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and protect the people around them—family. Andrei protected his father, and in doing so
learned that “publicity was our protection.” Nadezhda has fought to run a successful busi-
ness, to make money to raise her daughters, and in doing so has learned to call the bluff of
local authorities who try to earn bribes by creating more confusion than people can handle.
These fights matter. The more people like Andrei and Nadezhda realize their individual
rights, their power in the face of authority, the more Russia may change.
I think about the history of the United States. To imagine people elsewhere in the world
checking in on us in 1796 and wondering why we hadn't fully developed our system of
government yet seems ludicrous. It's been twenty-one years since the Soviet collapse—any
criticism we lodge at Russians could be a tad premature. There are dangers, of course.
Much of what we've heard from people could play into Putin's hands. He loves to talk
about how Russians are not ready for true democracy. Maybe that's true, in a way. But if so,
it's not because they are ignorant or naïve or unsophisticated. It is that they need time—and
deserve it—to figure out their own path. The danger is that a leader, like Putin, uses that to
justify anti-democratic policies, which he has already done in some cases.
On our first train trip Sergei and I sat down in Ekaterinburg with Yekaterina Stepanova,
a professor of law and philosophy who had closely followed Andrei Gorodilov's fight in
Sagra. She said that what we witnessed there was a small step in a long process. The key
was not just for people like Andrei to realize their individual rights, but for the young-
er generation—people born after the Soviet collapse—to learn the power of the individu-
al. The more that happens, she said, the more an authoritarian system becomes obsolete.
“What we have now,” she said, “is not the history of a new Russia. It's still the history of
the Soviet Union.”
I have not gotten any clear sense of what the younger generation wants or will fight for.
None of the young people we met—Zhenia in Nizhny Novgorod, Dima in Yaroslavl, Ivan
in Chelyabinsk—are clamoring for Western-style democracy. They love their country, love
Russian traditions and don't seem rushed to sort out the future. And Alexei in Novosibirsk,
thirty-five years old, running a family carpet business and making videos on ski slopes,
says he would clamor more urgently for a different political system in his country only if
things got a lot worse. Sergei and I carry on our journey east from Lake Baikal, which is
the last major milepost in Russia, before reaching the Far East and, ultimately, the port city
of Vladivostok. We are in the dining car of the train, a place with brightly colored curtains
hanging on the windows and Western techno music blaring from a radio at the bar. We find
a seat at a table with fellow traveler, Igor Zakharov. He's forty-four and runs a company in
Irkutsk that builds electric boards for power stations. Igor tells us the government can be a
major impediment for him. He desperately needs a specific part made in the United States
by General Electric. Even though that part has been approved for use by countries around
the world, the Russian government is still working through the bureaucracy to approve it.
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