Nearly two months ago, on May 25, Roizman resigned in protest over a decision to scrap direct mayoral elections in Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city. Now, only nine Russian cities elect their own mayors. It is a trend of shrinking local democracy that Roizman, who has long been critical of the country’s ruling United Russia party, described as one of the country’s “most serious” problems.

“It’s easier to control people who are poor and beaten up than those who are prosperous and free,” he explained.

But the World Cup has given Russians a taste of freedom, Roizman admitted. Over the past five weeks, while hosting the international football tournament, restrictions — gathering in large groups, drinking in public — have been loosened. “There have been positive moments for our citizens,” Roizman said, even if the World Cup was just one “big PR project for the government.” “They have seen life colored with bright paints for the first time.”

His native Yekaterinburg, one of the 11 World Cup host cities, became the setting for an unusual “exchange of cultures,” with Roizman recalling his own conversations with Panamanian, Japanese and Uruguayan fans, among others.