Being politically active is back in vogue.
"If you don't speak up about what you disagree with, always thinking it's impossible to change anything in Russia, nothing will change," Svetlana Dolya, an acquaintance of mine, burst out during our phone chat last week.
Until recently, just like many of her peers, this stylish 29-year-old public relations specialist did not "give a f***k" (as she herself put it) about what went on her country. Her personal life and career took up too much of her time. But when, a year ago, Svetlana became PR and Marketing director for up-and-coming television channel Dozhd (TVRain), everything changed.
For the first time in years, Svetlana watched a news broadcasts on one of the state-run TV channels. And what she saw shocked her.
"I was amazed and terrified, by the way they did the coverage, not showing what was really going on in the country," Dolya said.
In addition to posting politically charged comments on her Facebook page, Svetlana went to a protest for the first time in her life. The demonstration in question was an antifascist meeting that took place in late December last year in the wake of the nationalist riots.
"I didn't even question whether I should go there or not, I knew I needed to be there," she said. "But I never thought I'd be doing something like this."
Neither did I. But it turns out that my friend is by no means the only young hip and successful Russian who's talking about the need to be more socially and/or politically active. And not only talking. It seems that taking an active stand against society is no longer restricted to angry Facebook posts and blogging.
In an essay published in the February 2011 issue of Harper's Bazaar/Russia magazine, Andrey Loshak, a one-time NTV channel star reporter and now a renowned frondeur online journalist, wrote about a new trend among fashionable young Russians of taking a stand against society’s problems.
"Russia is divided in two nowadays: those who are passively discontented with what's going on and those willing to get up and do something. The latter is considered way more cool," said Ilya Zhegulyov, reporter at Forbes Russia magazine.
It seems to me that these days women form the vanguard of the new social activism trend. Take Evghenia Tchirikova who heads the movement to stop a highway being built through the ancient Khimkiy Oak Forest . The mother of two, labeled "a star of street politics" by the media, managed to stir public opinion so much that the president briefly called off construction.
Or take Natalia Sindeeva, founder and director of the above mentioned TVRain, a brand-new breed of television for viewers with a civil stand, which aims to both entertain and raise public awareness.
Or Tatiana Baskakova, an art critic, who organized a major volunteer relief effort during the deadly forest fires in summer 2010 and then posted a letter to Sergey Shoigu, head of Russia's Emergency Relief Ministry, on her Livejournal blog, sharply criticizing the government's inefficient response to the disaster.
"In Russia, it's impossible to be aloof even if you try to stay out of politics; politics gets you in the end anyway," says Ekaterina Ignatova, 36, my former boss at Marie Claire, who quit her magazine job five years ago to spend more time raising her two sons and getting a second degree.
Ignatova lives near Kutuzovskiy prospekt, a major road that runs between downtown Moscow and the lavish oligarch communities outside the city. She is constantly complaining of the traffic disruption caused by VIP cars being given priority passage. So when one day the frustrated drivers started beeping in protest, Ignatova eagerly joined them.
"Next time I'll go to a demonstration,”she said. “I think I’m ready for that now.”
But does an increasing number of socially and politically conscious young people mean we're finally heading towards civil society?
"It seems that so far it has been mostly bloggers and journalists who rush to take a civil stand — either through writing or by attending street protests," Svetlana Dolya from TVRain says. "It still looks more like a party, not the caliber you'd expect in a proper civil society. But we should start somewhere, shouldn't we?"
Russia has always been referred to as feminine and Russian women have been one of the most popular stereotypes of this nation, both positive and negative. But is this an all-male fantasy? Here is a hip, modern, professional and increasingly globalized Russian woman looking at the trends around her, both about her gender and the society at large. She talks and lets other women talk.
Svetlana Kolchik, 33, is deputy editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of Marie Claire magazine. She holds degrees from the Moscow State University Journalism Department and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has worked for Argumenty i Fakty weekly in Moscow and USA Today in Washington, D.C., and contributed to RussiaProfile.org, Russian editions of Vogue, Forbes and other publications.