Kharichev, general director of the magazine Knowledge Is Power, was among 17 writers and public figures who signed the pro-Medvedev letter.
“We still know little of D.A. Medvedev,” it said. “But we have been able to get a good understanding of who Mr. Putin is. We do not like what he did to Russia in the course of two presidential terms. And we see no justification for his ambitions for another two.”
The letter writers argued passionately for Russians to at least make themselves heard, to let Medvedev — and Putin — know that the president has support.
“It is necessary to help him to move in the planned direction,” they wrote. “Otherwise it will be all too Russian: What we have we do not cherish, and what we have lost we lament.”
Kharichev said he understood that if Medvedev remained president, Putin — now prime minister — would remain the decision-maker, but at least he was doing something.
“Some just don’t get involved,” he said. “Some go to rallies. But there are not many of them. Not many are willing to go to a rally where they can be beaten up by the police. Others talk about immigration — if they have the means, they will leave.”
For the rest, the choice is Medvedev.
“Under him we would have more chances,” he said. “I would rather be in the opposition under Medvedev than under Putin.”
The letter was published in the investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which at first refused it, Kharichev said, because the editors thought that both Putin and Medvedev should be removed. But acknowledging that was unattainable, they agreed to print it.
“The circulation is only 200,000,” he said, “but those who think about the future of Russia read it, not those who drink every evening or watch television soap operas.
“We did what we could.”
‘Get someone else’
Most people pay little attention to any of this, alienated from all things political, giving Putin license to decide who will occupy what office. Others care but feel isolated and powerless, convinced that the individual can do nothing to change the politics here.
Sitting on the edge of her narrow bed in a small apartment where books tower from floor to ceiling along every wall, Marietta Chudakova refuses to surrender to that frustration.
A 74-year-old professor of Russian literature, an admired expert on the works of Mikhail Bulgakov and a political activist, she signed the Novaya Gazeta letter.
“Look at Medvedev; he’s not perfect, so get someone else,” she said. “That’s the way people think. The Bolsheviks promised heaven on Earth, and that’s what people expect. Utopia is like a drug, a very strong drug. Even the gulag didn’t change that idea.”
Putin wants to restore the old Soviet ways, Chudakova said, but she refuses to live in that kind of a country. She teaches, she lectures, she publishes books, she writes articles, delving into politics and literature, ideas, history, the stuff of life.
“I don’t think I can do anything about the adults,” she said, “but I won’t let them spoil the teenagers.”