From, Nov. 18, 2023, Complete text:

Recent presidential elections in Russia have truly been astonishing productions. The highest act of the manifestation of civil will is framed to look like a tedious duty. But that’s only at first glance: The meaning of voting actually lies on an entirely different plane.

Four months remain until the election, which will presumably be held on March 17, 2024. The dates of other levels of elections in Russia have been shifted for various reasons [over the years], but in the 21st century the president has invariably been elected in March, just like in 2000, when Vladimir Putin was elected in an early election after [former Russian president] Boris Yeltsin resigned [see Vol. 52, No. 13, pp. 1‑7].

Four months of indifferent waiting for a result known well in advance. At another time, or in different countries, the election campaign would already be in full swing, but we still do not have a single candidate who has announced their participation (desire, intention, etc.). Well, okay, it’s not about ambition. What ambition could there possibly be here? Journalists aren’t even asking anyone any questions. Everyone is putting a lot of effort into pretending that there won’t be any election at all.

They only bug [Russian presidential spokesman] Dmitry Peskov about this from time to time: What’s up with the boss? Has he made a decision? I mean, you never know.

Small bubbles are already coming to the surface, of course.

For example, the other day [For the Truth leader] Zakhar Prilepin broke down under the tension and announced that he had joined “Putin’s team” (Why only now? Why didn’t he join before?). What exactly Prilepin joined, who the other members of this team are, who set it up and what they are working on remain unknown. If memory serves, there was a PutinTeam in 2017 that hockey player Aleksandr Ovechkin was hired to advertise, but I’m not sure that’s the same as Prilepin’s. That one was made up of athletes, artists and musicians. That pointless team, however, did nothing memorable, and team isn’t even the right word now – it’s more of a regiment.

A false start caused by the worm of fear – what if they don’t take him, forget about him, pass him over, shortchange him or don’t notice him at all?

The greatest nightmare for a loyalist, the most unbearable feeling, is to see how others no better than you are raising their glasses at a banquet of chosen ones and you’re not among them.

“You are not on the list of patriots.” Ouch! So it’s better to raise your hand higher in advance.

This kind of thinking is understandable: The directors will certainly, as usual, pull together some kind of campaign movement to support the current president, so it would be a good idea to jump in there. We did have the “For Putin” movement in 2007, but it somehow wasn’t useful then. And in 2011, Putin himself announced the creation of the All-Russia People’s Front, which still exists through some staggering force of will, even though no one has any clue why. But there doesn’t really seem to be anywhere further to take this, except, perhaps, to an all-planetary international front with an invitation for [Chinese President] Comrade Xi [Jinping] to lead it.

It seems that one of the main points of the election is to give a slightly wider circle of people the chance to somehow lean toward Putin, to be “included in the lists” (which are quite extensive – 1,500 or so trusted confidants; it’s unlikely that Putin has seen them all, and he would probably be quite surprised to learn that he trusts them all). This chance used to come once every four years, but now it’s once every six years, which is probably why its value is higher.

The vast majority of these people will not appear in this campaign in any way, shape or form, but that’s not important: What they crave here is not love, but a gift, the feeling of being a special person.

In a world of special services, special modes of transport and special operations, this is confirmation that you are alive.

Grab this chance, don’t miss out on it! The moment of triumph is fleeting and won’t last more than a couple of months. No one will even remember [you] after the election, but the photographs will remain.

For the people, the point of an election is slightly different. For the people, an election is first and foremost the moment when a supreme power appears – and here the act of voting signifies not the manifestation of will, but a rare opportunity to touch the leader in spirit, even if just by putting a check by his name on the ballot. The citizens are participating in the same ritual as the president, just at the grassroots level, which ought to enhance their self-esteem.

And this isn’t because the Kremlin is theatrically hiding the obvious or that it has some doubts about whether Putin will run or not – it’s more because the moment of appearance must have a certain sacred ring to it.

For the average person, the presidential election starts when Vladimir Putin announces his participation in it – which may be why it happens at all – and marks the beginning of the next cycle of world renewal. This time, by the way, the Kremlin proclaimed this quite literally, no longer satisfied with any Putin 2.0 or 3.0.

Naturally, the screenplay envisages a ritual that includes the stage of “great lament,” during which residents of the country must plead with the head of state however they can to once again assume the presidential throne. This ritual has been known since the times of ancient Mesopotamia: During the previous stage, the king would go into seclusion for several days, as if to make it known to his subjects that he would not return unless the gods willed it, only to return triumphantly the next day after all the lamenting and sacrifices.

Of interest, by the way, is another Babylonian custom – the “stand-in king” (some sources use the word zogan), who was brought into the palace for a short period at times when the real king could have been in danger. It was as if he repelled all the blows of fate, while the true king at the time was imbued with strength. All the candidates in the election aside from Putin are in a certain sense also protective figures. They will naturally not be allowed to assume the throne for even one day, but for ritualistic purposes they are pressured by electoral commissions, criticized in the media and online, prosecuted for crimes and so on. Their purpose, in other words, is to absorb all the traditional negativity of an election campaign, and that’s the full extent of their role.

Since this brings no benefit whatsoever to the zogan, who can expect only ceremonial aspersions in the best case (like Ksenia Sobchak) or immolation in the worst (like, for example, [RFCP candidate] Pavel Grudinin, who was made an example of after the 2018 election), it’s not easy to find candidates for this honorary position.

There have recently been rumors about attempts to involve Grigory Yavlinsky or Boris Nadezhdin in the matter, although Zakhar Prilepin may be more suitable. He clearly has enthusiasm, which is in short supply these days.

Because the head of state also assumes the status of just another candidate during an election (even though he is still in office), he is believed to have reduced powers during this time, which explains the desire to make the campaign as short as possible.

This is probably how ethnographers and social anthropologists will interpret the Russian elections of the early 21st century in about 200 years.

Presidents in our time are thankfully spared the ceremonial trials of running to prove physical strength or prostrating themselves before the gods. The high priest was supposed to slap the kneeling king across his cheeks until tears came to his eyes, because tears were considered a sign of heaven’s favor. Although, if we recall Putin’s tears at a rally after his victory in the 2012 election, then we may be able to draw an analogy here and replace the running with an Epiphany plunge into ice-cold water.

In general, though, there’s a recklessness to [Chechen President] Ramzan Kadyrov’s proposal to temporarily cancel the election due to the lack of an alternative to Putin. In a society of traditional values, a ritual, especially one that concerns a supreme power, is definitely not something that can simply be dispensed with, even if it bears a name whose meaning has been irretrievably lost.