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Don't Be Fooled by His Smile: Yekaterinburg's Evgeny Roizman Is Mad As Hell

It seems likely that Russia’s fourth largest city, Yekaterinburg, will soon have as its mayor Evgeny Roizman, one of Russia’s most peculiar public figures.

Roizman’s LiveJournal and Facebook blogs are like the records of a priest or a sheriff. Have a look and you’ll find an archive of his meetings with random members of the city. Roizman opens his doors, and locals visit him throughout the day, waiting patiently outside his office, before entering and asking for help. Parents come, begging him [ru] to take their drug-addicted kids into his rehab centers; others come, when they’ve been cheated out of the deed to their home [ru]; and sometimes neighbors even turn up, seeking arbitration in disputes [ru] about spoiled vegetable patches and the stink of homebrewed cheese.

Evgeny Roizman, screen shot from his campaign website.

Evgeny Roizman, screen shot from his campaign website.

Roizman is a former Duma deputy and the founder of a 14-year-old anti-drug-addiction organization called “A City without Drugs.” In his blog posts about the various locals who flock to see him, he describes himself as an overwhelmed but determined public servant. “I don’t know,” he said [ru] characteristically to one widower asking about government aid programs, “but if you’re not hitting the bottle, I’ll help you.”

Much like Moscow mayoral candidate Alexey Navalny, Roizman is on bad terms with the nearest, most powerful authorities. Navalny and Roizman both face a similar challenge: their mayoral race opponents are proxies of their true enemies. Navalny takes on Sergey Sobyanin, not Vladimir Putin, and Roizman opposes Yakov Silin, not Sverdlovsk Governor Evgeny Kuivashev.

This week, Roizman’s feud with Kuivashev produced another clash, when television station Channel 5 aired a special episode (see above) of Andrei Karaulov’s investigatory show, “Moment of Truth,” presumably [ru] orchestrated by Kuivashev and dedicated to exploring Roizman’s alleged ties to the criminal underworld. Roughly half the show consisted of an interview with Kristina Leontyeva, a former detainee in one of the rehab centers run by “A City without Drugs.” (She says the centers are slave-labor prisons.) Roizman later wrote [ru] in his blog that Leontyeva is a “burnt out drug user and dealer, who didn’t stop shooting up even while she was pregnant.”

The show also featured interviews with Sverdlovsk oblast police officials Konstantin Stroganov and Oleg Mezitov, who accuse Roizman of maintaining active ties with the region’s mafia gangs. Mezitov even supplied the show with audiotapes from police wiretaps on phones belonging to two known gangsters, who claimed to have good access to Roizman and expected to benefit illicitly if he wins the election. Later, in a press release [ru] on its website, Sverdlovsk oblast’s police headquarters corroborated the accusations aired on “Moment of Truth,” and invited Roizman’s lawyers to review the incriminating evidence.

On August 30, 2013, the judge in the trial against Roizman’s domestic partner, Aksana Panova, unexpectedly delayed [ru] proceedings until September 9, a day after Yekaterinburg’s election. Outside the court building, Roizman told reporters [ru] that certain officials had approached him with an offer: drop out of the race or Panova will be convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison.

Despite such threats, Roizman’s mayoral campaign continues, with Panova its manager. Tomorrow, August 31, 2013, the pair will lead a mass morning jog [ru], which is set to begin outside Kuivashev’s residence. Just today, August 30, the online news portal Lenta.ru released a short documentary video [ru] about Roizman’s mayoral run, which includes footage of his stump speeches to small groups of Yekaterinburg locals. In the video, Roizman’s frustration—not just with his persecution, but also with his compatriots’ political mentality—is palpable. At one moment, he nearly shouts at his audience:

Самое подлое и противное что мне слышать, когда говорят “Да. Вам хорошо, а мы вот это, а мы вот это.” БЛЯДЬ! Терпеть не могу зассанцев. Ето наша страна. Если мы здесь кого-то будем бояться, нам тогда сваливать надо. Мне отсюда некуда валить, поэтому я сопротивляюсь.

The vilest and ugliest thing I hear is when people tell me, “Yeah, you’re doing okay, but for us it’s this, and for us it’s that.” F**K! I can’t stand these a**holes. This is our country. If we’re going to live in fear, then we should just leave. I have nowhere to go, so I’m making a stand.

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