In the evening of Monday, March 6, the day following the presidential elections, I was walking along Tverskaya Street, the key downtown Moscow artery linking Red Square with the square where the protest rally was about to take place. Along the way, dozens of military and numerous heavily armed riot police stood by as if Russia's capital was at risk of a major enemy invasion. Observing this ominous entourage was no delight, nor was I happy about the election results.
Still, deep inside, my heart cheered. I knew that in my state of discontent I was by far not alone, and that was pretty encouraging. Everyone in my wide circle of friends and acquaintances, including those who live abroad, had gone to cast their ballots the day before. Many, myself included, went out to vote for the first time in a very long time (the last time I voted was back in 1996, after I just turned 18. I spent that summer in California. A shopping day in San Francisco was then a strong enough motivator for my three-hour morning trip to the Russian Consulate from the sleepy town of Modesto where I was staying.) This time I was not unique with my choices either - it turned out that no one I knew had voted for "Candidate №1." And now my phone rang non-stop: friends were checking in to see where we could all meet up at the upcoming protest rally. Some of them had not slept the night before, volunteering as monitors at the polls.
So despite the cops and all, it clearly felt to me like a slightly different Russia.
"We observed the ballot casting and revealed fake votes for Putin. And what have you done yesterday?" read a big poster at the rally. A good-looking couple in their mid-20s was holding it — they reminded me of the election observers I had met at my neighborhood's polling station the day before. Some were really young as well. I did ask Anna, a soft-spoken 26-year-old physics researcher who sported a sizable photo camera, a digital recorder and a large notebook, what made her give up the entire weekend for the sake of observing the elections in which the outcome was rather predictable. "I feel responsible for what's going on in the country and wanted to make my contribution," Anna, working at the poll in affiliation with of one of the presidential candidates, Mikhail Prokhorov, said.
This time around, she was definitely not alone. Many of those who also volunteered to observe the elections said they felt the same. "It was my duty as a citizen to make sure the voting went violations-free - at least at my poll," said my close friend Julia, 33, a working mother of two young children who, along with her husband, was up the whole night monitoring the vote counting at two different stations in their area.
It seems to me that thanks to the internet and some other factors which include a relative economic stability, a brand new generation of Russians has emerged. So far they prevail in Moscow and a handful of other big Russian cities. Some refer to these people as the new "creative class" implying their certain education and economic status, others call them "angry citizens" (the term comes from Germany which also recently saw the birth of the Wutbuergers - protesters against the government's unfair policies - phenomenon). In any case, these are the people who CARE. They've got the time, the guts and the drive to question the authorities and to fight against the corruption with the resources available. Their means could range from "angry blogging" to going to courts, to engaging charity initiatives, and to attending a street rally.
Until very recently, I used to think the state corruption machine in Russia was so omnipotent that an individual was hopelessly powerless against it. It's probably still the case, but things have started to change. I observe a growing number of people around me who believe that civil responsibility is first of all an individual responsibility driven by one's dignity and self-respect. These basic principles are essential in the societies with mature democracies, but here, they're only starting to take form. And this, I believe, has got a potential to bring about a major change.
"A country might still be the same but the people are already different," my old friend Katya, who works in finance, agreed. Until recently, such issues as politics and civil duties didn't resonate much for this well-off 34-year-old who enjoys shopping and traveling. Still, in the last few months this young woman has turned into a sassy social activist attending all demonstrations and blogging non-stop. I know dozens, if not hundreds of Katya-likes all over the place. What they are doing could first seem like small things but it nevertheless sets an inspiring example to others.
The changes in Russia seem to have started happening not from top to bottom as they always used to, but from bottom to top. This might be a less speedy, but a safer and steadier evolutionary process. I just hope this metamorphosis is irreversible no matter who's in power.
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.