NEW YORK – In mid-December, while trying to understand what was happening in Russia, I checked Twitter and found a tweet that somehow signified everything. It was from a young woman, and it said, in Russian: “Gotta sleep! Tomorrow I go to [face] peeling, then to meeting, and then to shopping.” All three words – peeling, meeting, and shopping – were in fact the English words, rendered in Cyrillic.
What this reveals is that the Russian protests – called “mitings” – are no longer just for old people, radical extremists, or jobless, unskilled, feral youth. They are for sociable people who have time and money not just for politics, but also for shopping and, yes, even cosmetic procedures.
That is a big change from just a few years ago. My Russian friends – many of them computer programmers, but also some shoppers and business executives – routinely dismissed politics as the province of the naive or the corrupt. Many of the older ones chose careers in science (and then software), because it was the only kind of desk job you could get where politics mostly did not matter (and where Jews were allowed). These people avoided politics on principle, but also because they were afraid of losing their state jobs, or of disappearing altogether.
The younger ones were not afraid; they were simply not interested in a spectator sport that seemed irrelevant to their lives. Of course, no one could affect the outcome of a football match, either, but at least it was fun to watch – and the rules were clear. In Russian politics, as the old joke has it, the outcome is fixed in advance, but the rules are unpredictable.