“They need to be ready when change occurs,” he said. “There’s a big question whether they will be ready to act, or just watch as power goes to the next group of strong people. My job is to keep them awake.”
Yevgeny Roizman was headed toward election to the State Duma, or the lower house of Russia’s parliament, in December, until the Kremlin took a dislike to his party and engineered its collapse just days before Putin’s announcement. Never mind. His office here hums with the kind of constituent service that an American politician could only envy. By day, Roizman intervenes on behalf of villagers harassed by police; by night, he climbs on stage at a hip lounge to lead a youthful crowd in a political discussion with rock-star aplomb.
“Russia is such a huge country,” he said. “I live a parallel life.”
A fight to preserve democracy
A small but determined core of supporters plot with the opposition to keep the motions of democracy alive here, about a thousand miles from Moscow in the foothills of the Ural Mountains. Konstantin Kiselyov, an academic, frequently moderates salon-style political evenings — last week a date-night crowd of about 70 gathered in a jazz club over pots of tea to discuss “Liberalism in Russia, the End or the Beginning?”
“We don’t have a liberal party,” Kiselyov said, “but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t vote.”
Volkov is sure that sooner or later, Putin and his ruling elite will lose control. “When this regime falls apart,” he said, “it won’t be because of us. Either they’ll fight among themselves or oil prices will fall.”
He works in an analogous universe, building what he calls the “horizontal of power,” a jab at Putin’s “vertical of power.” Putin runs Russia from the top down — he even made governors appointed instead of elected. Volkov stays local, reaching out to people across the city and province.
In spring 2010, when construction of a church threatened a much-loved park, he organized a protest that brought 6,000 marchers. Shocked city officials quickly changed their plans.
“It’s not even about saving parks,” he said. “It’s about showing people they can have an effect. I don’t have any illusions about anything greater. It would be too naive. But now when people say they are helpless, that it doesn’t do any good to go out to the streets, I say, ‘Look at the park.’ ”