Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russian Intelligentsia Prepared to Overlook Navalny’s Nationalism

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 3 – Driven by their hatred of Vladimir Putin as a personality and their lack of a place in today’s Russia, the liberal intelligentsia has been willing to overlook xenophobic, nationalist and even anti-Semitic remarks by Aleksey Navalny, even though such ugly comments would have ended the careers of Western politicians or at least alienated liberals.

            The most charitable reading of the Moscow mayoral candidate’s comments, despite the fact that they extend back many years, are that they reflect his lack of caution in public expression – something some suggest shows his “authenticity” – or are part of an effort to attract a broader group of voters than liberal candidates in Russia normally have.

            But a major problem, as Pavel Taykov writes in “Novaya versiya” yesterday, is that Navalny has never disowned these comments or suggested they were taken out of context and that he has made more of them as he has gained support rather than fewer, a pattern that suggests they may reflect more deeply held views (versia.ru/articles/2013/sep/02/liberal-furer).

            Last week, Taykov writes, the Izraeli newspaper Ediot Ahronom published an article entitled “The Mask of the Russian Bloger,” in which it called Navalny’s views “anti-Semitic and xenophobic” and said that “Navalny cannot stand Jews and alients in principle and does not conceal this in his blog or in conversations.”
            According to Taykov, however, “the key problem” is not so much what Navalny may feel or believe but rather the question as to “why the Russian liberal intelligentsia up to now prefer to close its eyes to obvious facts” but instead continues to actively support a politician whose victory would bring them disaster.

            Israeli media have focused on Navalny’s views ever since they discvoerd that already in 2008, Navalny raised “a toast to the Holocaust.”  But they have also noted that the Russian politicians in his blog has expressed distaste for religious Jews and called North Caucasians “cockroaches” and called for using violence against them.

            Such statements raise the question as to whether Navalny “can be considerd a true democratic leader.” The Israeli press has concluded that he should not, but many Russian liberals have not even asked that question.  And Taykov says that their failure to do so reflects a particular pathology.

            Most Russian supporters of Navalny are active users of the Internet and so can easily find Navalny’s various statements, but instead of being outraged, they routinely try to explain them away – despite the fact that his remarks in this area are numerous and that they would not do that in most other cases.

            Instead, the Russian liberal intelligentsia treats him in a “special” way.  Why? The answer, Taykov suggests, lies in the attitude of that group toward Vladimir Putin and their sense that they are engaged in a struggle to the death, one that means that they must overlook problems in those who are willing to ally themselves to that cause.

            Objectively given his attitudes, Taykov says, “the politician Aleksey Navalny in fact should be the last candidate whom the Moscow liberal intelligentsia would support,” but instead, he is their candidate because he stands in contrast to and opposition to Putin whom that group hates

            As Moscow commentator Boris Kagarlitsky notes, what is going on is a manifestation of the extreme “apolitical quality” and even “naviete” of “a significant number of the representatives of the intelligentsia combining with a completely sober calculation of a definite group of opposition liberal political technologists” who see appeals to nationalism as way to gain votes.

            But as Taykov points out, “the greater political weight that Aleksey Navalny will be able to garner thanks to all these liberal technologists, the further from liberal ideas he will be able to depart.” To use American parlance, he knows his base has nowhere to go and so he can neglect them or even violate their values.

            “The problem with Navalny,” Kagarlitsky continues, “is that he is too open,” not that he does not understand this situation.  The candidate is never going to give up seeking support from the nationalist electorate, which likely agrees with many of his offensive statements, and yet the liberals are still voting for him.

            Taykov pointedly asks whether “learning from others mistakes is not part of the traditions of liberals,” suggesting that they should consider what happened in Weimar Germany when Hitler began as a battler against corruption with anti-Semitic asides and then as he increased in power made the promotion of anti-Semitic policies his main goal.

            Obviously conditions are different in Russia today, but the parallels should be disturbing enough to raise questions, but among the liberals, they rarely are.  The real reason for that, Taykov says, is that they view Navalny as someone who will bring them back to the center of things, a place where they have not been for 15 years – and that makes them forgiving.

            Another Russian commentator, Aleksey Mukhin, says that liberals would be unlikely to be happy with a Navalny regime. If he gained power, Mukhin says, he would beyond any uesstion “set up a regime liberals would not like living in. They would again go into opposition, but wehther they would succeed is another question.”

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