Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Name of Russia

Sorry to any readers left cold by yet more Russia-centric coverage, but the results of the Name of Russia poll (essentially a transported version of the BBC's Great Britons) are worth a look, either here in a well-written Guardian report, or here in the original.

The results are interesting less for the winner (medieval prince Alexander Nevsky, a safe choice) than for the strength of passion and number of agendas involved. In the end, Nevsky pipped Tsarist reformer Piotr Stolypin to the post, with Stalin coming a close third. However, the poll became more controversial than a Strictly Come Dancing phone vote with a nameless Blue Peter kitten thrown in, as the government, the Communists and even the Orthodox Church weighed in.

The various machinations surrounding the poll provide a fascinating portrait of the various forces at work in modern Russia. Putin's support for Stolypin was emphasised quietly but firmly (an uncharacteristically frank aide admitted that since Stolypin wasn't certain to win, Putin could not afford to support him more openly). Stalin had a commanding lead until the programme's own producer launched an 'anyone-but-Josef' campaign. The Man of Steel's performance here was quite likely due to his rehabilitation under Putin as a strong leader who did only what was necessary, and the fact that viewers could vote as many times as they liked, which the Communists seized upon.

The various figures were each presented to the public by various Russian luminaries, including a former general and 1991 Communist coup plotter for Stalin, a film director and personal friend of Putin for Stolypin, and for Nevsky - no less than the leader of the Orthodox Church in Russia. The British equivalent was Jeremy Clarkson.

Since this was a TV vote as well as a Russian election of sorts, it was bound to be dogged by allegations of vote-rigging (a victory for the rather bland Nevsky, after all, sends out a message that is rather better for business than a Stalinist triumph). It also opened the way for the delicious spectacle of disgruntled communists bemoaning a lack of democracy: "[The result prompts] the same level of trust as in the central electoral commission", one party spokesman said.

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