Tolokonnikova 1, Putin 0

A fascinating contrast is made by comparing a recent article by Kim Zigfeld on American Thinker with an article in the Guardian newspaper publishing correspondence between Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek.

Zigfeld presents Putin’s Russia’s latest national report card, as Russia’s grades come in from a wide variety of international ratings agencies and Russia, once again, flunks out.  Russia is revealed as an ignorant backwater, wholly noncompetitive against the major nations of the world and routinely ranking outside the top 50 world nations, often much worse and near the bottom of the entire planet.

And Tolokonnikova is the exact opposite. She’s shown quoting Nietzsche and displaying remarkable literacy and philosophical thought, to say nothing of superhuman courage and fortitude.

No thinking person can read these two pieces and come away with any conclusion other than that Putin is an ignorant, illiterate, jack-booted thug who is seeking, the manner of Stalin, to liquidate the flower of Russia’s youth out of sheer jealousy.  Though imprisoned, Tolokonnikova towers over Putin like a giant, he cowers before her like a craven dwarf.

Top 10 Reasons Why Russian Opposition is Better off with Navalny Behind Bars

Navalny barsLast week the curtain came down on the farcical show trial of Alexei Navalny in Kirov. The accused was not permitted to call a single witness in his own defense, and pundits far and wide believe from the disturbing conduct of the judge that  he has no chance of being acquitted of corruption charges that are eerily similar to those faced by Mikhail Khodorkovsky soon after he announced he would like to have Putin’s job.

Ironically enough, if he does intend to send Navalny to prison on July 18th (some say Navalny will get off with a slap on the wrist, which will be enough to disqualify him from political office), Putin is doing the Russian opposition a huge favor. Here are the top ten reasons why:

10.  Navalny is a worrying racist-sexist-nationalist.  Navalny has been revoltingly silent on issues like anti-gay legislation because Navalny is not a real democrat. At his core Navalny is a racist nationalist with a mirky past and many very scary attitudes.  He’s not the only freak of this kind who has been embraced by the mainstream opposition; they’ve also marched with the even more dangerous and scary Edward Limonov, to name just one.  Navalny is Limonov lite.  Navalny’s silence on issues like Russian support for Syria and Russia’s invasion of Georgia are equally disturbing indications of the dark ideas that lie beneath the surface, many of which are actually in sympathy with Putin.  Navalny has the same barbaric attitudes towards women that most Russian men have. He has totally failed to make women’s rights a central part of his platform and he has not elevated women to positions of power.  Navalny has done nothing to drive the right-wing element out of his organization; to the contrary, huge numbers of Communists and neo-Nazis still march in opposition rallies.

9.  Navalny has lost focus on doing what he does best.  Navalny’s main claim to fame is that he built a highly successful blog that fearlessly shone light on horrific acts of official corruption.  Now, Navalny is actually stealing the work of other corruption fighters and passing it off as his own.   Had Navalny continued focusing on this work, and given an endorsement and publicity (and financial support) to a political leader more skilled than he in building consensus and national opposition, he could have been a great Russian. Instead, he has become preoccupied with doing everything himself.

8.  Navalny participated an highly questionable “election” and prejudged his own trial.  Navalny is an incredible hypocrite.  The online “election” he personally organized and won by a landslide and his public statements that he’d be found guilty in Kirov before the verdict was rendered show this unfortunate quality in its worst light.  Instead of leading by example towards a pluralistic state, it appears Navalny is building his own cult of personality and in many ways is acting in an anti-democratic manner.  Part of this could be the result of being under siege from the Kremlin, and another part could be because it’s what Russians actually expect from their leaders. But that doesn’t change the fact that Navalny is far from a role model on democratic politics.

7.  Navalny is obsessed with the Internet.  Navalny’s belief that the Internet could unseat Putin has proven childish. It has totally failed.   Navalny has not been willing to do the kind of hard work on the street at the grass roots that leads to a successful revolution.  That may be because he’s just lazy, or it may be that he is incapable of the type of one-on-one canvassing required.  Most Russians get their news from TV, not the Internet, and therefore most Russians have no idea who Navalny is.  Most won’t even know, much less care, if he’s sent to prison.

6.  Navalny can’t communicate with the provinces.  Navalny doesn’t seem to understand that Moscow isn’t Russia.  He’s totally failed to cause a successful revolt against Putin in Moscow, but even if he had done so that would leave 90% of Russia’s population out of the loop.  The vast majority of Russians have no idea who he is, and he’s done nothing significant to change that.  There is simply no evidence that Navalny can connect with ordinary Russians; rather, he clearly seems limited to the yuppie class in Moscow, a tiny minority of Russians who have no power to change anything.

5.  Navalny sucks all the oxygen out of the room.  The only factor that ameliorates Navalny’s sexism is that he’s actually hostile to anyone who would like to share power with him.  Navalny has not shared power with other opposition leaders, he has not sought to elevate any of them into a prominent public role, and he has not unified the opposition via consensus building. Rather, he has sought to dominate it.  The worst, most venal act of Lenin was his failure to identify a successor, creating a power vacuum upon his demise that the murderous Stalin was able to fill.  Navalny has behaved exactly the same way.  His hoarding of power has been carried to such an extent that he’s not even able to identify the person who would pick up his flag and carry on were he to be assassinated or jailed, both of which have been obvious possibilities since he began his agitation.

4.  Navalny isn’t a great leader, but he can be useful martyr.  Navalny doesn’t write or deliver great speeches. He’s not truly inspirational.  He’s no Mandela, King or Gandhi. He just looks good because he has no real competition, and he has none in part because he has choked it off. See no. 5 above.  Navalny was very good at outing acts of official corruption on his blog. He should have used that power to identify and support capable political leaders who could push forward his agenda. Instead he tried to do it himself, which indicates a woeful lack of belief in his countrymen (and/or a woefully gigantic ego).  However, in jail Navalny can succeed in the role of martyr, giving impetus to further opposition activity that might not otherwise take place.

3.  Navalny has broken every promise he’s ever made.  Navalny said we’d see a new round of Duma elections. We didn’t. He said we’d see Putin in a runoff election. We didn’t. He said we’d see his protest movement grow rapidly. It shrank rapidly.  He said he’d win a series of victories in local elections across Russia. He lost.  Not one thing Navalny has ever promised has been delivered. If Navalny were a CEO, he would have been fired by the Board of Directors long ago. But Navalny doesn’t answer to a Board or to anyone.  He demands accountability from Putin, but he himself is not accountable.  If Navalny were a true visionary, he’d step down so someone else could have a chance to do better.

2.  Navalny has not made a name for himself in the West.  The easiest of Navalny’s failures to understand is his failure to make a name for himself in the West, to generate support there as for example Boris Nemtsov has done.  Doing so is risky, because it is something the Kremlin could as a weapon to brand him a “foreign agent.”  But figuring out a way to achieve this should have been a top priority for Navalny. It’s just not possible to challenge  Putin for power without having at least some support from the Western democracies.

1.  Navalny has failed at fundraising.  Even if he was not able to generate ever-larger street demonstrations or achieve any actual political goal, the very least Navalny could have done would have been to use the Internet to raise a large war chest.  He’s totally failed to do this, and this failure goes hand-in-hand with his inability to reach out to the provinces and create a national organization. This failure alone should disqualify him from continuing to hold power over the opposition movement.  The only way any rational person can support Navalny continuing to lead the opposition movement is by adopting an absolutely hostile and patronizing attitude towards Russia, an attitude which posits that, pathetic though he may be, he’s the best a pathetic country can do. If you believe that, you may as well write Russia off. We don’t believe it. We believe that there are many other possible leaders who need to be given a chance to fail just as Navalny has failed. They can’t possibly do any worse.  Instead of hoarding power, Navalny should distribute it to such people and see what they can do.

Gandhi used to say that his country couldn’t have its revolution until it was ready for it, and that maybe in the meantime the best thing he could do for his country was to go to prison.  The same may be true for Navalny in Russia, but not because Navalny is even remotely as well-loved as Gandhi was.  Gandhi had no Internet. He didn’t have the luxury of kicking back with a brewski in front of the telly and tapping out messages to millions the way Navalny can.  Gandhi built a much more powerful movement with only hard leg work and the force of his own ideas and personality.  When he went to jail, the whole nation knew, and wept. It was galvanized. Nothing like this can happen when Navalny is jailed. But at least jailing Navalny will take him out of the picture, forcing the opposition to look for his replacement and perhaps invigorating the movement. Indeed, it could well be that the best thing Putin could do if he wants to undermine the movement is to set Navalny free and let him go back to running it into the ground.

Is Vladimir Putin in Trouble?

743820-121102-vladimir-putinIn polling data it published on April 11, 2013, the Levada Center asked Russians whether they’d like to see Vladimir Putin continue in power in 2018 when his third term expires, or be replaced.

Only 22% of Russian respondents said they’d like to see Putin retain power.  47% said they’d like to see somebody other than Putin or Dmitri Medvedev take power, while 8% said they’d like to see power returned to Medvedev’s hands. In other words, a clear majority — 55% — of Russians do not want Putin to seize a fourth term as president.

This is the third time in the past year that Levada polling has shown a majority of Russians rejecting a fourth term for Putin.  In August 2012 57% opposed this outcome, and in December 2012 51% did so.  One year ago, in March 2012, 49% were opposed to a fourth term for Putin.

Another result was still more interesting. For the first time since Levada began asking the question (in March 2004), less than a majority of Russians said it was a good thing for the country that Putin had virtually unlimited power. The first time the question was asked 68% of Russians said it was a good thing; in March 2013, only 49% said so.

Dissatisfaction with Putin is hardly surprising given that economic growth is plummeting while inflation is soaring, the horrific one-two punch that economists refer to as “stagflation.”  It is also known as the disease that killed the USSR.

But this hardly means that Putin will actually be replaced.  A Levada poll from February 2013 shows that a whopping 65% of Russians think Putin has brought the country more good than bad.  Another February 2013 Levada survey shows that Putin would get three times more votes than any named rival if an election were held today, and shows his job approval rating at a heady 65%.  It has never been less than 60% at any time in the past two years.  As we reported recently, Russians blame their bureaucracy and their legislature for their troubles, not Putin.

Russians could have turned Putin out of office in 2012, of course, but instead they reelected him in a landslide, not even calling for a second round to select between the two best candidates. They instinctively seem to know it’s not a good idea for Putin to remain in power forever, especially not with unlimited power, but they appear unwilling to actually place power in the hands of any other specific person.

On Navalny and Prokhorov

Aleksei-Navalny-the-billi-011

If you think about it, in theory the notion of a political tandem forming between billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov and blogger Alexei Navalny is an interesting proposition.  Each compliments the other almost perfectly  Prokhorov brings name recognition, financial stability and business connections, Navalny brings street cred, web connections and opposition chops.

A recent poll from Levada shows that a shocking 64% of Russians have never even heard of Navalny and only 14% (barely a third of those who have heard of him) would even consider voting for him for president.  Navalny’s name recognition soared upwards in 2011, from just 6% in April 2011, to an amazing 34% in June 2012.  But then more recently, it has plateaued.  The number had increased to just 37% by March 2013.

Prokhorov’s name recognition is much better, at most a fifth of the Russian population is unable to identify him.  But Prokhorov’s name recognition doesn’t help him with electability, his level is nearly as low as Navanly’s.  Just 18% of Russians said they were prepared to consider casting a vote for a political party organized by Prokhorov, and when he ran for president he was soundly repudiated, taking less than 8% of the vote. That’s because Prokhorov’s credibility is extremely low.

A clear majority of Russians who have read it (granted, a very small group) are prepared to believe that Navalny’s anti-corruption reporting is valid. Less than 20% of Russians who have read them reject his reports, while only about a quarter is unable to decide (still, that’s a surprisingly large 46% of Russians who know Navalny questioning him on critical facts).

As such, Navalny’s credibility within his cult of followers is far higher than Prokhorov’s, since 40% of Russians are prepared to believe Prokhorov is a puppet controlled by the Kremlin while only 30% believe he is his own man.

There are three main problems, though, with a Prokhorov-Navalny tandem. First, Navalny is headed to prison.  He’s been charged with embezzlement in a move very similar to the one that sent oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky to the big house, and he has said he expects to be convicted.  Second, Prokhorov is exactly the type of person Navalny has spent his adult life attacking for corruption. And third, Russians are almost certainly correct when they conclude Prokohorov isn’t a serious reformer and is in fact a Kremlin puppet.

That’s to say nothing of the opposition movement’s persistent failure to show any signs of being able to cooperate and form such unions.  Each and every time something of the sort has been tried, it’s ended in abysmal disaster.

As such, comparing the two only serves to emphasize the pathetic weakness of Russia’s so-called opposition.

The Face of the Russian Opposition

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Александра Духанина. Задержана 27 мая 2012 года. С 29 мая под домашним арестом. 5 марта Басманный суд продлил домашний арест до 27 мая 2013 года

Alexandra Dukhanina. Arrested May 27, 2012 at the Bolotnaya Square protest.  Under house arrest starting May 29, 2012 until May 27, 2013.

If you read Russian, you can find out more about Alexandra here.

Russian Miss Earth Blasts Horror of Russia

But my Russia — it is also my poor, long-suffering country, mercilessly torn to pieces by greedy, dishonest, unbelieving people. My Russia — it is a great artery, from which the “chosen” few people draining away its wealth. My Russia is a beggar. My Russia cannot help her elderly and orphans. From it, bleeding, like from sinking ship, engineers, doctors, teachers are fleeing, because they have nothing to live on. My Russia — it is an endless Caucasian war. These are the embittered brother nations who formerly spoke in the same language, and who now prohibit teaching of it in their schools. My Russia — it is a winner which has overthrown fascism but bought the victory at the expense of lives of millions of people. How, tell me, how and why does the nationalism prosper in this country? My dear, poor Russia.

– Russian Miss Earth Contestant Natalia Pereverzeva

Navalny Turns to Communism

Once again, this time shouting that “there is not enough personal anger in this fight,” Alexei Navaly has led a street demonstration in Moscow against Vladimir Putin.  He has proved unable to maintain the size of the demonstrations, which are now half what they were in their heyday, and unable to expand their geographic reach beyond Moscow – a feeble gathering of barely 2,000 showed up in St. Petersburg.  The demonstration was called a the March of Millions, and indeed sex months ago Navalny had promised to have a million or more on the streets. But the size of gatherings has moved in the opposite direction from what he predicted, consistent with what we have said from the beginning.

In fact, as has been the pattern, it was quite difficult to get a clear picture of how man people there actually were on the street this past Saturday. Reuters and Financial Times said it was 50,000. AFP said 40,000. AP and New York Times lacked the courage to quote any figure.  Russian police said it was just 14,000 while the psychotic left-wing charlatan Sergei Udaltsov claimed it was 150,000.

Meanwhile, in craven fashion, Putin’s press secretary refused to comment on the fact that tens of thousands were calling for Putin’s ouster on the streets of Moscow, while he sojourned in Sochi and met with the dictator of Belarus.

Navalny sounded desperate, and vaguely like a new sort of Russian Communist. He screeched:

The other side knows that they stand to lose millions, their yachts and their houses on the Cote d’Azur . . . we have to see our fight for freedom and for equal rights as concrete things. The destruction of corruption means the country’s riches for all of us and equal rights mean equality for all our children and not just cushy jobs for the children of the Kremlin elite. We have come out and demonstrate to ensure the future for ourselves and for our families. We have to come out as if we were going to work.

Navalny, it seems, has abandoned his ludicrous claim that he would force the Kremlin to hold a new round of less corrupt national elections that would allow him to gain a foothold in power.  Now, he appears to be courting the support of the Communist Party, by far the  largest single group in attendance (their red flags dominated the protest square, along with the black-white-yellow banners of the Russian Nazis). One demented Communist went about declaring:  “Death to the Bourgeoisie!”  The Party itself beamed with pride, stating that the protests had turned “notably red.”

This is what Russia’s so-called protest movement has come to. Navalny has failed so miserably that his last best hope is to become a communist, just another way of leading Russia into the same sort of darkness favored by proud KGB spy Vladimir Putin.

Failure and Humiliation in Astrakhan

Instead of being a force to galvanize a new round of opposition enthusiasm, the efforts to protest the recent mayoral election in Astrakhan have served only to emphasize the weakness and indeed dissolution being experienced by the opposition forces.

The Just Russia party promised that every single one of its deputies in Moscow would travel to Astrakhan to rally in support of Oleg Shein, their defeated candidate for Astrakhan mayor who claims fraud denied him the office.  But in the event, less than a third of the deputies (Russian-language link) actually made the trip.

Just Russia, of course, is hardly a focal point of the opposition.  Though it had a place on the ballot last December, none of the opposition leaders endorsed it much less participated in its operations, and it has always been thought of as a Kremlin patsy.

The focus on Astrakhan resulted in major reporting in the Washington Post and the New York Times about the city and its political leanings. But what the reporters found when they looked was disheartening:  Little access to the Internet, and even less interest in the criticism of Putin to be found there.  The people of Astrakhan simply don’t care about democracy or about Shein’s fate, and the arrival of the glitterati from Moscow (like Aleksei Navalny and Ksenia Sobchak) came with a resounding thud.

An absurdly small number of people turned out for the Moscow-led protest demonstrations, and many of them had been brought in from outside the city — a practice that was condemned by the opposition leaders when Putin tried it in Moscow.  Putin scoffed at the protests and defied them. Larger demonstrations were organized in support of the status quo.  Soon, local elections officials were turning the tables and accusing Shein himself of fraud.

So all the protests in Astrakhan managed to accomplish was to remind the world how confused, disorganized and isolated the opposition movement is now.  When the opposition leaders say that it doesn’t matter that protest activity has dissolved in Moscow because they are seeking real political power in the remote regions, their claims ring hollow.  There is no groundswell of support in the regions for opposition reform, the regions are where Putin is strongest.

Bold Predictions or Insane Ravings?

According to Boris Nemtsov and Sergei Udaltsov, the first week in May 2012 is going to be one of the most earth-shaking weeks in all of Russian history.

If they are right, on May 6, the day before Putin is inaugurated, we will see a “March of Millions” in which several million people will throng the streets across Russia to protest election fraud by the Kremlin. This despite a new poll that shows over 90% of respondents believe the demonstration sizes won’t increase from the past, where they maxed out at 100,000 or so.

And then on May 7, Inauguration Day, Putin will do the next-best thing to resigning:  He will pardon and release both Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, and maybe some other “political prisoners” as well.

Are these the bold predictions of heroic warriors who have Putin right where they want him? Or are they the insane ravings of utterly failed pretenders tilting and windmills, and about to lose every last vestige of credibility?

Either way, the first week in May is certainly shaping up to be an exciting one.