David Frum

12.11.12

Nurturing a Patriotic Opposition

Jeffrey Gedmin pays homage to Elena Nemirovskaya, a leading Russian democratic activist, and her institution, the Moscow School of Political Studies:

The roundtable is packed, with additional participants sitting shoulder to shoulder in a back row around the walls. Nemirovskaya, with her robust intellectual and physical presence, plays the role of chair and mother hen. She shushes colleagues who chat in the corner behind her. She takes control of conversations at key moments to frame an issue (on "Pussy Riot," the feminist punk rock group that had been staging anti-Putin performances until several of its members were jailed, "the reaction was disproportionate to the action," she tells participants).

I'm struck by how earnest the students are. They come mostly from various parts of the Russian Federation (there is, in addition, an attendee from Georgia; two from Poland, at least one from Ukraine). The group seems to be equally balanced between men and women. Astonishingly, no one falls prey to the posturing or preening that haunts most Western conferences.

One student asks a speaker for a balanced assessment of Wikileaks; and gets one. Another wants to know about opposition leadership in the regions. One young woman asks why there's no apparent public interest in an imprisoned colleague of hers. Is there "freedom fatigue"? Most of the people here are the same people you'd find in Moscow street protests these days. One participant bristles at the idea that Russia's democracy movement is just about well-to-do Moscovites.