Alexey Navalny. Image Source.
Could a blogger become the Russian President? All eyes are on Alexey Navalny, the 37-year-old Moscow lawyer and activist. He uses blogging to tackle Russian corruption and shows immense political promise. Over the past three years, the consensus in the western press is that he is the Russian opposition figure to watch. In April of this year, he declared his intention to run for President. He registered to run for mayor of Moscow on the 17 July 2013.
Image Source: Navalny's blog, 19 July 2013.
Navalny's political hopes may increase or decrease as the Putin establishment has begun to crack down on him. Navalny was charged last summer on trumped-up charges. On 18 July 2013, he was sentenced to five years in jail for embezzlement, which could potentially break his political influence. He has just been temporarily released on the 19 July while appealing his sentence and has resumed his municipal campaigning.
A Matrix-like photo of Putin and supporters. Navalny said: "This is the real mafia family." Image Source: Navalny's blog, 16 July 2013.
On 19 July 2013, Navalny likened harassment from authorities to being chased by zombies: "I want to note that I would really like it if all my possible arrests and jailings had only this visual and musical accompaniment." This is the intro to the 2009 American film, Zombieland.
Image Source: Cheezburger.
Navalny hit on something. Zombies are the post-global-recession necro-trope for the changing times. There is growing tension everywhere between the old order that no longer works but still holds power, and novel ways of doing things, driven by new communications and online media. No wonder popular culture is full of embattled survivors trying to build a new society in a zombie-ridden wreckage.
Image Source: Navalny's blog, 19 July 2013.
Navalny is a voice for Russia's possible future. But he is surrounded by the clinging hands of the dead; and they just won't let go. Beyond Russia, he is a fascinating figure because he embodies yet another potential change cyber culture could have on politics, political processes and politicians everywhere. Will Russia's age-old predisposition toward autocracy finally be democratized through a mass, online movement? Russia's position in foreign affairs is critical in preventing or sponsoring future global conflict: a lot depends on what happens to Alexey Navalny.
And, as the situation in Egypt shows, democracy is not an automatic path to freedom. Between democracy and the establishment of free societies lies the question of whether cyber-cultures can teach people how to educate, then govern, themselves. This is a big part of Navalny's message:
Can Generation X, of whom Navalny is a member, change the political climate and use the Web to build new political institutions? JenX67 mentions American online initiatives: "Have you heard the term civic technology? Do you know about Code for America, MindMixer, Peak Democracy and Nextdoor?" In a week when the city of Detroit, which is $18 billion in debt, has declared the largest bankruptcy in American history, it is time for a worldwide reevaluation of current attitudes about politics, working policies and how government institutions can effectively function.Navalny’s courage and fortitude earned him many admirers and supporters, and he has incessantly called for them to act as he does. “All these years I was learning—together with you—to organize in an environment of state propaganda, intimidations and a lack of funds,” he wrote in a blog post the day before his verdict. He continued:Today we can raise funds. … We can investigate better than any structures entrusted with investigations. … We can … fund and publish newspapers. … We can organize rallies… We know how to collect a hundred thousand signatures… It is clear what to do, how to do it and how to fund it. The main thing is to gain courage, forget about laziness and act.
Can online politics generate ideas of responsibility, self-respect, mutual decency, lawfulness and other touchstones of civil society, which allow freedom to be expressed in such a way that politics doesn't descend into chaos, disinformation and totalitarianism? A Cyber-City on a Hill is not guaranteed, and everything depends on the resolve and mentality of so-called Netizens - the ways in which they put this marvelous tool to use. This core problem must be consciously addressed, or cyber-activists who push for democracy, civil rights and independence will become the walking dead, too. Below, see some recent links on Navalny's progress.
- 2013: Navalny's Web page with his election bid.
- 2011-2013: Navalny's Live Journal blog in English.
- 2008-2013: Navalny's Live Journal blog in Russian.
- 2013: Alexey Navalny on Twitter.
- 2013: New Yorker: Alexey Navalny, A Free Man in Russia.
- 2012: Foreign Policy again names Navalny one of its top 100 global thinkers: "Alexey Navalny almost single-handedly reinvented Russia's moribund activist culture for the digital era. Soon, he could be spending his days behind bars, if President Vladimir Putin has his way. A commercial-rights lawyer by training, Navalny painstakingly built a large following in recent years for his unique LiveJournal blog, a pioneering exercise in accountability in which he and his loyal readers sift through mountains of paperwork to uncover corrupt practices by Russia's political and business elite -- a busy job in a country that ranks 143rd on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index. After exposing embezzlement and malfeasance at major state-owned energy companies and banks, he turned to politics more explicitly. Navalny famously described Putin's ruling United Russia party as the "party of crooks and thieves," a nickname that stuck and helped fuel the anti-regime protests that began in late 2011."
- 2011: New Yorker: Net Impact: One Man's Cyber-Crusade Against Russian Corruption.
- 2011: BBC describes Navalny as "arguably the only major opposition figure to emerge in Russia in the past five years."
- 2011: Foreign Policy magazine names Navalny in its list of top global thinkers, along with Daniel Domscheit-Berg and Sami Ben Gharbia.
- 2010: Navalny becomes World Fellow at Yale University's World Fellows Program, aimed at "creating a global network of emerging leaders and to broaden international understanding." His Yale page has several links to articles about him.
See my other posts related to Russia, here.