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Navalny vs Akunin

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Today’s nationalist march in Moscow was accompanied by an interesting exchange between Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and writer Boris Akunin – the most prominent cultural figure to lead opposition demos in 2011-12.

In his initial post, Navalny once again endorsed the Russian march, but added that he would not attend it this year, citing tactical reasons. Akunin responded by saying that Navalny’s lingering nationalism is a sign of incompetence and that Navalny is not ready to assume the role of a national leader. This caused an uproar in .ru sector with many opposition activists condemning Akunin in most unflattering terms.

Navalny’s perspective

Navalny says he wants to reach out to nationalists, de-radicalize them and transform them into a respectable conservative movement. In his initial post, he described as his personal failure the fact that this goal had not been achieved.

Nationalism is a powerful political motivator. It was the main driving force behind anti-Communist revolutions in Eastern Europe. Western governments and media were encouraging anti-Soviet nationalism prior to the collapse of the USSR and continued to encourage anti-Russian nationalism in the last 20 years.

However, Russian nationalism was traditionally regarded with deep suspicion, although it is hardly worse than Ukrainian or Hungarian. Navalny is trying to create a European-styled nationalist movement, like Fidesz in Hungary. He also imports anti-immigrant rhetorics from the European Far Right, like Geert Wilders, and the US Tea Party.

Said that, the very fact that he is not attending the Russian march shows that his broad pro-democracy agenda overrides his nationalist leanings.

Akunin’s perspective

For Akunin, Navalny is a source of both hope and dissapointment. He wants Navalny to be a strong leader and believes that Navalny’s nationalism is what makes Navalny weak. Denying nationalism is a matter of principle for Akunin, who is not a politician.

Navalny believes that broad population is inherently nationalist, hence one needs to offer a strong nationalist agenda to win over it. But he might be taking random irresponsible rant for serious political convictions. Nationalists consistently fail to rally more than a few thousand people in Moscow. Their columns at opposition rallies were hilariously small even compared to those of radical left-wingers. They rallied over 10,000 today (Nov 4), in the aftermath of Biryulyovo events, but they have probably reached their ceiling.

Conversely, the participation of cultural leaders, such as Akunin, consistently ensured the highest attendance – up to 100,000 during Bolotnaya and Prospect Sakharova marches. The so-called ‘civic column’ led by them traditionally comprised the bulk of opposition marches. Numbers dwindled once people like Akunin distanced themselves from the movement.

Activists’ perspective

Rank-and-file activists of all political convictions took the brunt of the crackdown which began after Putin’s inauguration in 2012. Some of them have been in prison for almost 18 months. They get little attention from the media, compared with Pussy Riot or Greenpeace prisoners. Navalny himself has nearly landed in jail for five years and there is another criminal case waiting for him.

That makes activists feel bitter towards those who they see as bystanders unwilling to take part in serious action. One of May 6 suspects, Maria Baronova, pointed out on Twitter that Akunin had never attended Bolotnaya case trial, even though the hearings had been going on for several months. The fact that the person who once inspired them spends most of his time in his French home, while they are suffering, makes activists feel betrayed and abandoned.

Written by fullofbias

November 4, 2013 at 2:11 pm