"Only a tiny percentage of the population takes part in civil society, about 1.5 or 2 percent, at the level of statistical error.
“Now, we can speak as much as we want,” says Sergei V. Kanayev, head of the Moscow office of the Russian Federation of Car Owners, “but they don’t listen. It’s useless and very sad.”
People feel powerless. “Nothing depends on us,” they say in Russian.
“Ordinary people do not believe in anything, and they don’t trust anyone,” Kanayev says. “The entire society is silent and passive.”
“We raised the Russian flag over the White House, and there was huge euphoria,” he says. Alexander Yakovlev, who had devised Gorbachev’s policies of perestroika and glasnost, “had the briefest but strongest comment. He said, ‘You are all very happy over your victory, but others will come and seize your victory.’ And that’s what happened.”
One day this summer in St. Petersburg, Oleg Basilashvili, a much-loved actor, sat brooding over the past, chain-smoking in his prewar apartment, a bay window at one end of the parlor and a baby grand at the other.
Basilashvili had spoken at Yeltsin’s inauguration, summoning forth the magnificent Russian past, the land of Peter the Great, Pushkin, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, and heralding the new, free life that lay ahead.
Today, there is no clear idea of where the authorities want to take the country, he says, no idea of what kind of Russia is being built on the ruins of the Soviet Union, only a sense that they are trying to destroy whatever happened in the 1990s.
“That’s no basis for a state,” he says in his actor’s rich baritone voice.
Russians have forgotten much about that time when choices seemed so simple and hope lay ahead, untarnished.
“If, 25 years ago, someone had told me I could buy any book or even a computer without restrictions,” says Dmitri Oreshkin, a political analyst, “that I could work or not work without going to jail for not working, that I would be able to write whatever I want, that I could travel wherever I want, I would have been very happy. And I probably wouldn’t have believed it possible.
“Now, 25 years later, I don’t think I have enough.”