Comrade Stalin once explained, not without a healthy dose of cynicism, that it wasn’t how votes were cast, but how they were counted that mattered.
Comrade Putin begs to differ, as far as the first part of his idol’s maxim is concerned. How votes are cast is also important to him, if only to make the counters’ job more straightforward.
This week’s regional elections in towns around Moscow illustrated Comrade Putin’s priorities – and also his cynicism, which is quite the match of Stalin’s.
A woman walked into a polling station. Eschewing stealth, she brandished a thick sheath of ballot papers and tried to stuff them into the box.
Her right to exercise democratic privileges was, however, defeated by the design of the box, whose slot was wide enough to accommodate several sheets at a time, but not a stack as thick as an unabridged dictionary.
This design flaw slowed the woman down and she attracted the attention of two death-defying observers, who not only dared to belong to opposition parties but also took it upon themselves to make sure the ballots were cast one by one, and not pile by pile.
The observers citizen-arrested the woman and called the police. However, the cops were beaten to the scene by a black BMW with darkened windows and no licence plates.
The sinister car disgorged several muscular lads who proceeded to beat the observers up and smash their cameras. In that undertaking they succeeded so spectacularly that the two men ended up in hospital with broken ribs, busted noses, concussions and cranial injuries.
Having done their bit for democracy, the BMW lads vanished. The police arrived, confiscated the ballot papers and oversaw the removal of the blood puddles on the floor. Subsequent requests of the observers’ colleagues for the release of the evidence, including the CCTV footage, were turned down.
Meanwhile, Irek Valdanov, Chairman of the Electoral Commission for the Moscow area, explained what had really happened.
The observers, according to his truthful account, were Nazis, specially trained in Poland to disrupt Russian elections, which, as everyone knows, are fairer than anywhere in the world, most emphatically including America.
He didn’t opine that therefore the sooner the Russians attack Poland yet again the better, but one could detect the connotational longing.
Do you get the impression that Russian elections are more fun than ours are going to be on 7 May? And the fun doesn’t stop at the ballot box.
Sergei Naryshkin, Speaker of the Duma (Russian parliament), came up with both a realistic prognosis for the future of Europe and a practical proposal aimed at bringing this future about.
The prognosis was that, sooner rather than later, the European Union would be incorporated into the Russian Federation. The statesman didn’t specify whether the incorporation would be voluntary or otherwise, giving the impression that it really didn’t matter one way or the other.
As to the proposal, Mr Naryshkin suggests that, by way of the first step towards joining Russia, the Europeans should kick the United States out of Nato and hence out of Europe. That step, he felt, would hasten making his dream a reality, and he was probably right.
America’s withdrawal from Nato would indeed make Europe ripe for Russia’s plucking. Suddenly the boasts by Putin and his henchmen about the limited number of days it would take Russian tanks to arrive at the Channel begin to acquire a touch of realism.
Mr Naryshkin has a bit of an anti-American and anti-European chip on his shoulder, being one of the Russian officials barred from entry to those places. That no doubt rankles, and one can understand his desire to get his own back.
However, American tourists are still free to travel to Russia and they must be ecstatic to see that many Moscow shops now boast doormats designed in the pattern of the American flag. Since Americans tend to feel rather sentimental about that institutional symbol, one doubts they enjoy the sight of Russian shoppers wiping their feet on the Old Glory.
In my day, Russian manufacturers eschewed such elaborate designs, just as Russian TV programmes didn’t feature open anti-Semitic slurs. Hints, yes, allusions, definitely, but never open invitations to “bugger off to the Promised Land”.
These, however, were exactly the words addressed by one guest on a popular RT1 chat show to another. The ethnically Jewish guest screamed bloody murder but found no sympathy from either the host or other guests. He then did a Robert Downey Jr. and stormed off the set, probably wondering whatever next.
As ever imitating life, Russian art ably assists Putin in communicating the key points of Russian democracy, or actually the only point that matters: Putin.
Masha Rasputina, a pop singer who looks like a brothel employee pushed into management by old age, has just produced a video recording of this song: https://www.facebook.com/almat.malatov/videos/vb.792089599/10153294335199600/?type=2&theater
The Russophones among you will no doubt be hanging on to every word, but even the linguistically challenged will be able to appreciate the overall presentation, complete with a giant backdrop screen portraying Peter Hitchens’s role model. In broad strokes, Putin has gone Stalin one better.
Comrade Stalin was happy to be portrayed as the leader of the world’s proletariat, the teacher of mankind and the condensed embodiment of every human virtue. But he balked at claiming divinity, or letting others claim it for him.
Comrade Putin has no such compunctions. Hence Masha Rasputina’s rousing lyrics include an entreaty to Putin “to pray for Russia, as all Russia is praying for you”. ‘To you’ is what’s clearly meant here.
And there I was, thinking that the Russians have become so devout overnight that they are actually praying to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen. They may be, except that the Russians have historically found the Trinity unnecessarily limiting.
In the past, they sought a fourth hypostasis in Sophia, the Wisdom of God. Now they seek it in Putin, the Wisdom of Man. Religious worship too is fun in Russia, as much as democracy.