“A Russian democrat ceases to be a democrat where talks on Ukraine start”, wrote former President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma in his book “Ukraine Is Not Russia”. This old saying was reminded during Alexey Navalny’s performance on Ukrainian TV.
Last year, Alexey Navalny, a 36-year-old social activist and blogger, led the protests against the regime of “fraudsters and thieves”, as he described Vladimir Putin’s camp. Using the Internet as a podium for expressing his resistance to the corrupted and criminalised authority, Alexey Navalny quickly became the leader of opposition, superseding the icons of the protests against the Kremlin authorities – Boris Nemtsov and Garry Kasparov. While the meetings with these two politicians were attended by a few thousand people, Navalny, whose blog had a few million readers, was able to gather over 100 thousand people in Bolotnaya Square in Moscow.
His quickly increasing popularity aroused the media’s interest in his views and origin. It was revealed that a few years back, this Moscow lawyer had already tried his hand at politics. In 2000, he joined the party “Yabloko”, from which he was expelled for “causing political damage to the party; in particular, for nationalist activities”. In 2007, he became one of the co-founders of the “Narod” movement, where he was a critic of immigration policy of Russia. He described himself as a nationalist democrat at that time.
Rightist views of the blogger quickly attracted attention of observers and supporters of the current Russian authorities. The Kremlin propaganda machine is now using Navalny’s ideas to threaten with nationalist vision of Russia under the command of the Internet “fascist”.
See what will happen if Vladimir Putin is ousted from power (according to the pro-Kremlin propaganda):
Interestingly enough, the Kremlin narration reached Poland thanks to editor-in-chief of Gazeta Wyborcza Adam Michnik. “Great-Russian chauvinists, who dream of restoring the tyranny of knout and the empire with dominion over other nations, are growing stronger. Their success may make us miss Putin in the future”, wrote Michnik, joining the chorus warning against nationalism of Navalny and people of like minds.
See the comparison of Navalny and Hitler’s speeches:
“Big-time politics” of Navalny
Is there really anything to be worried about? An opportunity of getting to know Navalny’s vision was his participation in “Big-Time Politics with Yevgeny Kiselyov” talk show. During the live broadcast, the Russian blogger answered questions of editors from Ukrainian newspapers interested in his vision of Russia’s development and its attitude towards Ukraine. Some of the guest’s replies caused a big stir among the Ukrainian journalists.
Asked about relations of Russia and Ukraine, the blogger answered: “I’m deeply convinced that Ukraine and Belarus are the most important geopolitical allies of Russia. Our foreign policy should be maximally directed at integration with Ukraine and Belarus … In fact, we’re one nation. We should enhance the integration”, (cf. 35.40 minute of the programme).
The host of the programme immediately commented that Navalny’s words might have offended the audience, so the guest attempted at explaining his utterance: “I’m half Ukrainian, half Russian [Navalny's father was born in Kyiv Land - editorial note]. The majority of my family lives in Ukraine … I don’t intend to prove that the Ukrainian nation doesn’t exist. God willing, it does. Just like Ukrainian culture and many people who consider themselves Ukrainians, not Russians, and want to decide for themselves. It’s great. But it shouldn’t hinder integration processes or close structure of living. Ukraine’s the sister country of Russia” (cf 36.50 minute).
The host decided to continue with this train of thought, pointing that the current actions of Russia are directed at economic and political dependence of Ukraine, which has nothing to do with free integration. Navalny explained that it is a normal political process, which also takes place in the European Union. “There’s a small country and there’s a big country; bigger society and smaller one. The elites of both states try to challenge one another … It’s an objective process … Every day, every country tries to win better conditions. It’s normal”, (cf. 38.18 minute). When Kiselyov commented that the majority of Ukrainians support integration into the European Union, Navalny replied that “it would be strange, if they didn’t. The living conditions in the EU are better and EU integration will be more beneficial. But it doesn’t hinder integration with Russia, for Russia is a part of Europe. Though, obviously, integration into the Union is much slower in Russia than in the Ukraine – in Ukraine”, he corrected himself (cf. 40.12 minute).
Intense reaction of the journalists present at the studio made Navalny feel obligated to emphasise that he does not undermine Ukraine’s independence: “There’s no great geopolitical plan; people imagine that four people constantly sit in the Kremlin and think how to incorporate Ukraine. No one does that. No one needs that. You think it’s important, but I’m trying to convince you that in fact integration with Ukraine is on the 25th place on the Russian agenda, which I regret”, (cf. 41.21 minute). “… When I’m saying that I’d like integration processes to take place and that I’d like to go to Ukraine and to have Ukrainian citizens, my relatives, visit me in Moscow without wasting time at the border, does this really mean that I’ll climb your Supreme Council and start to tear your flag off and take your coat of arms down? No! No one wants to make an attempt to limit Ukraine’s sovereignty. It would be absurd”.
Watch Alexey Navalny at “Big-Time Politics with Yevgeny Kiselyov”:
In search of a Russian Giedroyc
Watching the “Big-Time Politics” programme and Navalny speaking, I remembered the words of Ukrainian feature writer Mykola Riabchuk, who tried to introduce Ukrainian journalists to the figure of Jerzy Giedroyc some time ago: “Try to imagine that suddenly in Russia there’s an authoritarian person like Andrei Sacharov or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who has the courage to say: ‘Friends! Let’s reject our historical myths of Russian Kyiv and Russian Crimea, just like Ukrainians have forgotten about Ukrainian Kuban, and Ukrainian Chełm Land, and Ukrainian Brest Land. … Let’s withdraw our troops from Abkhazia and Transnistria as soon as possible and stop defending our virtual compatriots in the Baltic states, and start to take care of the real countrymen in our own backward lands: Siberia and our Far East …’ Try to imagine that the Russian Giedroyc would not only say that, but he’d also start a magazine, gather a circle of leading Russian intellectuals and win Ukrainian, Lithuanian and Polish intellectuals over. He would then be able to convince the majority of intellectual circles of the rationality of his ideas.” (M. Riabchuk, Ogród Matternicha, Wrocław 2010, Nowa Europa Wschodnia, pp. 89-90).
Alexey Navalny is obviously not a Russian Giedroyc and his views are not a Russian version of Giedroyc’s outlook on the world. The oppositionist’s statements about “the integration processes” and “one nation” of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia worry Ukrainian observers. It is apparent that Navalny does not fully understand the reasons for which his words aroused such a big stir among journalists. As befits a Russian politician, he tried to explain it with Ukrainian irrational phobia about the bigger neighbour. The Russian blogger was not able to rise above his point of view and understand the meaning of the sister nations’ experience of Russian domination and imperialism. The young opposition leader is not even close to the Polish editor from Maisons-Laffitte.
Yet, Alexey Navalny is a new quality in the Russian political arena. Obviously, the presidential elections on 4 March will not change the situation in Russia. But protests demanding democratisation, fairness and decriminalisation of the authorities are the slogans nagging political awareness of Russians. It is possible that after meeting these demands, the time will come for “disimperialisation” of Russian policy. I have this feeling that Alexey Navalny’s activity is the first small step towards it.
Translated by Marta Lityńska