"There Are More of Us Than It Seems," reads the cover of the latest issue of Bolshoi Gorod ("Big City"), a popular Moscow weekly. The much-hyped slogan, printed in red over bright yellow, takes up the magazine's entire page. Inside, a number of pages are dedicated to similarly attention-grabbing, red-and-yellow slogans, tackling Russia's burning issues: the need to reform the army, to free those jailed for financial crimes, to guarantee the freedom of street assembly and fair elections, to name a few. Several experts, including a lawyer, a prominent businessman, a big publisher, a human rights activist, a top economist, a hospital director, and a teacher each give their detailed perspective on how to improve the country's poor state of affairs.
I really like this magazine and try to pick it up whenever possible (it's distributed for free throughout many Moscow restaurants, cafes and bars, and other public spots). It usually has good reporting, and is an edgy, one-of-a-kind Russian version of New York City's The Village Voice.
But still, the magazine's opening slogan left me somewhat perplexed.
I began to wonder who, exactly, are "Us?” The 99%, an allusion to the Occupy movement’s "We are the 99%," motto? Those who disapprove or openly oppose the newly elected president and the ruling party? But how about those simply discontent with how things are in the country right now but lack the enthusiasm to publicly voice this sentiment, preferring today's relative stability as a trade-off to the food shortages and high crime rates of the 1990s? And what about the so-called "rest of Russia," a notion widely used these days by both the ruling elite and the opposition alike?
"Russia is a great country, and the only problem is its people," once said Valeriya Novodvorskaya, one of the most radical liberal politicians in Russia who'd been an ardent protester since the early 1990s. It’s a rather bold statement, but it's also shared by many in Russia. It's quite common, especially among the many Muscovites I know, to oppose themselves to "the people," those inert "masses" of the Russian population who still use state television as their main information medium? (The latest Russian Statistics Committee data indicates that an average household in Russia boasts at least 1.5 TV sets, whereas 55% of households don't have Internet access and 47% of those polled on the matter said they don't need Internet at all.)
For long, many – myself included – liked to pretend that the Russia we dislike does not exist. Frequent trips abroad with a back-up emigration plan, jobs in multinational companies, cosmopolitan friends and a lifestyle similar to that of our Western peers let us enjoy this escapist stand with an air of apologetic reductivism.
The issue of drastic cultural as well as political, mental, socio-economic – you name it – divide in Russia has actually been used and abused on multiple levels lately. Those in power have been keen to elaborate on the "rebellious Moscow" and the more loyal and complacent "rest of Russia" as two different planets.
This divide, however, does exist. To me, it seems especially telling when I look at the online reactions to controversial political articles, regardless of the media's affiliation. The commentators, most of them anonymous, attack those with differing opinions with utmost arrogance, aggression and even hate. This Internet phenomenon, labeled “Shitstorm” in Europe, is rapidly emerging here as well.
"What ninety-nine percent of the human race want – food, shelter, a secure family life and to be left alone by bosses and busybodies. Unfortunately the one percent who are interested in power and ideals and ideologies are the ones who call the tune," writer Aldous Huxley wrote in 1947.
"Shitstorming" provocations aside, I think a rather unified overall sentiment of dissatisfaction does prevail in Russia today, and it’s much more powerful than the purported cultural and socio-economic gap. When I travel outside Moscow and speak to people outside my circles, I find that, regardless of the education level and economic status, we all are concerned about more or less the same stuff: safe roads, decent schools, trustworthy healthcare, the elimination of corruption, and many other institutional challenges we find in every corner of the world.
Some call for a radical regime change, while others still believe in miracles of another Putin term – but most are ready for reforms.
So I guess we're all in the same boat, aren't we? I just wonder if those to whom the "There Are More of Us Than It Seems" slogan was addressed realize this.
The views expressed in this column are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
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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.