Inside the Belly of the Beast

The entrance to the Russian State Duma, decorated for New Year’s.

This semester I took an elective course in English about Russian Political Parties. As a sort of grand finale, our professor took us on a private tour of the Russian Duma, the national legislative body. She is an adviser to the Just Russia Party (“just” as in “fair”). It was surreal being at the heart of the might Russian government… which like governments everywhere turned out to be just a lot of offices!

Nevertheless, I’m so glad I went, as it is yet another thing I have done this year which I never thought I would do!

The most interesting part was the displays that the different political parties put up near their office headquarters. I noticed that many of the photos focused on the man who founded the particular party, and that there was usually a picture of the leader shaking hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Even for opposition parties, it is best to associate themselves with the president because of his continued popularity.

A display for United Russia, Putin’s party.
A display for Just Russia, a Democratic Socialist party
Literature from the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. It says, “Russia-USA; The Russian state as the target of global capital”
Leader of the LDPR in a poster near their offices

United Russia, i.e. Putin’s party, i.e. the party of power, holds the vast majority of seats in the Duma. They thus control laws around campaigning, elections, press coverage of politics, and funding. Because of this silent control, my professor is pessimistic about her own party, or any others for that matter, ever mounting a legitimate challenged to United Russia in the foreseeable future. Her glum attitude and the hollow political displays added to the surrealism of being in a political center that doesn’t have a lot of politics happening in it, at least, not in the way I’m used to.  However, I hope for the best for my welcoming host country, and I feel extremely grateful for the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look. Even if it will probably make the background check for any government jobs I apply for really complicated!

Russian word of the day: голосовать (guh-luh-sah-vat) to vote, from the word golos, meaning “voice”

The Brown Girls Take Moscow!


In front of St. Basil’s Cathedral in red square with my mom


Last week my mom came to visit me! We hadn’t seen each other since August and I was so excited to show her around. Unfortunately, I got a nasty cold almost as soon as she got here. But we tried not to let that put a damper on our time together. We ticked off almost everything on her to-do list (including 3 ballets!), and we were both exhausted after our week-long “vacation”.

About to try Adjarian khachapuri for the first time, which she said was the best thing she’d ever had!

It was good for me to see Moscow and my time here through the eyes of someone taking it all in for the first time. Obviously, as my mom, she and I are going to think similarly about things. But it was also nice to have some things I was thinking validated and confirmed. My mom also thought it was weird that each escalator in the metro has someone employed to watch it…

By the Moscow river, Kremlin in the background

Because my mom doesn’t speak Russian, I did almost all the planning and navigating around the city. Being here with someone who has the same knowledge of Russian that I did two and a half years ago made me realize that I really have made a lot of progress. Sometimes in a city full of native speakers it is easy to be overwhelmed by the mountain of Russian I still don’t know. Seeing how far I have come was encouraging.

Thanksgiving in Moscow

My mom was also kind enough to help me cook a Thanksgiving dinner for some Russian and international friends. We couldn’t find a whole turkey, so we stuffed a big chicken and got a huge turkey leg! Everyone really enjoyed the food, and my host mom made the most beautiful pecan and apple pies that I have seen in any country. We even introduced some new foods; in this land of root vegetables, some of my Russian friends had never tried sweet potatoes! Although it wasn’t an exact recreation, I feel that we captured the spirit of the holiday. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it calls on us all to be grateful for what we have. If I counted my blessings, it would take all day, so I’ll just say thank you to my mom and all my friends, new and old.

Love, Emily

Russian word: Спасибо огромное (spa-see-ba oh-grohm-no-eh) Thank you so much