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A Russian Election Party

Desiree Cooper

Sanden Totten

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Together We Will Win!
(Oleg Nikishin/Epsilon/Getty Images)
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Ilya Merenzon: Yes. We are shooting for themed martinis. Like a "Putin Martini" and a "Medvedev Martini." We'll see how they turn out. We are still working on the components.

Desiree Cooper: Yeah, what's going to be the difference between them?

Merenzon: I think Medvedev is going to be a little sweeter. I think.

Katia Gaika: (Laughing) We'll they definitely are going to be very dry, both of them.

Merenzon: And not stirred.

Will you be voting on Sunday in the Russian election?

Merenzon: I think I will. Not because I want to try to influence the outcome of the election. It's unlikely that I will be able to. But elections here are kind of a nice custom. You go to the consulate, you vote. Russian consulate actually happens to be, I think it's a territory of the Russian federation, so it's like going home for five minutes.

What about you Katia?

Gaika: I'm tempted to vote against everyone. You know, to be controversial, for the sake of it. I almost forgot about our election because I was in such a fever with what is going on now in the United States. And then I realized that, oh, we actually do have an election too.

Young people are really making a strong showing in the primaries here in the United States this year. Do young people vote in Russia? Is that a growing trend?

Merenzon: Generally, the young public doesn't care about voting that much. But actually for a young person, for a student say, there is a good chance to make a career in politics. So those young people join some sort of political parties. And they are quite active, but they are definitely not a majority.

Gaika: But you know the trouble with those organizations is that they are often being paid to be there and they are not really passionate. So it's a question. Yes, we do have movements, and youngsters somehow are getting involved, but it's not the movement of the heart or social consciousness.

Merenzon: Yeah, it's totally pragmatic.

Gaika: It's pragmatic.

Merenzon: But still young people do take part in voting for different reasons. Some get paid, some get food stamps or something.

Well, both of you then have been here long enough to experience at least your second presidential election. What has surprised you most about the democratic process here in the United States?

Merenzon: Well, my surprise is that actually democratic elections happen to work. Coming from Russia I saw the elections but I couldn't believe that in fact people can effectively choose a leader through the elections. Plus, it's kind of an entertainment too. And both parts of the process fascinate me.

You've used the word entertaining, that the American election is entertaining. Is that what you are talking about, like the level of engagement?

Merenzon: Well to my mind, in the American elections there is drama. You don't know the outcome. And that is why it is kind of entertaining. In Russia there is one major candidate. It is heavy favorite Medvedev. And to Russians it is really hilarious. There is no drama left.

Both of you have gone back to Russia since you have come to the United States. Politically speaking, how are you different?

Gaika: I would say that I have become less cynical in a way. Because I realized that what we have today is maybe what we need to have. "We" being Russia as a country. We never had the history of fighting for the right to vote. The whole culture is not instilled in Russia yet. It's not a part of our DNA, let's say.

So I realized it's not about me being educated and striving for change and for better things. It's also about the Russian people and what they need. And if they need to have stability and food in supermarkets, and if today's government can provide that, maybe this is okay.

And then, a couple generations later when people realize there are other values that are even more important than stability, then they will build a better government; they will choose different people.

It sounds to me a bit, Katia, like they are in a process. And the experiment isn't over yet. It's just beginning.

Gaika: This is my hope. And that is why I am trying to remain optimistic, you know.

Merenzon: While living in New York.

  • Music Bridge:
    King Me
    Artist: Antietam
    CD: Opus Mixtum (Carrot Top)

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