Maxim Vedenev, 36, TIGR, Interviewed in Vladivostok.
"The main thing is that people who come to us begin to think differently, begin to believe that everything is possible and that the most important thing is not to be afraid…When people start to self-organize, we won't need any revolutions. When people stop submitting and begin demanding, it will be the most peaceful revolution of all."
"There are no mechanisms for the defense of common people in Russia," reads a 2009 declaration of TIGR, a national movement in defense of human, economic, civil, and political rights. (The acronym stands for Fellowship of the Self-Motivated Citizens of Russia.) "We have no civil society that would keep politicians to their promises, that would force businesses to be socially responsible, and would make government functionaries remember that they are servants of people who pay their salaries. We are aware that the situation is like an illness that is not treated for many years…To create such a mechanism is precisely what constitutes our agenda. And this mechanism is called "civil society." We are not aiming at the instant transformation of the entire society. We are beginning with the defense of our rights. We will stand up for our rights and our dignity. We will involve more and more people in this process. We want to construct a "small civil society" and gradually expand it to entire Russia. And then either the civil society will force the regime to pay heed to its demands -- or it will change the irresponsible regime."
By the time our interview was over, I felt that Maxim, the chairman of the Maritime (Far Eastern) autonomous Chapter of TIGR, was a living embodiment of this sentiment. But, once out of the hotel, he switched to a different conversation. A descendant of the Russian settlers in the Far East, he was visibly proud of the vitality and rugged beauty of this San Francisco-like city on hills. He drove us for hours through one of Russia's largest ports, the headquarters of the Pacific Fleet and, and, during the Cold War, one of the Soviet Union's largest submarine bases. Up and up we went on winding streets; he beckoned me to follow him on foot as he climbed to the city's highest point, where a ten-foot Orthodox cross of steel honored his ancestors' memory.
"Impunity is from indifference." Where does [the authorities'] impunity come from? From our indifference. Indifference engenders impunity; impunity breeds the everything-goes environment. The everything-goes environment destroys everything. If people respected themselves even a little bit, there would have been no impunity.
"Everyone must choose his own road." There is a popular slogan: we [civic leaders] must lead people. I don't want to lead anyone! I have my road and I follow it. I don't want to drag anyone along. Do you want to come with me? Then let's go. You don't? Well, there are many roads, go your own way. If people want to follow you, they will. If not, it is too late [for the slogans like] "We will make your life better!" We were fed up with all this in the 20th century, as in no century before. So all these cries are about nothing.
"You can't be half-pregnant." People come to our organization [and ask]: ‘Can you help us?' ‘No,' I tell them, ‘we can't.' 'What are you saying?!' they tell me. ‘We know that you help people.' And I say: ‘I help you to help yourself. I don't want to chase you, to do your battles. I will explain to you what can be done and how we can help you do it. But it will have to be you who help you.' And then I ask them: ‘Are you sure? I don't want you to come to me and say: we don't really want to pick a big fight, we just want you to meet [privately] with someone and to talk to him. In this case, I say good-bye. If you want to do it quietly, non-publicly, go somewhere else. You cannot be half-pregnant. Either you are pregnant, or you are not.'
"When something changes in people." I feel most gratified when someone begins saying things that he considered nonsense before, that he thought were impossible. He has changed. I see how he talks to others, already on his ‘how' -- how he begins to move the cause along. This is what I call moral reward.
"A new family is born." The relationships with all those whom we helped have grown into something like a family. It is no longer formal like ‘Hello, we are an organization for the defense of human rights.' We are a family, we are friends. We say ‘thou,' [??] to one another regardless of age. We are a group of people [united by] a definite goal, definite tasks, and a definite idea.... Many people getting together in one place can change a great deal. I think what I do is not a public organization -- it is a collection of people with a similar outlook on life, similar way of thinking. A public organization is only a tool.
"Not to be ashamed of myself." My goal is to live in such a way as not to be ashamed of myself. And I inevitable infect others who come and stand next to me, even thought I don't drag anyone anywhere. It is because [they see that] I really believe in my ideas and live them. Because I've already tested that this works for me and I resolved to live accordingly. So people close to me in spirit somehow appear next to me. Some supplement me; others are supplemented by me.
"A crystal in water." What's the rationale for an organization? What sense do I see in it? It is like a water-crystallization effect. One particle of dust in distilled water sharply raises the possibility of crystallization. It is a point of unity. After that, all depends on how well we proceed. We can spill the water and the crystals will dissolve. Or we can crystallize in some complex formula and will begin doing something, generate a program of action.
"To feel the misfortune of others like our own." We don't pull anyone into the organization. Most of our membership is from people whom we helped. Having once realized that a person alone is powerless; having satisfied themselves that no one is funding us from the outside and we don't take anyone's money; that we feel the misfortune of others like our own -- a person inevitably decides to help others like we helped him. And those who are close to him, they, too, come to the organization.
"When you begin to work with all this, you find more and more." When you just ‘live' -- work, home, family, apartment, television -- you don't see much, all seems fine. But when you begin to work [in a civil society organization], you see so much more. First we worked with 'the humiliated and the insulted.' Then we started to learn about larger [offenses]. Now we've learned that the president [Dmitry Medvedev] directly violates his own laws and we are preparing a huge amount of materials to submit to the Constitutional Court.
"I would like for our organization to become a center of a healthy civil society." A public organization must become a cell of consolidation of all people who are not indifferent to the fate of their city or their country. It is a place where one stops feeling alone, finds like-minded people and can realize his plans. Most importantly, having started to fight the boundless lawlessness [bespredel] of police, procuracies, government bureaucrats, he feels a real support. And of course, I would like for the organization to become a center in which the creation of healthy civil society will begin; a center of where civil society will begins to be manifest itself.
"To force the authorities to work for the people." Our organization does not aim at changing the regime or those who lead the regime or at seizing power. Our aim is to make those in power work for the benefit of the people, to make it feel responsible for its actions. Our objective is to set an example, to show that an association of citizens can really influence the fate of their country, their region, their city -- particularly the decisions by the authorities by making them to take into account the opinion of their people…One of the key goals of [our] organization is the creation of a large public coalition to consolidate forces in the work against the stranglehold [zasil'e] of corruption and the rampant lawlessness [bespredel] perpetrated by state bureaucracy.
"Just to come to a polling station and observe." Look, we did not participate in the elections [before 2011] but we had observers in just one polling station. We just came there and stood. Do you know what the result was? The [ruling] United Russia [party] did not get even 2 percent of the vote. We just stood there all day. We prevented the paying of people 50 rubles per vote. We prevented voting by [non-citizen] guest-workers. We did not do much, we just were there! And because of our presence they were afraid to ‘throw in' [fake] votes and other such things. If, little by little, people begin to come to polling stations and observe we will have a totally different result!
"People's right to choose." We are going to participate in the  elections not to gain anything [for our organization] but precisely to secure people's right to choose and an opportunity to chose. That is, to give citizens an opportunity to vote not just for a representatives of one of the parties in the parliament -- the parties which, in essence, are just a screen for the ruling, anti-people [antinarodnaya] elite -- but instead to choose from among those who are like they.
"A Russia of my dreams." For Russia to become the country I dream of…the Russian people must wake up and begin to think within a different mental framework, to be guided by the criteria of the true nature of human beings, by such notions as honor, conscience, camaraderie, duty, family, and, most importantly, free will. Don't confuse it with freedom. Freedom can be taken away or delimited -- but the free will, it either exists or not. It can be subverted only by its owner himself. So, to sum up, my ideal is for people to remember that they are not slaves -- not of God's, not of an employer, not of society, not of material things, nor of the fear of tomorrow.