View from Vladimir could be the clincher

The Kremlin cannot afford to ignore the provincial vote, writes Phil Reeves

Vladimir - We were sitting in the restaurant of an hotel in Vladimir, a provincial city where Julia, the daughter of an actor, was born and has so far spent all her 25 years.

Over the past few weeks I had heard a lot from young people about their attitude to politics, and in particular, the presidential election in just over a fortnight's time. But they were mostly Muscovites, the advocates and beneficiaries of reforms. What I wanted from Julia Smolnikov was to know what life was like for young people outside the liberal-leaning cosmopolitan centres of Moscow and St Petersburg. What was it like out here, in Russia's answer to Northampton or Coventry?

Her grandfather had been a big wheel in the regional Communist party, a sincere Leninist who had declined to feather his nest so like many others in the nomenklatura. "People say to us `Surely you have some money from him?', but we got nothing." She owns no car, and no property. When she goes on holiday this summer to Germany, she will travel on a $60 (pounds 40) coach ticket and then get a temporary job, to pay her way home. Her biggest treat is being able to buy music cassettes and eat chocolate.

Although it seems a peaceful place, full of greenery at this time of year, her home city is not without problems, beyond the usual alcohol epidemic. Every now and then, the mafia burn down a street kiosk - the principal street outlet for vodka, beer, sweets and newspapers - for failing to pay protection money. But not long ago they murdered a businessman she knew. Ms Smolnikov carries a can of Mace in her handbag.

She lives alone in a room provided by her university, where she works in the department of international relations. As her monthly salary ($80) is the price of dinner at a half-decent Moscow restaurant, this is all she can afford. This did not seem to bother her much. "I don't need all that much, and if I want more I can find ways of earning it." She works as a guide, a teacher, and a translator when the opportunity arises. "People have to take responsibility for themselves."

In the December elections, she didn't find time to vote. In the Vladimir region, some 180 miles east of Moscow, the Communists came first in the parliamentary election, followed by the ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky's party. This time, she intends to do go to the polls, although she has yet to make up her mind whom to support.

She regards the vodka-loving Boris Yeltsin as "unpresidential", hates his "bad, uneducated" Russian, and fears a second term would bring a re- run of the Brezhnev years of stagnation. She knows some smart young, progressive Communists at the university but fears that Gennady Zyuganov's Communist- nationalist bloc contains too many extremists to be a desirable option. "I would rather have my freedom than their cheap sausage."

She was, she said, mulling over her choice. So are thousands of other young people around this vast nation. As more of them are more sympathetic to Mr Yeltsin than to Mr Zyuganov, their decision could be crucial to the Kremlin, which fears the young vote won't bother to turn out.

Thus, its campaign slogan "Vote or Lose"; thus, Mr Yeltsin's promise not to send conscripts to Chechnya and his announcement of higher student grants, and, thus, the spectacle of him dancing at a rock concert this week in the Urals city of Ufa. He knows people like Ms Smolnikov count. The question is whether they think he does.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Jemma Gent: Year End Accountant

£250-£300 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Are you a qualified accountant with strong exp...

Jemma Gent: Management Accountant

£230 - £260 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Do you want to stamp your footprint in histo...

Beverley James: Accounts Payable

£22,000 - £23,000: Beverley James: Are you looking for the opportunity to work...

Beverley James: Accounts Assistant

£30,000: Beverley James: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a person looki...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower