September 6, 2019


Navalny's Gamble (Anahata Lovegood [a pseudonym], 9/06/19, Hedgehog Review)
Recently, Russia's uncommonly chilly early summer and volatile political atmosphere gave rise to a joke. Putin goes to a fortune teller and asks: "How long do I have left?" The fortune teller responds, "You have one summer." "All right," Putin says, "No more summers!"

The delayed summer weather finally arrived, but Putin's government is still pretending that the protests that have been occurring since late March are isolated eruptions fomented by provocateurs, in particular by the opposition blogger Alexei Navalny. To maintain this pretense the authorities have deployed overt repression, covert intimidation, and ideological indoctrination to stifle public displays of dissent. Yet the recent wave of protests on June 12, Russia's Independence Day, demonstrated that these tactics have only inflamed the spirit of disobedience.

Many young Russians are eager to proclaim their independence from the corrupt and unjust regime, and the March 26 protests, dubbed "the children's crusade," announced that a new generation has joined politics. High schoolers and college students who have grown up under Putin have paradoxically turned out to be more free and idealistic than their parents who had a taste of Gorbachev's glasnost and Yeltsin's reforms. Their youthful enthusiasm in denouncing corruption and naive assertion of their constitutional right to free assembly caught everyone, including the government and its obedient media, by surprise.

While the government-controlled media kept silent, the police and security forces arrested thousands in order to break up the demonstrations. Afterwards, participants were threatened with expulsion by school principals and college administrators. Prompted from above, many teachers lectured students on "patriotism" and "extremism" and told them to stay away from the internet and politics. Many of these "lectures," recorded by students and uploaded to social media, show just how reactionary and subservient to the government these educators are. Small wonder their students have long stopped listening to their teachers and embraced peer education on social media.

In addition to punishment and threats, Kremlin ideologues tried to discredit Navalny and appeal to young citizens by using twenty-first  century communication tools, the tools that have allowed Navalny's anti-corruption videos to spread so rapidly. Thus several weeks after the March protests there came a YouTube video that depicted Navalny as a new Hitler. Navalny's nationalist sympathies--for which he has been criticized by Russian liberals--are not a secret, but the video was so comically inept in achieving its goals that Navalny posted it on his website as yet another sign of the government being out of touch with its intended audience.

Posted by at September 6, 2019 7:43 AM