As the dignitaries, foreign ambassadors and other VIPs make their way to Spaso House (the official residence of the American ambassador in Moscow) for the U.S. inauguration party in Moscow, ordinary Russians and thousands of expats are celebrating the inauguration their own way.
Starlite Diner, the American restaurant near Moscow's Oktyaberskaya Metro station, is filled to the brim -- two hours before the inauguration. Smoke-free and serving quesadillas, it is no wonder Starlite is a favorite hangout for expats (especially Americans). The election watch party hosted by Democrats Abroad in Russia drew hundreds of supporters. For being former Cold War foes, Russians are surprisingly supportive of Barack Obama. Speaking with law students from Moscow State University tonight, I am struck by their knowledge of the American electoral process and their familiarity with the 2008 election. As we search the CNN screens for Obama, one Russian student actually picked out Rep. Xavier Becerra and Kucinich in a line of congressmen filing in. Perhaps this is self-selection at work; those most interested in American politics all meet together to watch the election. But there is something much bigger at play too.
I received a call earlier from a Russian student whom I met while lecturing at the Higher School of Economics, Alexander Korkunov. He invited me to a small house party which he and his friends were holding in his apartment. A grassroots U.S. inaugural watch party in Moscow -- the thought! I regretfully declined the invitation but spoke with him at some length. He wanted to know how so many people could gather in the capital without any threat of violence and whether this threatened the government in any way. The first question made sense. Political protests in Moscow are guarded by OMON, the special police in ratios that sometimes eclipse 10 to 1. That's ten guards for a given protester. With over 25,000 police officers in D.C., we have more troops in the capital than in all of Afghanistan. But the latter question betrayed a deeper ambivalence about the political situation at home. Nonetheless, spontaneous watch parties across Moscow is an encouraging bit of news.
The Beast, an unpleasant name for Obama's limo, just pulled in to the Capitol and I must go to the screens. But before I go, I must say how impressed I am by the technology which makes all of this possible. Ari Melber's coverage of the netroots movement underpinning Obama's campaign is prizeworthy. But lest we get lost in the ones and zeros on Barack Obama's 3 million strong Facebook group and the 2 million strong forest of supporters who are in D.C., it's important to remember the personal stories that made this victory possible. HuffPo and MoveOn.org's idea to distribute one million name tags to the supporters was a brilliant way to humanize the event. Bloggers from all over the world and all over the country, some writing about their experiences on the campaign trail, some about the unsung heros of the campaign, and others about the reactions to the inauguration from around the world will make this the best documented presidential campaign, inauguration and presidency in American history. Not only is this a boon for future historians, but what an excellent opportunity to bond with one another.
I will post photos and add some more stories from Russia briefly.