Photo Source: newsweek.com
Opinion by Pasqueline Agostinho
Russia’s opposition leader, Alexei Navalny has inspired the country and influenced the rest of the world by taking a stand against Putin to fight against corruption. He leads the Russia of the Future Party where its main ideologies are economic and social liberalism and progressivism, as well as populism and civic nationalism, a classic centrist liberal party. Navalny and his supporters hope to overthrow Putin, establish liberal democratic elections and pave Russia to a more liberal future. Unfortunately for his liberal supporters, Navalny was sentenced for three and a half years in jail on 2nd February 2021.
However, the irony of this is that the liberalism of his party seems to contradict his record on a few topics which match far-right views. In 2007, he was expelled from the liberal Yabloko Party. The reason for this is because he founded a nationalist movement called “The People” and nationalism goes against the party’s policy. Its main ideology was “democratic nationalism” in which its aim was to fight for democracy as well as the rights of ethnic Russians. This movement merged with Movement Against Illegal Immigration (MAII) and Great Russia to form “Russian National Movement ”. Commenting on the movement and a cooperation agreement between MAII and Great Russia, he said that “new political nationalism” is democratic.
He is proud of showing his ethnonationalism and racism as shown in one of his biographies, where he called an Azerbaijani co-worker a “darkie” and in another biography, he called Georgians “rodents” during the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, calling for all Georgians to be expelled from Russia. Additionally, he is islamophobic. In a video uploaded to his old verified YouTube account in 2007, he referred Muslims in the North Caucasus region in Southern Russia as “cockroaches” whilst he showed them on the TV screen beside him. He asked: “But what to do if cockroaches are too big, and flies – too aggressive? – In such cases I recommend a handgun.” This signifies that he wants Muslims to be killed.
In 2011, Navalny launched the campaign, “Stop Feeding the Caucasus”. It was a protest against the government and demanding it to stop giving subsidies to the poor, ethnic minorities in autonomous regions in Southern Russia. About this, Navalny said:
“I believe that we need to end the system of financing the Caucasus which has led to us feeding these insolent, fattening elites. The absolutely impoverished local population looks at these elites and sees that it’s necessary to go into a forest with a submachine-gun to fight them.”
He has linked the subsidies with terrorism.
But it doesn’t stop there. He called for the ban of Hijabs in public buildings in the North Caucasus region. Speaking on it he explained: “I am positively opposed to what is happening in Chechnya when they force all women to wear headscarves. You turn on Chechen television, and all program hosts are wearing headscarves. I believe that there is no need to force them to do that. I’m not forcing everyone to fast because there’s an Orthodox Fast right now.”
What Navalny doesn’t consider is that there are many Muslim women who wear hijabs by choice. Just because a woman wears one, it doesn’t mean that they were forced to. Muslim women should have the freedom to wear it or not and banning it outright in public institutions would infringe on their rights. Many Islamophobic people like him like to connect Islamist fundamentalist terrorism with the use of Hijabs, Niqabs and Burqas but there is no evidence that this type of terrorism is linked with the clothing.
To conclude this, the idea of Navalny leading Russia is dangerous. Many of his supporters are just liberals and not necessarily ethnonationalist. Many critical thinkers fear that Russia would have a “Colour Revolution” – a series of nonviolent protests with the goal of establishing liberal democratic elections only to find out in the end that the democratically elected leader is also just as corrupt. I am not against democracy, but I am against those who do not stand for the working class, as seen with Navalny’s pro free market views, and those with socially reactionary views. Russians should seek a better alternative especially when it found out in a poll in 2018 that 66% of Russians have a favourable view of the USSR.