Plastic masks of Putin and Medvedev are among the unusual campaign methods being used to secure victory for the Kremlin party, United Russia. It's their reaction to falling poll ratings.
The Medvedev Girls have grabbed headlines in Russia
On an open air stage in the center of town, around three dozen young men and women are dancing to Russian pop music, dressed in black trousers, white shirts and red-and-blue ties. It wouldn't be so unusual, except they're wearing masks: the plastic faces of Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. That's how they celebrated the day of national unity at the start of November in the city of Khabarovsk, in the far east of the country. The local branch of United Russia, which is the largest party in the State Duma, described it as an "unexpected flash mob."
Alienated from politics
The Medvedev/Putin duo is looking for youthful support
The bizarre figures of "Putin" and "Medvedev" hopping around on a provincial stage marked the start of the main phase of the Russian election campaign, leading up to the poll for the State Duma on December 4. The ruling party, United Russia, is the firm favorite, but its two-thirds majority no longer seems so secure. Polls have shown the party is falling in popularity among the voters. According to the independent opinion pollsters, Levada, 51 percent of Russians say they are planning to vote for United Russia. At the start of the year, 60 percent of those who had already made up their minds indicated that they would vote for the party.
Stunts like the one in Khabarovsk are supposed to appeal above all to young voters, says Andrei Busin, who works for "Golos" ("Vote"), an independent association to protect voters' rights. The aim is to persuade younger people, who tend to be skeptical of the Kremlin, to vote for United Russia. But Busin does not believe that such tactics will have an effect. Most young people in Russia feel alienated from politics. More than 60 percent say they are not interested in politics, according to a study by the Russian "Fund for Public Opinion." That applies in particular to those aged 18 to 29.
Satire on Youtube
Experts say that television, controlled by the government, won't do much to influence the situation. That's why United Russia is trying to use the internet. The clip of the dancing Medvedevs and Putins was quickly uploaded on to Youtube. However, it's only had limited success, with under 8,000 hits. Most of the comments make fun of the politicians, with a number talking of a "scandal."
That's not the only way United Russia is trying to gain favor among young voters. President Medvedev, the party's front runner in the Duma elections, recently met with selected bloggers.
Crude, but funny
This kind of approach has had a varied response from young Russians. Artjom Loskutov says it's all a reaction to a wave of forceful criticism of United Russia on the web. The 24-year-old film maker and blogger from Novosibirsk is taking part in the Deutsche Welle project, "Generation 2012." From the flashmob in Khabarovsk to Medvedev's meeting with bloggers - for him it all seems "crude" and "unreal."
"Even if such campaigns improve in quality, United Russia will hardly be able to bring the Internet users over to their side," Loskutov writes in his DW-blog.
Young Russians would rather surf the internet than watch television
"Internet users are much more critical than passive television audiences. There is so much information on the Internet which is not available to television viewers. And there is far less censorship, very few forbidden topics and more democracy," he writes.
But not all internet activists react critically to the unusual methods of the Kremlin. Another DW-blogger, 24-year-old student Alexander Gusev from Rzhev near Moscow thinks the stunt in Khabarovsk was funny. "I think the flash mob was interesting, simply for the reason that it was aimed at a young audience," Gusev writes. "Our government duo has shown that it can make fun of itself." He added that that was a good way of getting to young people.
Breasts and boos
But when it comes to reaching the youth, not everything has to be digital, say Kremlin strategists. For months, the showy "Medvedev Girls" and the scantily-clad women of "Putin's army" have been making headlines in Russia as they campaign for the president/prime minister team.
Not every attempt to inspire Russia's youth to vote ends in success, however. At the beginning of this month, a benefit concert featuring the legendary Russian rock bank "Mashina Vremeni" turned into a scandal when the host all of a sudden tried to campaign for "United Russia." Looking for cheers, he only got boos and jeers.
Author: Roman Goncharenko / ji, glb
Editor: Michael Lawton