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Socialite. Party girl. Revolutionary?

by Olaf Koens at 12/01/2012 21:34

Was it Artemy Troitsky, dressed up as a condom and having the guts to insult Vladimir Putin personally? Or maybe Alexei Navalny, all fired up after being released from jail a couple of days earlier? No, the biggest sensation of the Moscow opposition rally on Dec. 24 was Ksenia Sobchak.

“I’m Ksenia Sobchak and I have something to lose,” said the socialite, in an almost Alcoholics Anonymous-style confession. In front of a crowd of at least 100,000 people – many of whom were whistling for her to get off the stage, Sobchak looked strangely vulnerable: Not so much TV celebrity as fragile blonde.

In a weird comparison, many people have called Sobchak the Russian Paris Hilton, but the difference is that Sobchak has a university degree, works hard for her money and has the guts to take a political stand.

And she does have something to lose. For years, Sobchak has been a socialite “It” girl. She hosted a raunchy version of Big Brother, is a favorite guest at exclusive parties and somehow became the face of the new, decadent and big-spending Russia.

She’s also the daughter of Anatoly Sobchak, the mayor of St. Petersburg in the 1990s and a genuine democratic reformer who’s likely to be known in history for appointing a slightly gray bureaucrat by the name of Vladimir Putin to oversee harbors in the city.

Not many people listened to Sobchak’s daughter on the stage at Prospekt Akademika Sakharova when she called for new elections and most notably, for new opposition leaders. But within less than a month, she has turned from a giggling TV host into a political activist, finally settling the score with Putin – somebody she still considers the savior of her family.

In the 1990s, when prosecutors launched an attack on Ksenia’s father, Putin smuggled him out of the country. When Anatoly Sobchak died of a heart attack in 2000, Putin cried at his funeral, something remarkable by all accounts. People have always whispered that Ksenia’s bold statements and bold behavior – she even formed a youth movement for a while – was only due to her “protected status.”

“He’s not a bad person,” she said of Putin recently while being grilled on “Hard Day’s Night,” a much recommended show on Dozhd TV. “Do you know what the problem is with the opposition? Everyone’s trying now to find a new Putin. But what we actually need is a new system in which there can be no Putin.”

Next to Alexei Kudrin, the ousted Finance Minister who was the second surprise speaker at the Prospekt Sakharova rally, she’s one of the very few people who knows Putin personally and dares to judge him.

When I saw her at the Dozhd TV studio, Ksenia was one step ahead of me.

“There’s no way back,” she explained. “Everybody now knows I’m on the side of the protesters, and the Western press will probably write that it’s an important sign if even a society girl like myself joins the movement.” 

Olaf Koens is a freelance journalist. The views expressed here are his own.

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