The realisation that navalny might not be as perfect as many in Europe and the States has brought a wry smile to my face today. We’ve been assuming Soviet, Russian and wider post Soviet dissidents are “like us” for years. We project our own values onto individuals with whom we share very little other than a shared dislike on an “other”.
Whether it’s Solzhenitsyn, Yeltsin, Gamsakhurdia, Karimov, or Tudjman (slightly further afield but still connected through the post Cold War dynamic) we want these men, and it’s nearly always men, to be saint like revolutionary leaders. Fight the good fight, be noble, sophisticated, mature, anti capital punishment and certainly opposed to torture. Each has disappointed their Western supporters, often for reasons that really should always have been apparent. Nationalism is a bit of a thread, as is a rampaging ego.
Put simply, Navalny has suggested that a significant level of the civil disturbances and crime in Moscow is the fault of post soviet migrant workers. He dressed it up a little saying they were being screwed over as there wasn’t a smooth running visa programme, but sounded suspiciously like a staunch Russian nationalist that doesn’t like “chornyi”.
The twitter, media and commentariat outburst today was shocked and hurt that the previously saintly Navalny might not be quite as much “one of us” as had been hoped. Others suggested that the pretty straightforward nationalism was a purely tactical attempt to appeal to a broader base and should therefore be ignored by his foreign supporters.
I make no comment about Navalny’s politics. Obviously my firm advises the Russian Federation, however due to the specifics of the contract, I do not work on that account (I lead global cap markets advisory for Gazprom amongst other things).
Fundamentally I don’t know enough to pass comment on whether he’s got a point or not. My area of post soviet specialism is in capital and commodity markets and to a far lesser extent foreign policy. I do however find the anguished gnashing of teeth amusing, especially over the old issue of nationalism.
Some commentators don’t know Baku from Bishkek or caviar from kachipuri, but others really should know better. The sort of person that understands that the professional revolutionary and Marxist insurgent was very different to the romantic “Che” of the poster or t-shirt.