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The Sensastional Ms. Sobchak
Socialite Ksenia Sobchak Is the New Face of Protest Politics, But How Long Will Her Star Shine?
Dan Peleschuk - Russia Profile - russiaprofile.org - 4.10.12 - JRL 2012-67

Once Russia's "It Girl," often likened to ditzy American hotel heiress Paris Hilton, Ksenia Sobchak has reinvented herself through Russia's protest movement. Earlier she was the symbol of a timid and servile moneyed class in Vladimir Putin's Russia, but she has now become the voice of a generation in a reawakened and more politically active country. Yet how far can her celebrity status take her at a time when the flashy mass protests are over and grassroots politics is what matters? Ksenia Sobchak
file photo

Sobchak's latest action perhaps best describes how far she's come since being known primarily for hosting the notoriously raunchy and diluted "Dom 2" ("Home 2") reality TV show in Russia. Standing defiantly onstage this week at the Nika Awards ceremony, Russia's top film competition, Sobchak faced down a nervous and visibly shaken Chulpan Khamatova ­ a noted actress and philanthropist accused of stumping for President-elect Vladimir Putin in exchange for funding for her children's charity. Sobchak, almost instinctually, seized the opportunity to ask the actress whether she genuinely supports Putin before a stunned audience.

"I decided to merely ask the question that has bothered me and, it seems, many other people as well," Sobchak later wrote on radio station Echo of Moscow's Web site, in a tone whose babe-in-the-woods innocence masks a razor-sharp intellect. But the fact is that Sobchak had gone far beyond just asking a question; in recent months, especially as the protest movement kicked off on the heels of last December's fraudulent parliamentary elections, Sobchak has emerged as one of the single visible faces of the movement ­ and the voice of an increasingly disgruntled urban intelligentsia.

Her story is an unlikely one. The daughter of the late Anatoly Sobchak, St. Petersburg's first post-Soviet mayor, her family remains closely intertwined with Putin, who owes most ­ if not all ­ of his career accomplishments to the elder Sobchak, his first patron. The issue sparked controversy when the erstwhile socialite first appeared on the roster of notable protesters, her presence greeted with a wave of jeers and overwhelming suspicion at a December 24 rally.

Yet since then it seems Sobchak has proved her worth. She has remained at the forefront of the movement, having appeared at every rally­ and to a much more welcoming response. Her new line-up of television programs, such as "State Department" on the Snob Web site and "Sobchak Live" on the Dozhd TV network showcase her newfound talent for engaging in serious debate. In countless interviews with top politicians, media figures and activists, she has made even the sternest personalities ­ such as the firebrand leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Vladimir Zhirinovksy ­ squirm in discomfort.

Long after that first awkward appearance on Sakharov Avenue, Sobchak's talent and outspokenness have earned her praise from the more hardened opposition activists, cementing her place among the darlings of the opposition movement. "It