Last weekend's congress of the ruling United Russia party made headlines around the world with President Dmitry Medvedev endorsing Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as the party's candidate for president in 2012 and Putin, in turn, suggested he would name Medvedev as his prime minister, in the extremely likely event that he wins that election.
But beyond the headlines, a lot of interesting things were going on at this highly orchestrated event. RFE/RL would like to provide non-Russian speakers with a guided tour of Russian state television's presentation of the glitzy proceedings to show how the congress was presented to RTR's millions of viewers across Russia and the former Soviet Union.
Up to 2:17:
The first two minutes of the report present on-the-spot interviews with some of the minor celebrities
attending the conference. The main thrust of all the interviews is that United Russia is now a new party, full of fresh faces and new ideas that have been brought in from across Russia by the party's much-touted primaries
Long criticized as a party for bureaucrats and by bureaucrats, United Russia is trying hard to present itself as a party with deep roots and mechanisms for ordinary people to have influence. Opera singer Maria Maksakova, who has become one of the most active celebrities in the party in recent months, said she is particularly pleased that more and more people are being "drawn into the discussion" and that they "don't just criticize the government but themselves participate in decision making."
2:27-3:10: State Duma speaker and longtime party leader Boris Gryzlov turns the floor over to popular actor, writer, and producer Vladimir Mashkov, who delivers an impassioned and patriotic speech. "Russia has given me everything," he says. "And I am indebted. And I came here to pay my debt. This is my duty. It is our duty to do what it takes so our children and grandchildren will be happy in our country. It is our duty before our fathers and grandfathers, who gave their lives so that we today could live in Russia. We can do this. All of us together."
03:16-36: "Putin and Medvedev appear in the hall together," the announcer declares.
A clip from Medvedev's speech returns to the theme of the "renewal" of the party, after the announcer points out that the president thinks United Russia has very good chances for an "unqualified" win in the December 4 Duma elections. Medvedev points out that he proposed the primary system in his speech to the party congress in 2009. At 4:17, Medvedev has a bit of trouble keeping a straight face when he says: "Among the delegates to the congress, there are many new and just attractive faces. And that is very pleasant." The next cut immediately goes to Putin getting a standing ovation as he approaches the podium (the joke going around Russia these days is that Medvedev ordered United Russia to come up with some new faces, so Putin had plastic surgery
04:30-08:00: Excerpts from Putin's "program" speech (he'd already made his speech accepting the party's nod to run for president). He calls for the "complete" rearmament of the army and navy, attracting into that process not only traditional military-industrial enterprises but more companies from the private sector. He emphasizes that the "state tender" is one of the most important tools for the modernization of both the military-industrial complex and the "entire economy of Russia." State arms orders will be done three years in advance, "so that enterprises can plan better." He restated his long-time goal of Russia becoming one of the world's top five economies within five years. Putin gets applause (5:58) for proposing that the rich need to pay more taxes than average citizens. He says Russia will not change its 13 percent flat income-tax rate, despite "criticism" that it is too low.
It is worth noting that state television showed about 40 seconds of Medvedev's speech (about the same amount of time it gave to actor Mashkov's paean to Russia), while presenting 3:30 of Putin's address.
08:15-08:50: Deputy Duma speaker and party leader Oleg Morozov stands up and proposes that United Russia adopt the speeches of Medvedev and Putin as the party platform for the December legislative elections. "It is a program with which you can enter a debate with any opponent because the truth is with us," Morozov declares. "It is a program with which we can and must win, and we will do that."
08:53-10:34: At this point the helpful announcer steps in to assure us that it has now become "completely obvious to even the most skeptical political analyst that there are no disagreements in the tandem of Medvedev and Putin. The coverage then cuts to Putin expressing his gratitude for the party's nomination of him for the presidential election. As the congress delivers a standing ovation and Putin says he is counting on their support, the camera (09:24) shows a grim-faced Medvedev nodding, clapping, and quickly sitting down. Then Putin continues, urging all Russians to vote for United Russia in the Duma elections and to support its candidate list, headed by Medvedev (another cut to a grim Medvedev at 09:49; this time he is the first to stand up for another standing ovation). At 10:00, Putin really goes out on a limb and says, "I'm sure United Russia will win." He then expresses confidence that after the victory, Medvedev will be able to form "a new, effectively functioning, young, energetic, authoritative team" that will "continue the work on modernizing all aspects of our life."
10:40-11:33: At this point coverage cuts away from the podium to show what is being discussed "behind the scenes." By that, apparently, they mean what is happening in the United Russia press room, because we are then treated to clips of various party functionaries speaking before ranks of microphones and assuring us once again that Medvedev and Putin are one team, working in complete harmony. It is worth noting the logos on the microphones -- Gazprom-owned NTV, state-controlled Rossiya, state-controlled Channel One, state-controlled Zvezda, state-controlled RT (Russia Today), state-controlled TV-Tsentr, state-controlled Vesti. Party official Andrei Vorobyev tells us that Putin's announcement that the party will form a government after it wins the election is a step forward for Russian democratic development.
11:35-12:48: Then comes a truly bizarre bit. The congress must vote on the party list, to be headed by Medvedev. Although the film shows delegates voting by holding cards or by openly filling out forms in full view of their neighbors, Putin announces the results of the "secret" ballot. "For - 582. Against - one," Putin says, followed by a trademark smirk (11:57). At 12:02, footage cuts to Medvedev, who has a hint of a smile and looks down. A small group of senior officials, including Medvedev and Gryzlov, then stands to applaud while the rest of the hall is strangely silent. At 12:18, Putin announces that the party has to "confirm" the results of the secret balloting with an open show of hands. When he announces, "who is opposed," at 12:27, he looks around in vain for the one naysayer from the first ballot. "And where is that one person?" he jokes ominously as the hall giggles nervously and everyone starts looking around. "Where is that…" and there is a long pause as the hall expects one of Putin's trademark "hang him by the balls" zingers, "…dissident." After some applause and laughter, Putin adds: "And why should he show himself?"
12:58-13:55: Now the announcer begins describing the party list of the "renewed" United Russia as the screen flashes pre-prepared images of the top names on the party's regional lists -- First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov, First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, Deputy Prime Minister Vyacheslav Volodin, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shogu, Natural Resources Minister Yury Trutnev, presidential administration head Sergei Naryshkin. None of them, of course, has any real intention of serving in the Duma. At 13:12, it cuts to Shogu saying what everyone else must be thinking: "I don't see anything at all surprising in this."
13:57-15:16: The report ends with Medvedev. "I would like again to sincerely thank everyone who is present at this congress," he says. "We are united by the most important thing -- we want happiness for our country. And we love it very much. And that is why we will win, and not anyone else." The unsubtle implication -- anyone who opposes United Russia does not love Russia. At 14:36, the announcer follows another round of praise for United Russia's open and fair primary system by stating that Medvedev and Putin said several times that "their political strategy was agreed upon a long time ago." The coverage ends with Putin and Medvedev together at the podium, thanking the delegates and walking off into the sunset with Putin in the lead. At the very end, announcer Olga Skabeyeva comes on camera to once again assure viewers that United Russia is undergoing "real renewal."
-- Robert Coalson