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To Some Opposition Bloggers Alexey Navalny is “Führer”

Alexey Navalny speaking to a crowd of supporters on September 9, 2013. YouTube screenshot.

Alexey Navalny speaking to a crowd of supporters on September 9, 2013. YouTube screenshot.

The day after opposition leader Alexey Navalny lost the Moscow mayoral race, he stood on a square in the center of Moscow and addressed a crowd of thousands of supporters (over 50,000 according to some of the higher estimates [ru]). He promised to contest the election in court, played up the successes of his campaign, cautioned his followers from any rash actions, and told them that he “loved” them.

The speech [ru] was, by all accounts, charismatic. And yet, even those particularly impressed by Navalny's oratorical skills (practiced at dozens of meetings with local constituents over the past months), could not help but make odd observations. For example, Alexey Roschin, a political consultant who went to the rally, wrote [ru]:

[Навальный] держался абсолютно уверенно и спокойно, полный контакт с аудиторией. Грамотная речь. Спокойное заявление о своем лидерстве, «верьте мне, я знаю, что делаю и что надо делать. Вы мне верите? – ДААА-ААА!!!» Классика. […] Со сцены выступали не просто люди – это были СОЛДАТЫ. И офицеры. А в конце речь держал командующий. […] Я был не в толпе – я был посреди строя. В АРМИИ.

[Navalny] was assured and calm, in full contact with his audience. Well spoken. Calm assertion of leadership “trust me, I know what I'm doing and what needs to be done. Do you trust me? – YEEEES!!!” Classic. […] The people addressing us from the podium weren't just people – they were SOLDIERS. And officers. And in the end spoke the commander. […] I wasn't in a crowd – I was in a military formation. IN AN ARMY.

Other members of the opposition also caught on to Navalny's new undisputed role as “commander” — but did not like what they saw. “This was a personal rally for Navalny, not the opposition,” wrote [ru] Dmitry Ermoltsev on Facebook, lamenting Navalny's self-comparison to a rock star and his taking credit for the entire protest movement. For noted philologist Gassan Guseinov [ru], this rock-star quality makes Navalny similar to another Russian leader:

Много общего с послепутчевым Ельциным […] как и Ельцин, оказавшись в Кремле, Н[авальный] первым делом оседлает чекистско-полицейский аппарат, заточенный под хозяина, вождя, генсека, отца родного, который всех их “любит”.

There is a lot in common with a post [1993] putsch [Boris] Yeltsin […] like Yeltsin, if he ends up in the Kremlin, Navalny will firstly capture the police apparatus, which is built for a master, a leader, a General Secretary, a father who “loves” everyone.

Later he wrote [ru]:

Чувство массового единения вокруг персон – отвратительно. Митинг, устроенный под одним словом – именем – Навальный, которое висело над трибуной […] это политически ничтожное убожество […]

The feeling of mass unity around a single person is deplorable. A rally created around one name — Navalny — which was hanging over the podium […] is politically irrelevant squalor […]

Navalny's September 9 rally stage with his name spelled out for all to see has attracted criticism. YouTube screenshot.

Navalny's September 9 rally stage with his name spelled out in huge letters has attracted criticism. YouTube screenshot.

Some bloggers didn't beat around the bush in finding historical comparisons. After all, why settle for Yeltsin when there is Godwin's Law to exploit? Journalist Arkady Babchenko, who is as anti-Putin as it gets, wrote [ru]:

[…] поздравляю вас с рождением нового фюрера. […] По своему содержанию, форме, интонациям и накалу, это была конечно же, абсолютно вождистская речь. Верите ли вы мне? Даааааа!!!!! Нда… Замусолинило человека знатно.

[…] congratulations on the birth of a new Führer. […] In its content, form, intonation and emotion it was of course an absolute “cult of personality” speech. Do you trust me? Yeeees!!!! Yep… He's gotten quite “mussolinized.”

DemVybor's Stanislav Yakovlev agreed [ru] with the choice of totalitarian leader comparison:

[…] прогрессивная общественность принципиально жмурит прозрачные очи, как бы не замечая, что речь Навального построена по совершенно классическим принципам Der Führer Spricht […] а вовсе не какого-то ссаного “карнеги”, друг друга вы вольны сколько угодно умасливать ласковой брехней, но нас-то зачем, мы все-таки время от времени какие-то книжки читаем […]

[…] the progressive public is shutting its eyes on principle, and pretending not to notice that Navalny's speech was built around classical principles of Der Führer Spricht […] and not some kind of pissant “carnegie,” you can convince each other with your charming lies all you want, but leave us out of it, we read books from time to time […]

Such comparisons would seem silly, if it wasn't for another editorial on the speech — this one from nationalist internet publication Sputnik&Pogrom's Egor Prosvirnin. In an exalted piece [ru], stylized to sound like Soviet-era (or perhaps Weimar Germany) newspapers, Prosvirnin welcomed Navalny's turn to the “dark side” and embrace of populism:

НИКАКИХ разговоров про общегражданское движение и прочую демократию.
Одно слово.
Одно имя.
НАВАЛЬНЫЙ! — ревет толпа.
НАВАЛЬНЫЙ! — взметаются вверх тысячи табличек с его именем.
НАВАЛЬНЫЙ! — реет над толпой огромное полотнище и толпа счастлива стоять под ним.
[…] Он выходит на сцену перед ликующей толпой, сдирая с себя остатки скорлупы, и за его спиной клубится хищная русская тьма.
[…] впервые за десятилетие появился политический лидер, который говорил с толпой, как заботливый отец с неразумными детьми, такого себе даже Путин не позволял. И они его слушали, и они плакали, потому что они его ждали.
НАВАЛЬНЫЙ! — время платить по счетам почти пришло.

NO talk of civil movements and other democracy.
One word.
One name.
NAVALNY! – roars the crowd.
NAVALNY! – thousands of posters with his name leap up.
NAVALNY! – a grand banner soars above the crowd and the crowd is happy to stand beneath it.
[…] He takes the stage before the jubilant crowd […] and behind him there are clouds of predatory Russian darkness.
[…] for the first time in a decade there is a political leader that speaks to the crowd like a caring father to foolish children, even Putin didn't permit himself such liberty. And they listened to him, and they cried, because they were waiting for him.
NAVALNY! – the time to pay all bills has almost come.

While Prosvirnin's excitement may be a bit tongue-in-cheek, Navalny's populism, and especially his methods, have scared the perennial anti-Kremlin political guru Stanislav Belkovsky (in the past Belkovsky has been widely rumored to be tied to Navalny). When Belkovsky looks at the exulted masses at Navalny's rallies, he thinks [ru] “cult”:

Насколько можно судить по всем первичным и вторичным признакам, лидер взял четкий курс на создание тоталитарной секты имени себя. Для которой он не просто политик […] Он — мессия, который всемогущ, всеблаг и непогрешим. Его программа — чудесное спасение России в целом и каждого адепта индивидуально, которое произойдет с приходом Навального к власти.

As far as one can tell from primary and secondary features, the leader has taken a clear course for creating of a totalitarian sect of his own name. For which he's not only a politician […] He is a messiah, all powerful, all good, and free from sin. His political program — the miraculous saving of Russia as a whole, and every adept individually, which will happen when Navalny comes to power.

Are worries (and hopes) that Navalny is quickly turning into some kind of Russian nationalist “Dear Leader” founded? Or are members of the Russian opposition simply deathly allergic to any kind of popular success for their compatriots? After all, although Navalny lost the election, he did garner the support of over half a million Moscow voters, which overnight propelled him to the status of “politician” rather than “activist blogger.” Whatever the case, we may never find out — Navalny's criminal case is due for review shortly, and if the higher court upholds his conviction for embezzlement, he won't be eligible to run for office in the future.


  • Interesting thing that russian government pays “journalist” for such a materials with lot’s of stuff like: “totalitarian sect”, “Hitler” … . Andrew shame on you :(

  • funklord

    That guy is a self-proclaimed racist and nationalist. He’s also a white collar criminal who’s eluded jail because of being a political hot potato.
    You don’t need to “pay” someone to think bad of him.
    He’d be about the worst thing that could happen to Russia.

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