Paul Greenberg

The latest election results out of Russia are more Russian than ever, more’s the pity.

The latest czar had no problem arranging a victory that would have made old Mayor Daley or Boss Crump look like a piker. The outcome was so forgone a conclusion that the usual European election monitors didn’t even bother to show up. Besides. Vladimir Putin’s regime had delayed granting them visas for so long they were denied a chance to witness all the preparations for the big show.

Even from this distance, it was clear the vote was rigged: State-run television kept any real opposition off the air. The only real democrat in the runner, chess champion Garry Kasparov, was thrown into jail for a spell after he dared lead a demonstration. There’s freedom of assembly in Russia, all right, just not freedom after assembly.

Bribery, coercion, the whole repertoire of tricks … all conspired to make these rubber-stamp results inevitable. The coronation of Vladimir I went off without a hitch.

Most disheartening of all is the realization that Vladimir Putin, familiar KGB type that he is, probably didn’t have to go through all this trouble to arrange his party’s landslide victory in these parliamentary elections. The results reflected the ingrained Russian preference for authoritarian rule, however crushing, over unruly freedom with all its uncertainties. With all precincts across Russia’s 11 time zones duly reporting, Czar Vlad’s ruling party collected some 64 percent of the vote.

The distant runner-up was the Communist Party, another outfit not known for any excessive attachment to freedom. It got 11 percent of the vote.

A couple of parties allied with Comrade Putin’s brought up the rear. The democratic opposition was completely shut out, failing to win the 7 percent of the vote required for representation in the Russian parliament.

None of this should surprise in a country where the most popular former ruler, with the possible exception of Ivan the Terrible, is probably Josef Stalin — not exactly anybody’s idea of a Jeffersonian democrat.

The returns from Russian-occupied Chechnya had a distinctly Soviet touch: Comrade Putin’s party won 99.4 percent of the vote in an election in which 99.5 percent of the eligible voters were supposed to have participated. (The other 0.5 percent are probably a head shorter by now.) Josef Vissarionovich would be proud.

Inescapable conclusion: The more Russia changes, the more Russian it remains.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.