"I think we should all become volunteers at the next election," my close friend Julia suggested, as we sipped hot spiced wine in my kitchen. It was Christmas Eve and my best friends came over for our traditional end-of-year dinner. Our boys couldn't make it, so it was a cozy girls-only gathering with one significant difference: instead of discussing men, we talked politics. All of us attended the massive demonstration in downtown Moscow earlier that day and we were eager to share our experiences.
Emotions ran high that evening, especially when discussing who could potentially be the new leaders of Russia and what each of us could do to make Russian society a civil society. It was almost as if I couldn't recognize myself and my girlfriends. It’s not long ago since the main topic amongst many Moscow yuppie circles was how to most conveniently escape Russia; either through downshifting, working or studying abroad, or emigrating for good. Another popular option to consider was "inner emigration," a term recently coined by the Russian media. It’s a term used to describe passively retreating to a near total information vacuum, something along the lines of "I don't have anything to do with what's happening in today's Russia."
This term may become redundant, as it seems we’ve suddenly woken up. We started to care and to think proactively. Not only that but we’ve also started to hope. "The country has changed. We've begun talking about the respect of human dignity, which is the basis of any civil society," Yuriy Shevtchuk, a leader of one of the oldest Russian rock-bands known for its open criticism of the government, said at that same 24 December demonstration. The meeting reportedly gathered over 100 000 people, more than any street rally the city has seen since the fall of the Soviet Union.
I also almost don’t recognize my fellow countrymen lately. My longtime pessimism has started thawing. Russian media labeled last week's street rallies, which took place not only in Moscow but across the country, as a "December Evolution." Perhaps the alleged (but blatantly obvious!) election fraud was the straw that broke the camel’s back regarding our tolerance of corruption, propaganda and political stagnation. Or maybe, by the end of 2011, time simply had come for our voices to be heard outside the social media circuits and our kitchens.
Curiously, women seem to be particularly keen on the trend. Earlier this year, I did a column about girls becoming active in politics - http://en.rian.ru/columnists/20110308/162912555.html. But back then, going to rallies and protesting appeared a bold but still rather fringe thing to do, especially for females. Some of the occasional public gatherings seemed more like a private party for true devotees, others, like a potentially dangerous activity suitable for revolutionaries only. Now being politically active is becoming the mainstream.
Having a civil stand and going public about it is becoming cool. Just before the latest rally, a popular Russian online dating company ran a peculiar online ad. It called women, unattached ones specifically, to attend the upcoming demonstration, advertising it as a much cooler alternative to a dating service. "Sixty-five percent of the protests' participants are men, 80% boast an above-average income, 75% have an above-average IQ, and 50% are currently single. So don't miss it!" the ad said. Many of my single girlfriends did admit to spotting eligible guys there and some actually made a few promising acquaintances. Many of my female colleagues at Marie Claire magazine and other glossies, who couldn't make it to the rallies kept justifying themselves, saying "I'll definitely go next time.”
Some of those who made it to the meeting bravely marched alone, despite their second halves belonging to a different political camp. Chief Editor of Hello! Russia Magazine, a trendy socialite, who used to frequent mainly fashion shows, celebrity and VIP art-gallery openings, showed up at the rally even though her husband, a popular actor and a staunch Putin supporter had ardently rallied for the latter at a United Russia convention just a few days prior. Another woman, Bozhena Rynska, a famous society pages writer and one of the angriest and loudest opposition voices in the Russian blogosphere also joined demonstrations' activists. "Just recently, I might have been ashamed to get out on the street with an obscure crowd but now the time has come to do it," she confessed in a TV-interview.
I asked my friend Julia if she believed rising civil activism could change anything in Russia. A fixer for the Moscow bureau of a top Dutch newspaper and a mother of two, this woman has been incredibly busy lately, distributing leaflets in her neighborhood, writing blogs and reposting protest related information online. "Facebook activity alone might not bring significant results but showing up may," she said. "If all go out in the street and stand for what they believe in, things will change."
In the midst of the all the protesters, I spotted a young woman holding a large poster that said "I want to have kids in a free country." I found it one of the most inspiring slogans there. Fighting for such an ephemeral thing as freedom is a new and challenging thing in Russia and most experts predict a very difficult year ahead. But what seems certain already is that we'll make sure our voices are heard.
And that is, indeed, encouraging.
The views expressed in this column are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
Russia has always been referred to as feminine and Russian women have been one of the most popular stereotypes of this nation, both positive and negative. But is this an all-male fantasy? Here is a hip, modern, professional and increasingly globalized Russian woman looking at the trends around her, both about her gender and the society at large. She talks and lets other women talk.
Svetlana Kolchik, 33, is deputy editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of Marie Claire magazine. She holds degrees from the Moscow State University Journalism Department and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has worked for Argumenty i Fakty weekly in Moscow and USA Today in Washington, D.C., and contributed to RussiaProfile.org, Russian editions of Vogue, Forbes and other publications.