A ‘new hope’ for United Russia

Jul 2, 2013
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Not so long ago, in a country not so far way…

It is a period of a civic crackdown. Opposition leaders striking from all sides are trying to win their first victory against an evil empire. But the empire, losing ground on the virtual battlefield, hopes to bolster its forces with a new recruitment drive of … Jedi?

No, this isn’t the cheesy start to some Star Wars fan fiction. This is Russian politics.

Feeling the apparent sting of online criticism, United Russia party officials have put out a call for Internet Jedis to boost the party’s image in the public and to help defend President Vladimir Putin from his online foes.

Does this suggest that Russia’s ruling party officials see themselves as the Jedi Order, or is this a shrew tactic “that aims to find Jedis in order to convert them to the ‘dark side’?

“We need the ‘Jedis’ of the social networks,” the Moscow branch of United Russia announced with the opening of the Summer Blogger School for supporters, Reuters reports. The party is in need of positive online coverage as the announced early mayoral election in Moscow approaches.

Apparently wanting to form a more positive image of the party and to counter widespread online criticism, United Russia is ready to ‘strike back’ at Internet satire and criticism with an army of web-savvy champions. The Summer Blogger School is to provide new media training for the party’s supporters, according to the news agency.

Basically, United Russia is searching for volunteers to promote the party on social networks and to aid the party in the upcoming mayoral elections. In the Summer Blogger School opening speech, the party anointed the volunteers “Jedis of social networks” and “idols of audiences in their thousands.”

But how much would Star Wars fans go along with this reference?

Or rather, would they dub them Sith Lords or just Stormtroopers following orders of the mighty empire?

Putin’s own Darth Vader

Well first off, there’s no doubt Darth Vader would be a member of United Russia. Everyone knows that – including Putin’s own supporters.

The party also has an army of Stormtroopers: youth groups, like Nashi, that come in particularly handy when pro-Kremlin support needs to be shown. This was the case following the 2011 post-election protests when the party shipped activists from around the country in order to express their support near the Red Square. Time reported they defended the election victory of United Russia with the Imperial March.

That answers the question of who is on the ‘dark side’. So then, in Russian politics, who uses the Force for good?

United Russia’s call for Internet Jedis makes an interesting – though backward – comparison of Russia with George Lucas’ space fantasy saga. It’s a cool concept though. So, what if we were to take this exercise further?

The Old Republic

Do United Russia officials really see their party as the Jedi Order? This would be a little bizarre given that the party has been ruling over the country for years now in a way that human rights groups have characterized as “authoritarian”.

Kind of makes you wonder if anyone in Russian officialdom has ever even watched Star Wars. But let us give them the benefit of a doubt – showings of Western movies were not exactly encouraged in the USSR. Maybe there was a Soviet version of the blockbuster movies.

For a Star Wars fan, or just about anyone familiar with the difference between the Galactic Republic and the Galactic Empire, this truly is a strange comparison given recent criticism of the government by human rights groups.

With so many human rights abuses in the country, ranging from protest restrictions to media restrictions, from the crackdown on NGOs to minority rights, the right analogy would hardly be that of the Galactic Republic, but would be much closer to the Galactic Empire.



The Republic was no peach, swimming in layers of bureaucracy and corruption, but at least freedoms were not suppressed by an authoritarian leader.  The same can be said about Yeltsin’s Russia. At first it may have looked like Putin introduced order, and he did – in Yeltsin’s Russia “ crooks and thieves” were running freely doing what ever they wanted, in Putin’s they are all “in United Russia,” according to anti-graft blogger Alexei Navalny. But what Putin really introduced was himself as the Emperor of Russia.

The Empire

Together with his apprentice, Vladimir Putin rules over Russia in a style that could be called the Rule of Two – when one is president the other is prime minister. This style enables them to maintain the appearance of democracy while being de facto an ‘absolute monarchy’.

Analysts say that because real authoritarianism is not in their reach political elites in post Soviet countries have resorted to various ‘political technologies’ order to maintain what they call ‘faking democracy’, or what Putin himself calls ‘directed democracy’.

After December 2011 election nobody doubts Putin as the Emperor anymore. The question is which apprentice is Dmitri Medvedev. Was that him in the Darth Vader costume in the 2011 pro-Kremlin Red Square march?

The ease in which Medvedev replaces Moscow mayors resembles very much the way in which Lord Vader replaces Imperial commanders in the original trilogy. Moscow’s ex-mayor, the once all-powerful Yury Luzhkov, learned the hard way in 2010 that in Russia you can do everything except anger the Sith Lords.

It is a lesson that his successor, current Moscow mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, is trying to avoid.

Sobyanin, a close friend and ally to almighty Vladimir Putin, called 4 June for early elections. He served as the city’s mayor for United Russia ever since his predecessor, Luzhkov, got sacked in 2010 by then-President Dmitri Medvedev. In a Star Wars world, Sobyanin would be some apparatchik of the empire, possibly Grand Moff Tarkin, commander of the Death Star (i.e. Moscow).

Things do not end well for those who anger the Sith Lords in Russia, yet the Rebel Alliance still stands.



The Rebel Alliance

There are those who would wish to challenge the Emperor, yet it is unclear who‘s who in this “small band of rebels”. Who would be Luke Skywalker, and who would be Han Solo or Princess Leia? And most importantly, who would be Chewbacca?

Prominent opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who rose to fame during the 2011 post-election demonstrations, announced his plan to run against Sobyanin in the Moscow mayoral election. Navalny has become the face of anti-Putin sentiment in the country over the past several years, and the de facto leader for a disparate group of oppositionists.

Navalny is incredibly popular throughout the RuNet galaxy, most notably on LiveJournal and Twitter. On LiveJournal, the most popular blogging platform in Russia, his blog trumpets 73,500 ‘friends’, while his Twitter page says he has some 344,000 followers. With the ease of inflating social media stats, these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. Navalny’s real popularity test is scheduled for the 8 September election.

Navalny’s latest project is called RosYama, an interactive website where people report instances of corruption and government inefficiency. A rebel freedom fighter indeed; he has already expressed the ambition to run for the presidential post one day.

Clearly he’s the only choice for Skywalker.



Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov already proved himself as a worthy political challenger, he came in third in last year’s presidential elections. However he withdrew his announcement to run for Moscow mayor, and his Civic Platform party will focus instead on preparing the city legislature election in 2014.  He might make a decent Han Solo.

Rising opposition leader, and winner of the “green Nobel prize”, Yevgenija Chirikova would star as Princess Leia. Her environmental engagement protecting the Khimki forest (i.e. Endor, obviously) has led to her repeatedly ending up behind bars. “Energized by the erosion of support for Putin’s ruling party, Chirikova is breathing new life into Russian civil society’s appetite for political reform,” the Goldman Environmental Foundation said about her.

Jedis and cowboys

Seeing Alexei Navalny as Luke Skywalker may be attractive, as he very much resembles Lucas’ popular freedom fighter. Handsome and allegedly without skeletons in the closet, he earned himself many supporters with his anti-corruption campaign. In the West, Time magazine paints him as Russia’s Erin Brockovich. The embezzlement charges he is currently facing have not done much to wreck his reputation. Somehow I doubt Dmitri Medvedev would be his father (but surprises are always possible).

Sergei Magnitsky, the man who was one of the first to stand up against the evil Empire and one of the first to be sacrificed because of it, would be appointed to the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Both paid the ultimate price fighting a battle they probably knew in their heart they couldn’t win. And both showed up again after their demise to lend support in the fight against the Empire: Obi Wan came back as a spirit/hologram and Magnitsky’s name was attached to that infamous piece of U.S. legislation.

Mikhail Gorbachev would fit nicely as Yoda. The last leader of the Soviet Union recently criticized Putin for the “attack on the rights of citizens”. Gorbachev, who is of deteriorating health, urged the Emperor “not to be afraid of his own people.” The winner of the Nobel Piece Prize is often criticised in Russia “for giving away Central and Eastern Europe.” The wise old man readily responds to such criticism: “But who did I give it to? I gave Poland, for example, back to the Poles. Who else does it belong to?” I wonder what America’s biggest Star Wars fan would say to Gorbachev’s Star Wars role? Perhaps the former TV cowboy would be turning in his grave now.



Just who is who in Russian politics and who resembles which fictional character is an interesting mental exercise. It is also a question of one’s own perception. The Sith, after all, regard the ‘dark side’ as good. I am sure that not everyone agrees with my analogies, if the Moscow branch of United Russia wants to see itself as the Jedi Order, well it is their right to do so. You can do the same, play with your own analogies.

Just who in the world of Russian politics would be Chewbacca is still a mystery to me but I am absolutely certain that the Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov would play bounty hunter Boba Fett, and that the role of the Russian Jabba the Hutt was written for former French actor Gerard Depardieu.


Images created by Josh Boissevain using screenshots from the Star Wars films.

About the Author

Vladimir Matan

Vladimir Matan is an editorial intern at Transitions Online. Majoring in sociology and anthropology, his interests include media-audience relations, new media, citizen and civic journalism, media ethics and human rights.
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