20 years under Putin: a timeline

C.I.: But these factions of the opposition that you just listed, they differ quite a bit. 

E.C.: Yes, the do.

C.I.: How can they unite? Is this realistic?

E.C.: Of course it’s realistic: anyone can unite against a common enemy.


C.I.: But this “coalition” would fall apart just as quickly as it came together.

E.C.: Yes, it would. That’s correct: such different currents cannot coexist for long. But at the same time, look at America: in America everyone is very different. But when you have a culture of cooperation and respect--because beating each other up only because you are a member of the right and I am a member of the left and we call each other marginal and fascist is a lowly culture of interaction. If things developed the ideal way, in the way we want them to, people would learn to respect each other, learn to understand who is the real enemy because this title would be applied to the people who steal the future of our children and our country’s resources, and we would work against this common enemy.

C.I.: Can you be more specific? Do you think such a union is possible in the near future?

E.C.: I’m afraid that in the near future, meaning in time for the upcoming elections, this is impossible. But it’s what we should strive for.

At Anti-Seliger we were able to come together to one site and just talk. I understand that this was not some sort of united action, it was just a meeting, a discussion, a dialog. But we were able to assemble people with incredibly different political views. And they all sat on one lawn and there were no mutilations or deaths. Everyone stayed within the norms of acceptable conduct. I think this means a healthy dialog between various political movements is in the making. I really want to continue this tendency. I think that the topic of the environment, of protecting nature, is above everything – right, left, blue, red…we all breathe. The environment, in my opinion, is the topic that can unite all different kinds of people.

C.I.: Your position on these social issues is deep and thought-out, which, I would say, is atypical for most Russians. Would you agree? How was your active and progressive worldview formed?

E.C.: I have to say that I was not an involved citizen for the first 30 years. I thought, like all ordinary Russians do (you are correct here), that if I can never influence politics in my country, why should I be interested in politics at all? I wasn’t interested in the fall of the Soviet Union, in what is happening in the Caucasus, in our war with Chechnya, in anything. To reiterate, I was absolutely convinced that because I could never influence these events, it was senseless to be interested in them.

But then when I saw that where I lived, where I planned to walk with my baby stroller, they were planning to build a Moscow-Saint Petersburg highway, and I understood that one of the big officials – specifically Governor [Boris] Gromov – made the decision about construction without any concern for my opinion, then something changed in my relationship to politics. I understood that I didn’t want it to be this way. I didn’t want others to make decisions for me on how I lived my life.

C.I.: How quickly did this change in your consciousness actually happen?

E.C.: Practically overnight, as if I suddenly woke up. Since I run my own business (a small engineering company), I have a solid understanding of taxation. It was very difficult for us to make payments: taxes are very high in Russia, and if you pay them honestly, you are left with no profits. Our taxes are like in Switzerland, but the government service – like in Rwanda. So we worked solely for a salary, and all the profit went into paying taxes. I became very upset that a government official, who lives on my taxes, used my money to take away something so dear to me. I was so outraged that I began taking active measures.

C.I.: What conclusions have you drawn from your experiences interacting with authorities?

E.C.: Five years of reflecting on what is happening to this country led me to understand that on their own, our authorities are neither bad nor good, but are simply what we allow them to be. It’s the same way in personal relationships: your partner is neither good nor bad, and you influence his behavior by your own actions, in many respects. It’s the same way with the authorities. If you allow them to bully and mock you, they will continue to do so. But if you don’t allow them to do so, they will stop. We have completely spoiled our authorities with our amorphousness and vegetatative state. And because we’re not interested in the least in what it is happening even on the attainable, local level, on the level where actions begin to directly affect us and our families. Our apathy has no limits. Do you remember the saying “if you don’t do politics, they start to do you?” Our politics treat us in whatever manner they want. And this takes monstrous forms.

C.I.: Why do you believe there is such a large passive population in Russia?

E.C.: There are many, which also include historical reasons. Practically all active people, who tried to assert themselves and do something constructive for Russia, ended up either emigrating, in prisons and camps, or were simply killed. This was not only under [Joseph] Stalin and the communists. This was under Peter the Great, Ivan Grozny – it has always been this way.

C.I.: What (and how) can the opposition do against Putin’s propaganda machine? It has to be beat somehow.

E.C.: I think that we should take measures which are compatible specifically with our people. It’s stupid to expect that we will one day take to the streets like in Egypt or Libya. I’m actually afraid of this scenario because I don’t believe in revolutions – they don’t bring happiness to the people. I believe only in evolutionary transformations, which change people’s mentalities. Only changes in mentality transfer into long-term positive changes. To work on peoples’ consciousness, it’s important to seek out and to find methods which are applicable to people at that moment. I really like what Alexei Navalny does. He found such a good way to get people people, a way which, on one hand, helps them fight, and on the other, doesn’t require them to lift their butts off of the couch. You can sit in front of the computer in the comfort of your own home, and simply by clicking boxes on the internet, you fight swindlers and thieves. And it’s not scary – you are not going out on the street, you are not fighting an OMON [Russia’s Special Purpose Police Unit]. I really like Navalny’s approach; it’s the right one. We are also seeking methods to combat “vegetation.” We are trying to turn the Russian "vegetables" into the active citizens.

C.I.: What concrete methods do you use?

E.C.: We’ve tried flashmobs, meetings, strikes – all the conventional methods. Now we’re trying out civil forums. This method, on the one hand, allows people to meet in an informal setting (like in Anti-Seliger, where we were set up against a gorgeous natural backdrop), and on the other, to seriously think about our problems. People had a very good weekend at Anti-Seliger,. We came up with a very good cultural program, which was also very clever. People could listen to good rock music, we had Sam Klebanov come and also Alexei Navalny, Boris Nemtsov, Serezha Mitrohin, Lena Panfilova came for political discourse…I also partook in that. We also had Zhenya Mironov come, though we didn’t invite him – he came on his own; we were very pleased. It was great, and we really liked this form of conversation. But I think that we also need to use the internet and the press (we have our own paper). We need to seek out new forms of communication with people, and not just say: “our people are so bad!” It is what it is, at least for the current moment.  

C.I.: What is your organization’s goal for 2012, after the “elections?”

E.C.: Our goal is to protect the nature in the north of Moscow: Khimki forest, Sheremetevsky forest, Zavidovo national park, Sonechnogorskiy forest... This goal is not just for one year or two years, since right now, all of Moscow’s protected forests are in danger of being exterminated. Our goal is to protect these forests.

C.I.: Understood. These are very extensive, grand goals. But how specifically will you achieve them?

E.C.: We will continue the type of work we’re doing now. We won’t give up. We will conduct our political campaigns and take all the necessary measures to keep the public engaged. If we hadn’t raised these issues, I doubt that they would have been of interest to anyone. Maybe only to a few individuals.