If you follow the western press on Russia, which if you’re reading this you likely do, you’ll be aware of a figure called Alexey Navalny. You will have read about him in glowing terms. a charismatic anti-corruption campaigner, activist against corruption and for the rule of law etc, are oft-used terms, but western media can often hardly restrain themselves at that, so you will find him described as handsome (NY Times even), handsome , brave and handsome (New Yorker), handsome, blue-eyed, even (Mashable), handsome man with bright blue eyes and an angular face (Spiegel).
The photos chosen by the western media echo the words, with Navalny always portrayed in handsome, striding, heroic form….
Der Spiegel gush on… ‘He is also a gifted politician, something even his opponents acknowledge, and, as journalists joke among themselves, the best journalist in the country.’ There’s not even the slightest attempt to inject the least objectivity into the piece, as it goes on ‘Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, a man with all the charisma of a file-folder’. …
Meanwhile, when it comes to writing about Navalny, for the western media there’s seemingly no need to support any statements about Navalny – again Der Spiegel – (but you can find similar across the spectrum of western media,
Where’s any evidence that was the Kremlin’s intention? In any case, Navalny did run for mayor of Moscow in 2013, and actually did pretty well – coming second, with 28% of the vote. But, despite what the western media may lead you to believe, it’s all been downhill since then.
Not that Navalny’s plunging popularity as a politician at the polls has any bearing on the west’s coverage of him, with Politico blaring in August of 2017 that he was the ‘man who could beat Vladimir Putin at the polls‘. Actually, this is the favourite theme of the west’s, that somehow in a ‘fair election’, Navalny would win, no matter what the actual polls from Russia, and Russians, say.
Actually, independent polls show that Navalny’s rating is just 1% these days. A succession of corruption scandals have taken their toll on the 41-year-old law graduate, in politics since 2000. Indeed there’s a lengthy list of embezzlement charges against Navalny, most notably stealing timber, defrauding Yves Rocher, even.
All of these, along with Navalny becoming more noted for theatrical police detainments, and making a feature of having his face green-dyed (with that, the inevitable Shrek comparisons), than his actual politics, have eroded Navalny’s support base in Russia. Yet, his popularity with the western press is enshrined – we can never read about any charges against Navalny from the west, with the prefix, or suffix, of ‘politically-charged‘, and so on. For them, Navalny is so firmly can ‘do-no-wrong’ that anything against him can only be ‘politically motivated‘. Never mind that Navalny has actually agreed to pay compensation in the Rocher case, and his brother is currently serving a jail term for his involvement.
There are two more key points to bear in mind. Navalny has indeed organised mass rallies in Russia, his biggest one being the anti-Medvedev, Russia’s Prime Minister, on March 26th, 2017. That rally was positioned as an ‘anti-corruption’ action, aimed at Medvedev, with allegations of his having accrued mass wealth. Tens of thousands did turn out for this, across Russia. Medvedev’s popularity is far lower than that of Putin, and the theme of anti-corruption proved a rallying call. (Pictured, St Petersburg)
Yet, in western media, we were told of these protests as ‘anti-Kremlin’, even ‘anti-Putin’, as here, the New York Times – biggest demonstration in five years against President Vladimir V. Putin. The Washington Post took a similar theme. This simply wasn’t the case, Putin wasn’t on the ticket here.
Navalny did recently hold actual anti-Putin demonstrations in Russia. The result? A smattering of protests across the country, and a planned provocation in Moscow. Navalny had asked, and been denied, permission to hold his demonstration in the city’s central Pushkin square, then march along Tverskaya Street (which leads directly to Red Square, Tverskaya pictured).
The refusal to hold the meeting there was entirely unsurprising, given that this is the centre of the city, and any mass meeting, down main city thoroughfares, would either shut off an entire central section of the city, cause mass chaos, or both. Previously, as in 2015, Navalny had held a, sanctioned, meeting in the less central, but far more appropriate area of Marino, in the south of Moscow.
This time, he rejected all three alternatives offered by the city to him, (alternatives to Pushkin square, and Tverskaya Street), and pushed ahead with holding the demo there, knowing that while police may let it happen, he would surely be detained on arrival, as he was. Much to the delight of the western press, ever ready to conflate ‘detained’ with ‘arrested’ in his case –
Navalny tweeted his way through it as usual, and was soon released. Btw, what tweets Navalny sends too, here – “I have been detained. This means nothing. You are not rallying for me, but for yourselves and your future.” Oh, the martyrdom….
Of course, for the western media, Navalny’s meetings always attract thousands, upon thousands, upon thousands, and we are always told that his supporters are the cream of Russian society, the new intelligent generation of Russians, and so on. Photo here, typical of photos presented as Navalny supporters.
A new generation in Russia is suddenly waking up and taking to the streets to protest corruption in the country. (Spiegel again)
ABC – Step aside, Vladimir Putin — a new generation is rising
Well, firstly, let’s have a look at a photo of how the recent, January 28th, meeting was portrayed in the western media, here, CNN –
However, a drone view is less flattering, with around a thousand there, and in their number, simply masses of western journalists, who it seems all many of them do is emerge from their Moscow apartment to cover anything they can describe as ‘anti-Putin’, and portray it, as above, as a mass movement –
I was there, filmed the demo, and spoke to the pro-Navalny protesters. It certainly wasn’t my impression that this was the ‘cream of the new generation of Russians‘, and so on. But, you can judge for yourselves, all here, unedited –
I recorded more interviews, in Russian, which make the bold claims we read about Navalny supporters and their proposed boycott of Russia’s upcoming presidential election seem slightly academic, taking into account how many of them were 14 or 15 years old… Russian coverage of Navalny has highlighted his strategy of targeting children to attend his demos, often just along for the want of something, preferably ‘anti-establishment’ to do, to boost the numbers. It’s a theme the western press have yet to pay any particular note to…
And I won’t even go into the incident where a Navalny supporter smashed my camera, something the Russian police dealt with professionally, and effectively. Not that you’d ever read about that in our media of course. A rule of western media is, of course, that anything the Russian police do has to be ‘police brutality’ (all part of the ‘repressive regime of Putin’ etc), including detaining Navalny supporters generally acting like hooligans, in often difficult circumstances. Not to mention that, knowing the cameras are on them, some of them really camp it up…
But then, when it comes to Navalny and the western press, facts and their own pre-set version only come together in the most abstract of ways. Because, you see, there’s no question that in one sphere, the popularity of Navalny is indeed rising. As a video blogger. Navalny’s video blogs, professionally-produced, on a range of themes relevant to Russians, do attract millions of views.
But, views on YouTube do not equate to political popularity, and many watch Navalny’s videos to argue, disagree, or just to see what he’s saying (and there’s no question he does, at times, call out corruption, and hit on issues which resonate with Russians).
Navalny himself seems increasingly at home in his role as provocateur, and YouTuber, and increasingly distant from any real political involvement, from which his convictions currently preclude him – again, the fact that a convicted criminal can’t stand for election as the president of Russia has caused no end of (the by now predictable) agitation and dramatic declarations of injustice, etc, from the western end.
Be it tarnished reputation, or ineligibility, Navalny seems increasingly distant from any meaningful involvement in Russian politics, as a politician. Which made last week’s urging by the British media, that western governments simply must support Navalny, all the more peculiar.
Support him in what? YouTubing? Organising unsanctioned demos which attract increasingly meagre numbers of supporters? Getting detained, again, briefly, only for the western media to shout about how he was ‘arrested (!!!)’, as he manages to tweet from wherever he is detained (police van, wherever)…
Or, the most obvious, being an aesthetically appealing opponent of Putin, always ready with a vitriolic criticism of Putin to hand, who can be positioned by the west as somehow Putin’s ‘successor-in-waiting’, etc. Rather than the reality of Navalny, which is a still-young, 41, but already damaged goods, spent, political yesterday’s man, turned to YouTubing.
An indeed useful, ‘handsome’ etc, of course, tool, for the west to use in their attempts to stoke problems in Russia…