We are struggling a lot with the opposition leader Alexei Navalny. He is a beautiful and charismatic man but a loudmouth, who has little to offer and, moreover, full of nationalistic ideas. Our beautiful friend Michael Kurtov from St. Petersburg wrote a very balanced and reasonable piece on Navalny’s role in the current situation (plus much much more). And this piece makes us feel calmer about having Navalny as head of our struggle.
A lot of people were offended by Navalny’s ‘fire kindling’ tone at the 24 december protest. But it’s obvious that just like with Nemtsov’s phone call transcripts being published (where he gossips about other opposition members — RUSSIALIZE), the target audience was the initiators of the protests, not the participants, in Navalny’s case the target audience is Putin and all those who have been supporting him for all those years, including his closest circle: it’s their language, their figurative line (‘jackals’ instead of ‘bandar-logs’, ‘AIDS’ against ‘botox’) (comparison of Navalny’s and Putin’s jargon — RUSSIALIZE). In this sense, Navalny is in fact the ‘new Putin’: he can count for mass support right now more than anyone else. The difference between this ‘new Putin’ and the old one is the transparency and controllability by the society — and nothing more is needed at this point. With the current development of media, the only necessary things are the politicians’ transparency and the inclusion of people into the political process, the rest will come around naturally. Obviously, I’m talking about the first stage — ridding the field of poisonous weeds. In fact, I do not see Navalny as president yet. But I’ll talk about this a bit further down.
This first stage comes along with numerous problems, which were precisely specified by Illarionov (although he’s been talking about this since year 2007): standing against change today is a group of professionals, that has a certain psychology, certain ways of internal and external communication: those are KGB men. The peculiar features of their behaviour include keeping to themselves, being conservative, being centralised while generally connecting in a non-formal networking way. Basically, all the features that oppose the new thinking directly (with its’ openness, formal networking character, centralisation only being present in non-formal or situation varieties, etc.) The Russian situation, according to Illarionov, is unique: in no other country before had such a group of professionals come to power. This way, this is not only a conflict between the democratic and agrarian tendencies, but something more legendary: the battle between two historical ways of thought, connected to the evolution of social/political and communication technologies. And because the earlier terms of this historical conflict in the Russian situation are polarized to the maximum, it’s up for Russia to determine, whether a step will be taken in this direction on the worldwide scale. If it will be taken, Russia will make its’ way forward on the path of true modernization much faster than the other countries. The institution of internal oversight, which made the best of NEP and Perestroika beginnings fail, will cease to exist as something ugly and unnecessary.
On this path we have to expect force confrontation as it is obvious that the KGB men today are not fighting for power per se, they are fighting for their lives: nobody will allow them to get off the bike painlessly. Navalny understands this, but he makes a wise move of not scaring anyone (look how accurately he has been raising the dosage of the idea of taking over the power by force during the last year). It’s for a precise development of this scenario that he needs his ‘nationalist’ resource.
But Navalny is really important only at the very first stage, where it’s necessary to overcome the KGB men force confrontation. He needs to prepare people adequately for this, to keep them safe if possible, keeping the overall idealistic tone. Illarionov is right: the best president for Russia is not a political strategist and not even a ‘fighter against corruption’, but an enlightened idealist like Vaclav Havel (the late politician has been coming up quite often as an antipode to Putin’s regime: the government never sent any condolences upon his death, which they did re Kim Jong Il — RUSSIALIZE) . The importance of strategists and ‘clear’ politicians is diminishing today: the new media partly takes away the need for public political mediation, and in a sense everyone becomes a strategist (being given the key to ways of information production). Only such an enlightened idealist — probably removed far away from the politics at this point — will, from one aspect, receive people’s trust, from the other — have the exact internal qualities to make the flywheel of history finally make a turn.
Photo: random Berliner with Russian Esquire with Navalny on the cover.
People across the globe have different things to look forward to in the new year. We in Russia are expecting all hell to break lose in the political sense. And call us drama queens but here is an opinion of someone in the know of how the dice rolls:
The Russian government might be getting ready to introduce radical measures to keep the current regime. Vladimir Putin’s ex-financial advisor, Andrey Illarionov thinks that assassinations of opposition leaders, terrorist attacks, a war conflict and even a red alert across the country are not out of the question.
In his speech on finam.fm radio station, Illarionov announced that citizens, who are not happy with the current situation in the country on the whole and the parliamentary elections falsifications in particular, should not be delusional. Kremlin will unlikely respond to any of the demands that were voiced at the protests attended by thousands.
In his opinion, “there is no change coming from the side of the government. It does not think it necessary to react to the demands. The government does not think it necessary to introduce any changes, apart from the superficial ones and creating a certain smoke curtain that will distract attention and somehow weaken the protest movement”. It’s not that the power became more brazen in their falsifications, the society became less tolerant to that, he said.
"The government is all about provoking and discrediting, those who organize those rallies, too, but the main thing is — the government is preparing for revenge. They are getting properly ready to make a sharp curve in turning from the ‘liberalization and democratization’ to a completely different direction. This will happen very soon," — Illarionov noted.
"We can not predict anything and be 100% right because we are not within the headquarters, where such decisions are made," — he added. — "Most likely, nothing important will happen until the end of this year, but in the beginning of the next one — in January, we will bear witness to radically different decisions and radically different actions".
Illarionov is sure that with the current level of support for Vladimir Putin, he will very unlikely get more than 34-36% of votes, which means that even mass falsifications like those of December 4th will not be able to help Putin win in the first round of presidential elections. “Moreover, the second round will be absolutely impossible for him because the second round becomes unpredictable, because the scale of protest voting might turn out so that all the opposition forces unite around that one other candidate, who will make it to the second round.”
In Illarionov’s opinion this means that Putin needs a victory in the first round. “They must do something big, which will make the rest of the issues minor compared to what will happen,” Illarionov believes.
Putin’s ex-advisor noted that he can not say what kind of actions will be taken. “But it’s precisely clear, that within a long list of such measures there are different ones — accidents, terrorist acts, international ‘initiatives’ to rebuild Soviet Union — in comparison with any kind of conflict that involves the Russian army, all the internal current issues just fade away,” he assumed.
"This calls for additional reasons to introduce emergency measures, a red alert, including limiting the activities of media outlets. This is implemented so often and regularly in different countries of the world, including ours, that eliminating such a development from consideration and analisys would be unwise and nearsighted. This must be taken into account", Illarionov believes.
Photo: ITAR-TASS / Alexei Filippov
This is true, crowds booed at certain speakers. We wrote about Xenia Sobchak being booed just below. The other example is Ilya Ponomarev, a member of the newly formed parliament, to whom the crowd chanted to “give back his mandate”. Otherwise, there was not much antagonism going on, people were mostly supportive of others in the same struggle. At one point, though, towards the end, one of the speakers (not sure who exactly, we were frozen to death by then) called people to boo Putin, the government, etc., which they did with great pleasure.
However, we’ve heard that there were NASHI impostors at the protest, who had red whistles in their mouths, and would boo everyone: but we have to confess that we only saw appropriate or, at least, understandable reactions — even from people with whistles.
Leonid Parfenov is a legendary TV-presenter with balls big enough to confront the regime, as he did when awarded a TV excellency award a year ago. Obviously, he is not the favourite media character of “The Tandem” but the quality of his work is superb enough to make Konstantin Ernst, head of government-enthusiastic Channel One, occasionally stick up for him.
Unfortunately, Parfenov wasn’t able to make a real-time speech at the Sakharov avenue protest on 24 december. But he did a video appearance, and it’s so good and inspiring, we can’t resist sharing it with our readers with English subtitles. That’s what the Russian struggle looks like, in a nutshell: beautiful, intelligent people dead tired of being suppressed.
So yes, it was a wonderful rally, and it gave us some satisfaction, just like a hearty meal. But what we’re suffering from now is massive, exhaustive acid reflux. Because as beautiful as all those inspired faces were, it’s really hard to understand if we’re in for a struggle or just playing a computer game. We really, really don’t want to see the void behind all this but it flickers just so.
One of the most sober opinions that we heard at the protest was that of Xenia Sobchak, it-girl and journalist. Her father, Anatoly Sobchak, used to be the mayor of St Petersburg and an insider of Yeltsin’s circles, which makes Xenia very close knit to Putin. She, however, has taken a stand and delivered a passionate speech about setting up a party of those concerned with the civil society of Russia but not aiming for power per se.
Now, this all happened to intense booing from the audience. Nobody likes a rich girl, and everything Xenia Sobchak has been doing recently was causing a massive backlash and a rain of accusations about her hidden agenda. Guess nobody can get over the fact that Xenia Sobchak has about 400 shoes in her wardrobe. In the recent Russian film “Elena” there is a quote: “If you own more things than me, do you think you’re better than me?” Mind you: not money, things. Because having nice things makes one a terrible person. And that’s pretty much the attitude towards Sobchak. She’s not allowed to be better or even make sense, while she keeps her Louboutins. This, by the way, is also the reason why nobody outside of the big cities is ever going to vote for Mikhail Prokhorov at the upcoming elections. Oligarchs are a no-no, period.
But the funny thing is, Xenia Sobchak actually seems to be the least hypocritical of all the current pillars of opposition, who all seem to be living in dog eat dog mode. They can’t agree upon anything: neither the rallies, nor the things they want from the government, not even the methods of dealing with the existing regime. Yesterday’s protest was not good enough for some liberals, who staged their own one elsewhere; the speakers at Sakharov avenue pinched each other quite a bit; and there is no consensus on anything at all. Seems like everyone is following their own personal agenda to claim the power, even before there is any real power to claim.
Xenia Sobchak, however, is not in a position to gain that much, seeing as she is not aiming for a political career — at least, for now. Meanwhile, what she has to lose is more of a concern. So far, the 30 year old has managed to make quite a sweet career as a TV-presenter in reality-shows and entertainment programs as well as that of an interviewer for Russian GQ, where she is, hands down, quite amazing. No doubt, she would probably not have gotten all that had she not been born with a silver spoon in her mouth. But she’s not your regular Kardashian. She’s smart, reckless and she speaks her mind. Which, given the regime, could cost her quite a bit.
Everyone refuses to believe this, of course, and it makes sense. Being on the Forbes-list and all, Xenia Sobchak seems more like a Patty Hearst, who mistakes a hangover for Stockholm syndrome and sports rebellion like a new bag for a few days. But the thing here is: she is in fact very level headed and does not exaggerate her own importance, like other opposition leaders do. The party that Xenia Sobchak proposed is something “for the smart ones, against the puppets”, an outlet of influence on the existing power from the country’s intelligentsia. Now everyone keeps saying that Xenia Sobchak just poured a pile of crap out on stage and that her methods are baloney. We think that the lady’s got sense, and that her proposal, even though it does not yet have a party behind it, is more than anyone else among the speakers had to offer yesterday. And here’s why.
It’s absolutely crazy to deny that the parliamentary elections were a big fat lie. However, this does not mean that United Russia does not have the majority of votes in Russia. They do, it’s just that this majority is not as big as they make it out to be. Putin is quite genuinely loved by the masses. Now, we don’t want to be condescending, but most of Russian people, when it comes to sympathising with the leader, are like 40+ divorcees on a rebound. Very needy, with a low self-esteem and a bad aptitude for judgment. They’re hot for men who show off their power — he’s a pumped-up alpha-male who wrestles bears. They’re hot for men who are borderline aggressive —he’s always ready to threaten unconventionally. They are ready to laugh at almost anything — and Putin is the king of lewd jokes. It’s a romance that’s not exactly ready to be over.
All of us in the more demanding audience are not satisfied, however, and we want Putin to go away. But here’s the trick: we don’t have anyone to offer instead. There are, of course, guys like Navalny, Nemtsov, etc. But yesterday’s protest proved once again: none of them has a program. And while we have a precise list of things that we want as protesters right now, like fair re-elections and freedom to the political prisoners, there is no exact agenda of what happens after there’s no Putin, no Medvedev, no crooks and thieves. There has not been a word on politics, a word on budget allocation, taxes, real means of action, it’s all hype, and fun, and chanting. Which we don’t mind at all, when it comes as backup for drastic political change. But when it’s all about making up a funny comeback to the president — well that’s just sad.
And does it even work? It’s a popular opinion that after the protests in Moscow and elsewhere, Putin and Medvedev are starting to dread. It’s very unlikely. Yes, of course they’re bothered by the upheavals, but they are not afraid. And they’re also presumably not made of wood. They see the unrest and they understand that they need to make a few amends, to throw the dogs a bone. Even though they could have easily ignored the whole thing: but that’s a different kind of nuisance that could lead to more problems. So now Medvedev is pushing forward some changes in the government structure, like introducing majority elections for the parliament. This seems to be a move to calm down the opposition: once they know they’ve been heard, they’ll lighten the grip, and that’s that.
And damn it, this might just work. Because as optimistic and enthusiastic as we are, we can’t just make pretend that there is much substance to the claims that every one is making. Some want to fight the regime quietly but they are not talking of alternatives. “Russia without Putin” has been one of the most popular slogans at every single protest this December. But can we imagine that? No. We’re not big fans of anarchy, so there has to be a leader somewhere in this picture. A leader that we don’t see. Those who blame the peaceful protests and want a revolution, to take over Kremlin, have even less regard to what happens after Putin is gone. They want him gone quick and for good. After them, the flood. That is made of human blood and gore, because, let’s face it, that’s what 1917 was.
In this context, Xenia Sobchak’s position seems to be very adequate because she is all for a sensible dialogue with the existing power. The wishes of the whole protest rally would make much more sense if mediated to the government by a group of well-respected and intelligent people. There could still be protests, there could still be unrest and chanting. But there would be an official, legitimate body of political influence, and that’s already something. Why does Putin need to create opposition himself by assigning Prokhorov here and there? Because the rest of the opposition, even if they are more liberal and less imaginary than Prokhorov, don’t want to talk to him. Which we kind of understand: he’s a bloodsucking creeper. But that’s politics, not a horror movie. We need to negotiate, not just stab someone through the heart and flee. This way zombies just multiply.
Now we’re going to keep waiting for Xenia Sobchak to do something, although it’s quite unlikely that she’ll be able to organize the party alone. We really hope that somebody else will reach out to help her. We also can’t abstain from drawing a parallel between Xenia Sobchak and ourselves. We are all for negotiation and evolution but those in the eye of the revolutionary storm conceive us as too young and idealistic and mellow to be taken into serious consideration. Same with Xenia Sobchak. Can someone maybe introduce us to her at a party or something?
Andrey Stvolinsky, a TV- and documentary film director from Moscow, made this neat video of the Sakharov avenue protest. We wish our team was big enough so we could make our own video to Faith No More’s “We care a lot” or something.
Our editor-in-chief Katya Kazbek at today’s rally on Sakharov avenue.
Below is the English version of the plaque. Even the military police couldn’t hide their smiles. It was a lovely rally, quite a lot of healthy ideas and moods, and so much to think about. El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!
We are thankful to @adagamov, © RIA Novosti, Ilya Varlamov at The New Times for the photographs.