“We call it the revolution of the expensive boots,” she said. “The protesters were dressed well, people with good jobs and comfortable lives. Now we can say, hey, we’re here. At last, we’re here.”
Russians grow up learning how to maneuver in the corruption that surrounds them. They are born into hospitals where staff members depend on bribes, they pay for success in school entrance exams, and they slip rubles to the police during a traffic stop. For most people, it’s the discordant background music to their lives, irritating but tolerable.
Those who dare enter business cross into a whole new dimension, where the petty daily bribes turn into hefty stacks of hundred-dollar bills and a company pays up or dies. Those who refuse often find themselves in jail, and they either knuckle under or turn radical and fight, like Vladimir Osechkin.
Osechkin, the son of a cardiologist and a newspaper man, grew up in Samara, a city of more than a million on the Volga River. In 2003, he came to Moscow, seeking his fortune. He worked with a friend to buy used cars at auctions in the United States, ship them to Finland and have drivers bring them to Moscow, where growing paychecks fed a ravenous appetite for well-made foreign cars.
Then, Osechkin, now 30, made a mistake. He discovered that a Porsche Cayenne had been stolen, and he had the effrontery to go to the police. There, he fell into a web of officials demanding bribes.
In April 2007, he was charged with fraud — accused of having the car stolen himself. He was told, he said, that the case could be settled easily — if he paid $150,000. He refused.
He had been living well, making payments on a million-dollar apartment, driving a Mercedes 500. And then he was in jail, his business seized, his apartment gone. He was held behind bars for four years.
By the time he emerged, he didn’t care about millions of rubles or Porsche Cayennes. “I wanted the truth,” he said.
Since then, he has assaulted the legal system with a flurry of complaints and appeals, but he spends most of his time fighting for the rights of the prisoners he left behind. He has a Web site called gulagu.net — a play on words that means “No to the Gulag” — on which friends and relatives of prisoners can share reports of abuses and encourage one another to persevere. Working with two others, he has a small but growing human rights organization.