A Promising Leader
In December 2011, thousands and thousands of Russian citizens protested against the fraudulent parliamentary elections. This unprecedented social upheaval demonstrated that the political situation in the country is rapidly changing. Opposition forces that had long been marginalized by Putin’s regime had finally gained support from the active sectors of the Russian population. In December 2011 it became evident that Alexei Navalny could be considered one of the opposition leaders. Perhaps, even, the one most feared by the regime.
In a recent public lecture at the Moscow "Red October" club, Alexei Navalny somewhat ironically noted: "If there were a thousand people like me, tomorrow we'd be living in a different country." Pavel Ivlev, Executive Director of the Institute of Modern Russia, couldn't agree more: "It is quite possible to defeat Putin's regime this way, and a thousand Navalnys is what we need, in order to win this battle."
"If any of the democratic opposition leaders ends up as President, it means the revolution actually took place. And Navalny is one of those leaders — there is no doubt about that," Ivlev continues. "He will become a hero if this revolution, if/when it occurs. No one knows whether blood will be spilled, and whether the big changes will happen tomorrow or in five years from now. But the revolution, whether we like it or not, is inevitable. And Navalny shouldn't be alone in this fight."
The Levada Center conducted an interesting poll of the protesters who gathered on Sakharov Avenue on December 24, 2011. When protesters were asked which of the opposition leaders they trusted the most, they responded with journalist Leonid Parfyonov (41%), activist Alexei Navalny (36%), and writer Boris Akunin (35%). At the same time, when asked whom they would vote for in a presidential election, 22% of the respondents chose Navalny, followed closely by his former party boss Grigory Yavlinsky (21%).
Navalny is not ashamed of his political ambitions. Recently, he has been heard toying with the idea of running for President. These political ambitions make many people skeptical. Navalny has been accused of being immature, not experienced enough, too straightforward, and uncompromising. And all of this criticism is justified, to a certain degree. But, as mentioned before, the very nature of the current Russian regime (including its corruption, clientelism, and total disregard for public interests) creates a demand for tough opponents. In a sense, it was the Russian authorities themselves who pushed Navalny into the political arena.
One could argue that until one of the two collapses (either Navalny or the Russian authorities), the struggle between them will continue. It is obvious that the regime is not planning to withdraw. Navalny, too, claims he is not going to surrender:
“I have a clear strategy and principles that I rely upon. There are no ‘opportunity windows’, and no deadlines. You have to do what you think is right without looking back. [The public] support[s] me today, and I am grateful. And if they stop supporting me, I will continue doing what I do anyway. I will take steps that are painful for authorities, steps to pressure [the regime]. RosPil’s goal [the name of Navalny’s anti-corruption project] is to apply pressure to specific officials and administrative departments. Our slogan — “United Russia is a party of crooks and thieves” — applies some very real pressure upon a specific party. And I am sure that pressuring authorities is effective. […] I consider a lawsuit against Gazprom effective and beneficial. […] Promoting this campaign about “the party of crooks and thieves” is effective. If they decide to target me and publish biased articles about me, it will only mean that my work is effective. And if/when they initiate a criminal case against me, it will be the highest proof of my efficiency.”
Mahatma Gandhi once said: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” The latest developments, such as Navalny’s imprisonment after the unsanctioned rally on December 5, 2011, and the opening of a criminal case against him, clearly demonstrate that the regime has entered the stage of fighting Navalny. As for who will win this battle in the end, only time will tell.