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Russia: Vote, because this time it matters.

“There was a fire burning in their eyes when I returned home after the Orange Revolution”, a Ukranian-Canadian friend recounted, referring to the protests that toppled the government after a rigged 2004 election. As our own election nears, I want to communicate something important to my fellow Russian citizens, at home and abroad: This time, you matter. Your voice makes a difference. You can change your country for the better. I had a front-row seat to both John Kerry's loss to George Bush, and Obama's victory over McCain. I know what it looks like when change is on the way, and I can smell a future election loser's intellectual stagnation and consequent retreat to arguments that lost credibility years ago.
Vote, as a first step on a tough road. We all know that it's corruption we're angry about, and we also learned the hard way, that change takes more than casting a ballot or overthrowing a despot. Democracy is a delicate balance of institutions and personal values that takes a generation or more to build. Well, I can see it all around me – the people are ready to take charge of their country, and there are systems in place to support it. Medvedev's government passed a law that adequately defines corruption, and provides a mechanism to identify and prosecute it. I know it's easy to be skeptical. But this law allowed the public to point at thousands of public officials, call them out by name, and say when, how, and approximately how much they stole. It gave rise to Russia's first watchdog, one who is widely considered credible and independent, answerable neither to Russia's own government, nor to foreign ones looking to keep Russia weak. That's a big deal! Even the head of Russia's branch of Transparency International is optimistic[2].
Show up and vote. It's too early to talk about victory or regime change. This election is first and foremost about demonstrating our self-worth as a citizens, and asserting our status as active stakeholders in our country's future. Every government, even the most cruel, rests on the implicit support of the often silent majority of its citizens. It has to, because there are not enough guns in the world to silence an entire country, and Putin knows this. His administration is obsessed with opinion polls[1], and they cynically manipulate policy and project their rhetoric to a captive audience to maintain their numbers. But folks aren't buying it. I'm mad as hell and I won't take it anymore. So is everyone around me. People talk about change at work, to salespeople, strangers, on the Internet, everywhere. I can count with my middle finger the number of United Russia supporters I know.
So wherever you are in the world, vote to kick Putin in the balls, uh, polls. This time, he's going to feel it. If you worry about a future without Putin, you need not: he is going to survive this round, because there is nobody to take his place. If you worry about nationalists or communists taking over, you need not. Have a little faith in your fellow countrymen and their good sense. By the time Putin goes, the opposition will be united around a leader, and armed with a coherent and sensible set of policy proposals. And have a little faith in your country's future. Vote to light that fire in the eyes of your friends and neighbors.
You can vote on Dec 4th at Russian embassies and consulates abroad, generally from 8am to 8pm local time, and many cities have other polling sites, albeit with reduced hours[3,4]. New York City has a total of four. If you are not registered to a residence in Russia, only a national or international passport is necessary to vote.

[1] “Before voting, Russian leaders go to the Polls.”
[2] “Поводы для оптимизма: Елена Панфилова об успехах борьбы с коррупцией.”
[3] Голосование в США:
[4] Голосование в Канаде:


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