Russian Election: Standing by Putin as They Bury Their Dead
Womack, Helen, The Independent (London, England)
ON INTERNATIONAL Women's Day, the people of Sergiev Posad went for a mass stroll in the streets, as is the Russian way on public holidays. The sun glinted on the golden domes of the town's ancient monastery and the golden arches of its new hamburger restaurant while, in Soviet style, loudspeakers blasted out patriotic tunes.
Last Wednesday, all outward evidence was gone that Sergiev Posad had just buried 20 of its sons, members of a special police unit killed in a guerrilla ambush in Chechnya. "That's life in Russia," said Vladimir Zakharovich, an engineer, out walking with his wife, Irina. "Feast day and funeral, funeral and feast."
The ambush showed the Chechen conflict was far from over and could become as much of a drain for Moscow as the war in Afghanistan. But on the eve of Russia's presidential elections, far from sowing doubts among the people of Sergiev Posad, formerly known as Zagorsk, the loss had made many of them even more determined than before, to punish the Chechens and pursue the war to the bitter end.
"Only the physical liquidation of every last bandit will be enough," Mr Zakharovich said. "We have tried every way to deal with them reasonably. But they have taken our people hostage, they have cut off the fingers of our children. We need to finish this once and for all or Chechnya will trouble us endlessly." Did that mean that when he went to the polling booth to help choose the next president on 26 March, he would vote for the man who has punished Chechnya, Vladimir Putin, the acting president?
"Oh no," he said. "I agree with Putin on Chechnya, of course, but we have to think about the economy as well. I shall vote for Yavlinsky [Grigory, the liberal reformer]. I have been voting for him for several years."
What about Irina? "She won't vote for any politician. She believes that the individual makes his own destiny," Mr Zakharovich said. Did Irina not wish to speak for herself? "Oh, he's always right," said the ginger- haired Irina, eyes twinkling with laughter. She obviously knew how to deal with her pompous husband.
No votes for Putin, then, in the Zakharovich household. Since Boris Yeltsin retired early, naming the ex-KGB agent his chosen successor, Mr Putin has had such a built-in advantage over the other 11 candidates that his victory has seemed a foregone conclusion. …