After December 10, a few editors at Afisha had indeed discussed quitting their jobs and going into community organizing, but in the end it just wasn’t feasible. Everyday lives are taking over. Filipp Dzyadko is getting married on February 4, the day of the next scheduled rally. And everyone is leaving town for New Year’s through at least January 10. It’s not clear how fired up one can remain after a trip to Bali.
"They had their own forgatherings: they, over the goblet of wine, they, over a glass of Russian vodka … for trenchant oratory famed, the members of this group assembled at unquiet Nikita’s, at circumspect Ilya’s." —Alexander Pushkin, describing the 1825 Decembrists’ uprising
Beyond that, the future holds several possible scenarios. One is that the League of Voters, an organization into which the Orgkomitet is now mutating, begins a dialogue with the sitting government and gets it to address at least a few of the protesters’ grievances, under the threat of—what else?—more protests. Despite the help of Kudrin, the former finance minister, who has offered himself as a go-between, this appears unlikely. Even Putin’s offer to sit down with Akunin and Bykov was tinged with his trademark derision. The overwhelming odds suggest that, on March 4, Putin will be reelected president. Since the protesters are (at least officially) focused on “honest elections,” not the president’s ouster, a relatively clean win will leave the movement without an immediate unifying cause. Another scenario is that something goes very wrong—a protester dies in custody, say—fueling the opposition movement and opening the door to a wave of violent demonstrations and recriminations. Both the Kremlin and the protesters seem emphatically uninterested in this outcome. For the moment, anyway, Moscow does not appear destined to be the next Cairo or Tripoli. The most likely eventuality is a steady drip of incremental change over the next several years, patterned after the Soviet Union’s collapse and most of it improvised at the city or region level. Since Putin’s brand of oppression is built on a kind of systemic self-hypnosis—there were never any mass purges, just a handful of show trials and corporate takeovers after which everyone else has gotten the message—it is uniquely susceptible to the reverse process: people spontaneously deciding, en masse, that defying Putin’s will won’t cost them too much.
Late on Christmas Eve, the night of the Sakharova rally, I decide to walk back to the place I’m staying, a ten-minute stroll from Zhan-Zhak. As I’m ready to cross the Garden Ring, a vast avenue that circles and psychologically defines the city’s center, I see a multicar cortège make its way from the Kremlin to the Parliament. Traffic in all directions has been stopped by the police. It can only be Putin or Medvedev. Two years ago, I had the quintessential Moscow experience of getting stuck in the kind of power traffic jam these closures can cause, waiting for at least 30 minutes before that black G-class Mercedes whipped by. My cabbie suffered silently, muttering to himself every once in a while. So did everyone around us. Not tonight. As the presidential posse hangs a turn toward New Arbat, a vicious chorus of horns, pressed at once by seemingly everyone from here to the horizon, greets it head-on. A frozen symphony of hate and frustration hangs in the air. The traffic is not moving an inch, but at least there’s the noise.