Nationalism or Patriotism?
Myth #2: Navalny is a nationalist
In 2007 Navaly quit Yabloko and, in a rather unexpected turn of events, co-founded NAROD — the Russian national liberation movement (which also means “people” in Russian). (A year earlier, Navalny participated in The Russian March as an observer representing Yabloko. In 2008, he participated in the same march as a member of NAROD.) In associating with nationalists, Navalny shocked and alienated many of his former colleagues and liberal-democratic members of the public at large. But reading the movement's manifesto, it becomes obvious that Navalny's political and ideological views regarding nationalism are not so cut and dry.
The key thread running though this manifesto is a strong criticism of the existing regime and of the Russian government, responsible for bringing Russia to the edge of a national catastrophe:
“An attempt to create a new modern democratic state on the territory of the former Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic has failed. All the basic attributes of a democracy — the concept of the separation of powers, the institution of free elections, a federal form of government, local self-government, the independence of the courts and many others — were liquidated. They were replaced with the “vertical of power,” a system of commercial clans who usurped the functions and powers of government and saw power as a tool for gluttony and not as a tool to serve the population.”
Further on, NAROD’s manifesto calls for political change, so that Russia can start following a truly democratic path. Some major values defended by NAROD include Russian national renaissance, freedom for all, and a fair justice system. By national renaissance they meant “ending Russian civilization‘s decline and creating the necessary conditions for the preservation and development of the Russian people, their culture, language, and historic territory.” It is important to specify that the manifesto’s authors do not appeal to conventional nationalist philosophy, nor to ethnic romanticism. Only elements of a liberal, civilized, so-called cultural nationalism can be found in this manifesto, and not one example of the extremism inherent to the National Bolshevik Party.
If one examines this manifesto while keeping in mind the general political and social situation in today’s Russia, a few contextual issues become obvious. First, the lack of a distinct immigration policy of any kind, the failures of the social reforms and national projects, and the inability of the country's government to conceive a clear national idea or to create an ideology of their own. All these factors increased social tension, which, along with economic and political problems, created a demand for a patriotic rhetoric that, for many reasons, was — in the media and public discourse — labeled as nationalism.
Navalny and some of the other NAROD manifesto signers then accused extremist organizations and the authorities of manipulating nationalist themes towards their own interests and causing that drastic switch in the public’s perception of nationalism vs. patriotism:
“The regime is trying to use people’s patriotic sentiments to its own advantage. On the other hand, national provocateurs undermine the country with their xenophobia by calling for violence against 'aliens,' thereby creating an extremely negative image of the nationalists.”
In Voronkov's book, Navalny clarifies his views:
“A modern nationalist differs greatly from what is usually meant by this term. […] A nationalist is a real patriot who puts the interests of the country and of the nation above his own interests. He doesn't think nationalist themes are horrible, frightening or should be a taboo. The Russian modern nationalist is very Europe-oriented, and Russian nationalism is much closer to the European mainstream than it is generally believed to be.”
Based on Navalny's position on nationalism, one can conclude that due to the multiple meanings and emotional perception of the term in Russia, his views could be — to a certain extent — misinterpreted.
What Navalny’s views essentially boil down to, is an expression of his patriotism and his aspirations for a European way of development for Russia.
Another possible explanation could be that Navalny never really got to the bottom of his own views and understandings of nationalism, possibly because of his active involvement with other projects starting in 2007. These later projects turned him into a symbolic fighter against the corrupt regime.