Everyone Eat Our Dust!

Alexei Navalny’s team has as little tolerance and ability to listen to others as the authorities. It seems they can’t abide criticism, because only enemies criticize and then only for money.

Nikolai Zlobin, president and founder of the Center on Global Interests in Washington and a member of the Valdai Discussion Club, posted his impressions of Leonid Volkov, a deputy of the Yekaterinburg City Duma and head of Alexei Navalny’s campaign staff. The article attracted a lot of attention in the Russian media and was published on the sites of the Ekho Moskvy radio station and Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper. The Valdai Discussion Club offers this English translation of Mr. Zlobin’s article.

First, I have learned from personal experience that Alexei Navalny’s team has as little tolerance and ability to listen to others as the authorities. It seems they can’t abide criticism, because only enemies criticize and then only for money. I find this stance completely unacceptable. It runs counter to democratic and liberal political views. In fact, it’s perfectly in tune with authoritarian views. So if it’s six of one and half dozen of the other, how can one really choose?

Second, Volkov once wrote that their critics are really angry because Navalny’s team doesn’t include any political strategists. I don’t know if they have strategists or not, and frankly I don’t care. Personally I’ve never worked on a campaign. But looking anywhere but to one’s own actions to explain away criticism is just another disgusting feature of the authorities that the Navalny team seems to have adopted. Again, if it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other…

Third, I believe that they have made a big mistake by casually insulting all officials, which includes their families and retired officials – a major part of the electorate in Moscow. Instead of trying to win over at least some of them, the Navalny team has turned them into opponents. By the way, I was alarmed when Volkov said that only “when Navalny comes to power will the media become the true media,” especially in light of my first point. Do they mean that the true media writes adoringly about only one politician? And here I think you have to wonder if it’s really just six of one, half dozen of the other.

Fourth, I am surprised how the Navalny team repeatedly asks if the authorities act this way how can you demand that we act any differently. We fight fire with fire, they say. You have to run with the pack! This is destroying the political image of Mr. Navalny, who claims to be poles apart from the authorities. We already have quite a few politicians like that. Why would we need one more? It’s six of one, half dozen of the other.

Fifth, I have doubts about this team’s real intentions. Election campaigns have simple rules: Try to turn opponents into fence-sitters and fence-sitters into supporters. Don’t turn well-wishers into ill-wishers. Go onto your opponent’s turf, and try to divide its voters and win over some of them. It’s like in soccer: don’t play back by your penalty line, take it to the opponent’s net. Navalny is acting like Vladimir Lenin: his goal is not to unite but primarily to “draw firm and definite lines of demarcation.” He only plays with his own teammates near his net. First, elections are not won this way, and second, this is exactly what the current authorities do. They draw lines between everything and everyone, and Navalny’s team is helping them, whether they realize it or not.

Do they really think that everyone around them is filthy and there is only one person in a snow-white dinner jacket in Russia? They can’t be serious. Why alienate potential supporters so disdainfully, casually, condescendingly and boorishly? This is not a world championship in hubris. It’s not a competition to see who can most shock the public with their cynicism masquerading as openness. Does Navalny’s team want to rally as many people as possible or not? Just read Mr. Volkov’s comments again and you will have your answer. Every paragraph in that article deserves a separate reply, in particular the threat of a “very real and very bloody” revolution. But that’s not what I am writing about here.

I actually like Mr. Navalny. He could have a bright political future. Russia needs people like him. I was shocked by the authorities’ clumsy attempts to put him behind bars. It seems that as Navalny approached the upper echelons of power, he tried to create his own support structure in the government at the regional level, as many of his colleagues at different levels of government have tried before him. But I sincerely doubt that he has done anything criminal in the process.

However, my strong belief in his innocence does not mean Mr. Navalny is the ideal. People can be divided into those who respect their critics and those who see them as enemies. An opposition that opposes its critics is an oxymoron. The opposition must not act like the authorities; it must not say condescendingly: “Yes, we may have written total bull, but so what? Deal with it and eat our dust.” When I see this, it diminishes my sympathy for Mr. Navalny. Will it disappear altogether or, conversely, grow stronger? That does not depend on me.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.