Russian Election Fraud Protests, Applying Thoreau’s and Lincoln’s Logic

     Anti-Putin: Protesters hold a red banner reading 'Rot Front' during the rally against Sunday's election results

     Lately the news seems to be filled with updates on the latest protests across the world, from Occupy Wall Street protests in the U.S., to election credibility issues in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Russia. More specifically in Russia’s case, issues centering around election fraud claims, begs the question as to what Lincoln and Thoreau would argue is the best course of action given the instability of the situation. Furthermore, taking Vladimir Putin’s perceived stronghold on virtually all of Russia’s state affairs into account, how can the Russian people realistically achieve political change, provided these recent failed elections?

      The current protests in Russia have been described as a direct challenge to current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and his vast political power. Putin’s political career includes time as Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation (CIA head equivalent), acting Prime Minister (1999-2000, and 2008- present), as well as President (2000-2008), allowing him to root himself in the center of Russian politics over the past decade. Hence, recent Duma election protests, in which his United Russia Party (founding member), maintained 238/ 450 parliamentary seats, have raised serious questions regarding Russia’s democracy (dailymail).

     Currently, Russian protests span across country, with tens of thousands gathering in Moscow to directly challenge supposed rigged election results. The protests so far have been mainly non- violent, although police- protestor clashes have occurred with minimal arrests. So, what should be the next course of action?

     In regards to Abraham Lincoln, it seems that he would not consent to these protests, as he would view these protestors as a mob, trying to impose “mob law”. Lincoln argues, “…although bad laws, if they exist, should be repealed as soon as possible, still while they continue in force, for the sake of example, they should be religiously observed”. Thus even though Lincoln may view Russia’ election fraud as grounds for immediate political change, he would argue that they should still be realized through legal means, likely through Russia’s courts, similarly to the hotly contested 2000 election which was decided in Bush v. Gore.    

     Thoreau on the other hand would clearly argue in favor of Russian civil disobedience, yet the extent of which is unclear. Russia’s seemingly unjust and crooked system, would be more than sufficient for breaking the law, as Thoreau views laws in general as arbitrary and illegitimate, and the result of flawed ‘conventional morality’. Does this mean he would support a violent Russian insurrection? Thoreau argues in favor of John Brown, “I think that for once the Sharps’ rifles and the revolver were employed in a righteous cause. The tools were in the hands of one who could use them” (133). In this statement, Thoreau contends that there is a time when one is justified in resorting to violence, if it is for a “righteous cause”. So it seems that Thoreau would view Russia’s situation as an instance where violence could be employed to overthrow an unjust system. Thoreau adds, “The only government that I recognize…is that power that establishes justice in the land, never that which establishes injustice” (Thoreau 130).

     Russia’s growing protests since last Sunday’s election, have forced current Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (a member of the United Russia Party) to order an election fraud investigation. However, how credible these investigations will be, remains to be seen. Thus, it seems that in order to gain the desired results, these protests should continue and further demand for an independent inquiry, preferably by a body outside of Russia.

     So given the seriousness of Russia’s situation, what do you think should be done? Should Russian citizens put their faith in the Russian democratic process, given allegations of fraud and corruption, to resolve this issue? How do you think Lincoln and Thoreau would approach this issue?

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