“There are small windows to achieve success on the local level,” he said. “It’s better than nothing.”
Working on the outside
Roizman, an athletic 49-year-old, was recruited a few months ago to help billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the New Jersey Nets, pep up a party called Right Cause. The Kremlin supported Prokhorov, apparently wanting a veneer of choice for voters tiring of Putin’s United Russia, which won 64 percent of the vote and 315 of the 450 seats in the 2007 State Duma election. But when Prokhorov became too attractive and too independent, the enterprise was torpedoed by a rump faction, which ousted Prokhorov and Roizman.
In Yekaterinburg, Roizman runs a foundation called City Without Drugs, which takes in heroin addicts — considered lazy or weak, not sick — confines them cold-turkey and gives them exercise and work until they are judged ready to leave. His staff enters drug reports from residents into a computer database and passes on information to police, who raid the reputed drug dens with foundation employees in tow.
When people don’t know where else to go, they come to Roizman. One recent morning, two frightened brothers from a village more than 100 miles away turned up.
Artyom Flutkov, 23, and his brother Vassily, 36, had taken a job clearing trees and were driving back to their village late at night when a car with no markings tried to cut them off. They kept going.
“When I stopped, a guy dragged me out of the car and started to beat me,” Artyom said. “My brother jumped out — look at my brother, he’s big — and he easily put him down.”
The assailants turned out to be police in an unmarked car and out of uniform. Worried that they would be arrested, the Flutkovs drove to the city to file a report with the Federal Security Service. “When we realized they were police,” Vassily said, “there was no other place to go.”
It was the middle of the night, and the agents said they should wait until morning. In the morning, they told the brothers to write a report and put it in a mailbox. The brothers went to Roizman.
The police apparently thought the men had stolen some logs, and the brothers had beaten them up pretty well. Roizman got on the phone, calling contacts across the city, trying to intervene before any charges were filed. “Poor guys,” he said. “They had no idea.”
But the brothers knew that once charged, they would be goners. “He wants to save us,” Vassily said. “Once we got here, all doors began to open.”
His Right Cause experience only reminded Roizman of today’s political reality: It’s impossible for a party to exist without the consent of the presidential administration. He has moved on.
“They can take everything away from you,” he said, “but no one will take away things that haven’t been done.”
So he’s expanding his anti-drug foundation, and trying to save the two brothers.
Here in Yekaterinburg, Kiselyov says, people don’t depend much on the newspapers, which are tightly controlled. Here, 45 percent of the population uses the Internet. “Yekaterinburg is a city of blogs and online news,” he said. “This is a city of Facebook.”
Kiselyov is using those avenues to throw small darts at United Russia. While opposition politicians in Moscow are talking about boycotting the next elections, or destroying their ballots, Kiselyov is organizing a vote-for-anyone-but-them campaign. He’s backing the liberal Volkov. In other races, he’s urging voters to look for a decent Communist party member, any honorable alternative to United Russia.