Don’t believe Navalny

It is characteristic of Empires (and their intelligence agencies) to believe what they want to hear.

Defectors and people looking for foreign backing to stage a coup in their own country often understand this and play to it. The “45 minute” soundbite which was used to justify the 2003 Iraq invasion in the UK may have been provided by an emigreé taxi driver in Jordan. [1] Whatever the source – it was a meaningless piece of “information”. Did it relate to ballisitic missiles or battlefield munitions? It didn’t matter – it served the political purpose; which was to deceive the public that Iraq was a threat.

When Verica of the Atrebates tribe asked Rome to help him regain his throne from the Catuvellauni, thus providing them with the pretext for invasion, he probably told them what they wanted to hear about the state of Britain.

Navalny, who has apparently been complaining to the New York Times about having to watch hours of Russian state TV [2] has said:

Sooner or later, this mistake will be fixed, and Russia will move on to a democratic, European path of development – simply because that is what the people want [2]

This is, in general, the narrative line of the Western liberal press (at least those sections of it which I read – mostly the Guardian and the Independent). Russians are groaning under the yoke of Kremlin repression. Navalny is the opposition movement in Russia. This is usually described as the “democratic opposition”, which implies that all the opposition is ‘democratic’ and there is no other opposition. This itself is false; there are many groups who oppose Putin and United Russia from different directions including but not limted to nationalists who want to reduce American influence to Communists who want to renationalise large parts of the economy and use the wealth for social development – which would, in effect, remove Russia from process of globalisation.

Navalny says that the people want a European, democratic, path to development. Is this true?

No. It isn’t. This is Peter Kenez, a respected scholar of Soviet and Russian history, writing in his book “A History of the Soviet Union from the Beginning to its Legacy”: “The same polls show that the great majority of Russians do not believe that they live in a democratic country, and they are not much bothered by this. ‘If everything is going well,’ they see no need for an opposition.” [3]

Having seen this piece in the Guardian I asked my Russian teacher today whether it is true that a majority of Russians want a European style democratic path to development. She is a lecturer at a leading University in Russia but also someone who speaks English and who has been abroad. She is also of a generation who did not grow up in the USSR. She, basically, said no. It is not true that the majority of Russians want a European democratic model of development. “Why not?”, I asked. She explained that if you ask young people in Moscow and St. Petersburg they might want a European model of development; but this is Moscow and St. Petersburg. Russia is a big country and many people have never been outside the country. They haven’t seen Europe and aren’t influenced by it. She added that Russia straddles both Europe and Asia and thus it is quite likely to have a different model of development. Finally, she said that the messaging through state media is hardly encouraging for this model. Of course, it is the last point which is amplified by Western liberals, but not the first two. Western liberal jouranlists all seem to be based in Moscow, (certainly those from the Guardian and Independent are). They seem to be relatively young people and, by definition, they are themselves Western liberals. What seems to happen then is they come to Moscow and associate with young pro-Western liberals there (possibly English speaking?). And they get the impression that these people represent all Russia. But this isn’t so. They are missing the other points my teacher made; millions of people in Russia do not live in Moscow and St. Petersburg. They have not been exposed to Western values. They may feel closer to Asiatic values in some respects. They are not hankering after Western style democracy.

I can add to this that when I asked a friend in Kemerovo (Western Siberia) about Navalny he was clear. Navalny, according to my friend, appeals to young people who want an easy life. Russia has its own path and it isn’t Navalny’s. On another occasion his wife told me that Russia isn’t ready for democracy yet. These are intelligence middle-class people; they haven’t been brainwashed. They are able to give their own reasons for their views. They just don’t want Western style liberal democracy; they don’t see any need for it. There are of course millions like them in Russia. (My friends are quite a young couple – in their thirties. It is not simply a question of age).

Navalny may have convinced himself that “the people” want European style democracy. I don’t know if he really believes this or not. But it really seems to be a fact that a majority of people in Russia do not want European style democracy. The ‘Apple’ party which is the only party in Russia which advocates for a European style democracy commands only a little public support despite being able to field a large number of candiates. It will be interesting to see if they win any seats in the State Duma in the upcoming elections.

The UK liberal media has ‘adopted’ Navalny and in reporting on politics in Russia report almost exclusively on his political doings and views/analysis. But the politial reality in Russia is much more complicated. There are a greater range of opposition movements than simply a ‘democratic opposition’. Other opponents of Putin and United Russia do not oppose him because he is not ‘democratic’ enough but for entirely other reasons; for example Putin is too close to the West (nationalists), or he has accepted too much of capitalism (Communists). Overall, Western style liberal demoracy cannot be described as massively popular in Russia and it is not correct to say that the people want it.

Of course; the situation may change in the next 20-30 years but it doesn’t seem to be simply a question of age demographics; distance from Europe also plays a part. For this reason I don’t think that it is a given that Russians will choose a European model of development even in the next generation.

Notes

1. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2009/dec/08/45-minutes-wmd-taxi-driver / https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2004/feb/05/iraq.iraq1

2. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/aug/26/alexei-navalny-russia-prison-state-tv-china-labour-camp-psychological-violence

3. Kenez, Peter. A History of the Soviet Union from the Beginning to its Legacy (p. 299). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer