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Russia

Activist: 'We don't want a revolution'

Xenia Zobchak, a famous TV presenter and member of Russia's opposition, says the anti-Putin protest movement is dwindling. In an interview with DW, she explains the opposition has to offer the people credible reforms.

DW: In December 2011, when the Russian opposition had its very first demonstration with the slogan - 'For fair elections!' - you began your speech with the words: 'I, Xenia Zobchak, have something to lose.' People booed as a reaction. A year on, you are an elected member of the opposition's coordinating council. How did you earn that recognition?

Xenia Zobchak: You can only earn recognition by telling the truth. I hope that I've managed to convince most people over the last year that my intentions are nothing but honest.

What are your intentions?

I want mass protests, free media in our country and an independent legal system. I want us to move towards an extensive perestroika.

Fewer Russians take to the street today in comparison to last year when the parliamentary election was overshadowed by allegations of fraud. Have we seen the end of the protest movement?

In December 2011, the people hoped to be heard. They were hoping that the course would change. They were hoping that the next president [Vladimir Putin, editor's note] would gradually introduce a perestroika when he finally noticed what was really happening in the country. But later it turned out that no one was heard. On the contrary: they tightened restrictions. We're now in a situation where there's no hope that changes can be achieved the evolutionary way. I personally don't want a revolution; only few people would prefer that. The people know that they have to wait six years. That's why they're not taking to the streets.

Have the people given in to the current situation?

There are many people who have given in, but at the same time many haven't. There aren't only 3,000 to 4,000 people who join in the demonstrations organized by the opposition. There are still tens thousands like myself who are willing to take to the streets. But aside from going to demonstrations we also have to work on a real program. We have to show that we don't just criticize the government, but that we can offer a real alternative.

What do you want to offer?

The coordinating council of the Russian opposition has to develop big political reforms, with a reform of the legal system, and basic changes to the constitution.

All the suggestions will be published online. Is that it?

We don't have access to the media. It's not fair to criticize the opposition and say we are not doing anything. The opposition simply doesn't have the channels and platforms to become active. We're closed off from all the possible discussion platforms like the big national television channels. And within the existing system all the possibilities to be promoted are closed off for people who have views that diverge from the governing rhetoric. If you're promoted it's mostly not because of your professionalism, but because of your loyalty to the system. If you have a dissenting view, you have no chance to gather necessary hands-on experience in the public structures, simply because you'll be kicked out of the system. But if you look at Latin American countries, experience tells us that after long autocratic periods changes can still happen, but only after there has been a split within the elite.

Could the Russian opposition split the existing elite in the country?

I don't think that the opposition can influence this development. The elite can only split itself. It's when a part of the business elite understands that it's in their interest not to support Putin any longer that we'll see a split.

Does Russia's elite consist of just politicians, or does it comprise business figures as well?

In our country big business is tightly interwoven with politics. It's an oligarchic structure that many people oppose. There are a few business people, but we're increasingly talking about state employees. Under the cover of state regulation, the government simply doesn't privatize certain business areas. And so, state employees have become the new oligarchs.

In Russia, Xenia Zobchak is a famous TV presenter. She is the daughter of Anatoli Zobchak, the former mayor of St Petersburg, and is a committed member of the opposition.

Interview: Andreas Brenner / nh

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