his thoughts on the similarities or rather disney adaptations on Russian TV and he just brushed it off. I was a little disappointed because I thought he would have something more to say (since he grew up with some of that) but he wasn’t in the least bit fazed he retorted “but we all know winnie the pooh is a british character” .
    At any rate, keep writing so I can keep reading 🙂
    Thanks muchos!

    • jennifer says:

      Hi Habiba and thank you so much for your comment!
      How interesting that you have embarked down the road of dating a Russian man!
      They are VERY protective of Winnie, no matter what they say and don’t even MENTION
      Mowgli. Seriously, don’t.
      I’m so pleased that you like Russia Lite and I hope you will keep reading!
      If you want to dazzle your Russian boyfriend with some good Russian food,
      do visit the sister site http://moscovore.com!
      Thanks again for taking the time to write!
      Best of luck!

  • Teri Lindeberg says:

    Super Jennifer -as always. I needed a chuckle right now and that did it! :-))

    Best,
    Teri

    • jennifer says:

      Thank you, Teri! chuckles are important — especially when the weather is going postal like right now! What is that stuff out there?????

  • Karen Percy says:

    Fabulous stuff… pretty accurate about the Russian viewpoint as far as I can tell.

  • Amy Wexler says:

    Jennifer! Thanks for the insight on the Russians’ view of the our politics. I AM in Ohio. The candidates from both sides and all ranks have been here multiple times. Mitt thinks that “middle class” are people who earn $200K/year…From their interest! LOL. A little out of it even without the Jesus-stuff, poligamy, and geography issues. Thanks for the info. Tell Russia I said HI and miss the food!

  • Masha says:

    Your post is funny, mostly, but as a Russianist from Mormon heritage, I really hate it when people in Russia spread ignorant misconceptions about Mormonism. That isn’t any funnier to me than when people in the U.S. engage in ignorant stereotyping about Russians. Most of us honestly do not live in a Big Love world. I honestly don’t enjoy getting into online arguments, it’s just a thought.

  • Kevin B. says:

    Hi, Jennifer. Do you happen to have a link to the Facebook photo (with Russian text) that you mention in your post?

  • Rachel says:

    How did I miss this earlier? Brilliant! Now that the election is over and I don’t have people interrogating me about the electoral college and my candidate preferences 1.3 minutes after I met them, I probably enjoyed it more. I hope your Thanksgiving plans are going well. Your ex-pat Thanksgiving post has been a tremendous help to me 🙂

  • Juraj Tkáč says:

    Hello Jennifer,
    I hope you won’t mind another “off-blog-topic” question via this comment box (your “contact” button required something to do with a default e-mail thing that I know nothing about, so …). If you’re okay with me communicating this way, then may I ask the Russian Historian side of you about Slavic origins?
    Breifly, I got into my Slovak family beginnings, which led to “where did Slovaks come from”, which took me to the supposed Slavic tribal origins in the Pripet marshes of Belarus and Ukraine (West Slavs, East Slavs, Southern Slavs are said to have disbursed from that general area circa A.D.500/600 into most of eastern Europe). Since Russians are Slavic, they would have the same beginnings as Slovaks before settling into the Pripet marshes, which is where I’m going with this inquiry.
    My readings so far connect the Slavic peoples with the Scythians. Would you be able to tell me, from your understanding of Russian history before the Rus and the Kiev and Moskovite principalities, and in a very general, abbreviated manner, what Russians say about their connection to these Steppe nomads? How do they get from Scythian to Slav? Is there a legendary forefather they claim descent from (like the British and Brutus, or the Romans and Romulus)?
    At the very least, would you please suggest a book or web page where I may find my answers? Thank you much for your time. I’m looking forward to more of your bloggings. They’re quite entertaining and informative.
    Dovedenia, ~ Juraj

    • jennifer eremeeva says:

      Hi Juraj!
      Thank you for your note! You have a very interesting question. I refer you to the historian Joel Charmichael, whose “Illustrated History of Russia” is out of print but available at many public libraries.
      According to him, the Scythians are mentioned very briefly in the 7th Century BC as trading with Greek colonies along the Black Sea coast. Here the archeological traces of them then vanish, to be replaced by the Sarmathians, about which very little is known, and then the Teutonic Goths. As you know, the Hermitage Museum has a wonderful collection of Scythian gold artifacts from this period. I don’t know how helpful this is, but perhaps it will get you going. I hope if other readers note this comment and have some ideas, you will weigh in to the discussion!

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