He raised the stakes to the maximum level – Zhanna Nemtsova
Kennan Institute Interview with Zhanna Nemtsova Long Version
Co-founder&# 160;&# 171; Boris Nemtsov Foundation&# 160; for freedom&# 187;&# 160; Zhanna Nemtsova&# 160; -&# 160; about Alexey Navalny, his return, arrest and possible development of events&# 160;&# 160;
Ksenia Turkova: When it became clear that Alexey was already returning, what thoughts and feelings did you have? There were thoughts like “Why is he doing this, because it is clear how everything will end …”?
Zhanna Nemtsova: It is very difficult for an average person to understand the logic of a person who is ready to go all the way. Such people are fighters, they are heroes. You see, politics in Russia is impossible without risk. And these risks have grown terribly. I was almost 100% sure that Alexei Navalny would be detained. I think he himself did not doubt this, it was an absolutely deliberate step. He raised the stakes to a certain maximum level and put the Russian authorities in a difficult position, because they, it seems, did not even fully believe that after he had really miraculously survived, he would be able to return to Russia again. Of course, I’m worried and in some everyday, kitchen conversations I say that maybe it shouldn’t be worth doing this. But he acts like a politician, and as a politician I understand him.
KT: If we consider it as a sacrifice, then why is this sacrifice necessary? In the name of what is she?
Zh.N .: We do not know this and cannot predict, but we can look, for example, at what is happening in Belarus. I was in Belarus in December 2019, the Nemtsov Foundation held an event there – we studied public opinion, studied young people. And there were no signs that in just six months there would be mass protests against Lukashenka and that they would cover the whole country. But what is important – it was already obvious that a value split was taking place between the political leadership of Belarus and the younger generation, it was obvious that they live in parallel worlds.
I think that in Russia, perhaps, the same thing is happening, and this is noted by sociologists, political scientists are talking about it. I think that Alexei thought that in Russia he would still have some opportunity to influence the situation, he would not return if he thought that there was not a single chance. He has such a romantic goal – but not in the sense that it is unattainable. As a politician, he also has pragmatic considerations. Yes, he is on his way to power. But given the risks he is taking, he really wants to change something in the country. And one more consideration. Imagine that you are the head of a large opposition structure in Russia – the head of the Anti-Corruption Foundation. You have thousands of supporters, you have thousands of volunteers, employees who work all over the country and are exposed to risk every day – this is searches, arrests, pressure, and not only on themselves, but also on their relatives. And what, the head of such an organization will say: “You know, you risk further there, but I stay in Germany”? I think he didn’t want to look like a coward in the eyes of all these people who support him and who work for a common cause..
K.T .: Regarding the romantic image. Indeed, we are now facing an image, a picture of a certain superhero – I have already read that Navalny is called “Captain Russia” – by analogy with Captain America. You can also remember Harry Potter, who, having learned about the last bastard, decided to sacrifice himself. That is, there is such an archetypal picture of the struggle between good and evil. Will it help Russian society better understand what’s going on in general??
Zh.N .: Can you imagine the situation that Navalny will not be there. Will there be any hope? It seems to me that after all, some part of society is pinning its hopes on changes with Alexei Navalny. And, importantly, there have now been some changes in the status of Alexei Navalny: his audience has increased, the whole country has learned his name, more and more people are following his fate. In Russia, perhaps, there is not a single person in opposition whom the whole country would know. If we talk about society, then it seems to me that there is no revolutionary situation in our country. And here it is also important to communicate not only with people of your own circle, not only with your reference group, but also with amorphous, apathetic people who are not interested in politics. I communicate with them and see that they are all quite tired of Putin, they would be glad if the power in our country changed. But they don’t really know what to do. Apparently, we need to propose some kind of agenda, some kind of idea that could unite millions. It seems that it is so easy, but in fact it is difficult, because you need to find something that can affect all people. Nothing is possible without this. But you also need to understand that people who are in power will not give up this power just like that..
KT: Navalny proposes such a general agenda – theft, corruption. But his critics say that there is a certain shift in focus in this: he concentrates only on theft as one of the aspects, he does not talk about evil as the common root of this power..
J.N .: It seems to me that he correctly points to the main pain point. If we are talking about politics, then the biggest problem in any country is the corruption of the political regime. What kind of evil are we talking about??
K.T .: About wars unleashed, annexation of territories, political persecution and murders.
Zh.N .: By the way, his legal service helped many detainees a lot: they helped to write complaints to the ECHR. They helped the detainees at the rallies. Maybe he’s just not pedaling it that way, but he does it. If we talk about the problem of Crimea, of course, Alexey said that it was illegal, but it was impossible to unite the Russian society around this topic, 85% of which supported the annexation, this is not the agenda. You have to be a political kamikaze to try to unite society under this slogan.
You can reach through corruption, this is a painful point. The problem of fairness in the distribution of resources in Russia is extremely acute, and this should not be underestimated. And research shows that young people care about it. There is an uneven distribution of resources between Moscow and the regions, and there is a huge income gap between the richest people and the poorest. There is no possibility of social elevators, it is not clear how to make a career if you do not support the system.
KT: Coming back to possible scenarios. What could happen on February 2nd? How likely is it that Navalny’s suspended sentence will be replaced with a real one and can the public influence this??
Zh.N .: I think that the suspended sentence will be replaced with a real one, I am inclined to this, although I cannot say 100%, of course. This is a very unfavorable scenario, but, in my opinion, it is the most likely.
As for the public, FBK urged to take to the streets on January 23, and Alexey Navalny himself stressed: not for him, but for his future.
I’m going to a share in Nizhny Novgorod. Why go out? Because he is still the number one opposition politician in our country. Some hopes are connected with him. Besides, he is my friend, and this is also an important point for me. I just can’t stay at home when my friend is imprisoned.
K.T .: Our spectator Greta writes that the people in Russia for 20 years have lost the ability to fight, they are absolutely scared and weak-willed, so there is no need to wait for changes. What can you say to Greta?
J.N .: Well, first of all, there is no need to generalize. In Belarus, people also waited 26 years, and then they got tired of it. Nobody promised that it would turn out quickly. What Alexey and his team are doing is not a sprint, it is a very long, difficult process associated with a lot of disappointment, because incredible resources are invested – human and any other, health. But if we don’t have such people, nothing will work out. What does weak-willed mean? I do not like to talk about the people as a whole. Moreover, many people simply do not know where to get information from. They just need to be explained and understand how propaganda works..
There is also such a philosophical moment related to the issue of trust. It seems to me that there is a huge problem of trust in Russia and, perhaps, in a number of other countries of the post-Soviet space. Here’s an investigation by Bellingcat and Navalny about his poisoners. It would seem that everything is clear, what questions could there be? But polls show that a lot of people don’t believe! They have a colossal distrust of everything: the state, the opposition, the vaccine, and so on. A wall of mistrust was formed, because our people were deceived a lot. And hence the very high demands on the opposition. They are supposed to be some kind of ideal. It seems ridiculous to me. We want to jump from the bad to the ideal. And so we will look for this ideal person and find fault with him for any reason..
I like the statement of the writer Mikhail Shishkin that Russia is a country of bandits and heroes. Now, using the example of the story with Alexei Navalny, we see just this collision. But the fight has become especially fierce now.
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Journalist, TV and radio host, philologist. She started as a correspondent and presenter on NTV under the leadership of Evgeny Kiselev, worked on TV6, TVS, REN TV, radio stations "Echo of Moscow", "City FM", "Kommersant FM". From 2013 to 2017 she lived and worked in Kiev, participated in the creation of an information radio station "Radio Vesti", directed the Russian-language broadcasting of the Ukrainian channel Hromadske TV, was a host and executive producer. Since 2017 works for "Voice of America" in Washington.