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Opposition Waits
Despite Media Reports That the Street Protest Movement Is Losing Steam,
Some Say the Energy Is Simply Being Channeled Elsewhere
Joe Crescente - Russia Profile - russiaprofile.org - 4.4.12 - JRL 2012-62

While prospering as a musician over the length of Vladimir Putin's tenure, 36-year-old Billy Novik, a pediatrician-turned-blues musician, a follower of Tom Waits and the leader of the eponymous St. Petersburg-based "Billy's Band" thought his personal cynicism toward domestic politics was somehow permanent. Now, along with many others, he claims that the protest movement woke him from political slumber.

Billy Novik never thought anything would change politically in Russia. "I was certain that one had to live peacefully and quietly with the authorities as some kind of a fact of life, that nothing could be changed, and I had nothing particularly constructive to offer. I was completely apathetic from the point of view of civil society. I did not see any politicians who could talk in language that I could understand. A couple of times I tried to figure out who was who, but every time I would fall asleep," he said recently while on tour in the Urals.

But all this changed with the announcement in December of last year that a serious candidate would challenge Putin in the most recent presidential elections. "Everything began with the appearance of Mikhail Prokhorov on my horizon. His gestures, speech, level of culture, and, most importantly, his ideas, woke me from my social slumber and gave hope that politics could be the work of honor," said Novik.

In the month since Putin won a convincing victory in the presidential contest, many analysts have predicted that ordinary Russians would resign to their previous cynicism, the protest movement being less of an awakening and more of a momentary lapse of apathy. Once the smoke cleared, they argued, all would go back to normal. A series of articles in The New York Times shortly after the election led the charge, featuring headlines like "After Russia Elects Putin, a Protest Wanes," and "Anti-Putin Protests Appear to Be Losing Steam."

In Russian press, polls appeared highlighting the dying character of the protest movement. "About one-third of those polled, 38 percent, said 'the peak of popularity of the opposition demonstrations has passed, the demonstrations will stop soon.' Another 39 percent expect that the protests 'For Fair Elections' will continue, but will attract fewer people. Only nine percent of the respondents said attendance at the demonstrations would increase," RIA Novosti reported.

Valery Fyodrov, the general director of the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), told the Kommersant daily in late March that the rallies had become "routine," and the reason behind them has been "exhausted." He suggested that the authorities seem to be one step ahead of protest organizers. "The organizers of the meetings had written 'for fair elections' on their posters, and the authorities had rearranged their strategy, installing Web cameras and allowing election monitors," Fyodorov told Kommersant.

Thus many bleieve that the protest movement would ultimately die out once the momentum of the street protests wanes. However, Novik is just one of many who place less emphasis on the protests themselves, bur rather focus on finding other ways to be active citizens. &qu