Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Navalny at LSE

Alexey Navalny, by far the most famous Russian whistleblower and lawyer was speaking today at LSE about his fight with corruption.

I was lucky to arrive earlier than I planned so I had no problems with getting in, but there were more people in the queue than it was possible to get seated and many visitors were not let into. This is quite typical for LSE public events, but I am not sure if it is still usual for the lectures being interesting almost only to foreigners. Roughly 3/4 of the audience were Russians (it was easy to measure as Navalny once asked Russian speakers to raise their hands), most of them students, most of those students from the LSE. As somebody mentioned in their Twitter ironically, the speaker was very likely talking to children of his opponents.

I haven't been to that many LSE public lectures but still this was the first one I attended organised more as an interview than as a talk. Instead of giving a speech, Navalny was answering questions asked by the host, who was reading them from the sheet of paper, eyes buried in his notes. That was when Navalny asked Russians to raise hands: "Alas, not all of you are Russian speakers so I can't speak Russian, and I'm tired talking in English", he complained.

Russian media always mention Navalny's "brilliant English". That's not true. His speech is fluent but with many grammatical mistakes seasoned with a heavy accent. It is not really his fault as he is a Russian politician and lives in Russia, and also he's simply famous enough to get invited here and there across the globe having people listening to him anyway. And my English is also far from being perfect, so how can I judge. Still, that surprised me enough to mention that.

I liked some of Navalny's points:

  • In its history, Russia has never been as rich as it is now, so people generally don't mind negative aspects they face when dealing with the public institutions.
  • Western societies, UK particularly, are also generally fine with filthy rich Russians, not being interested in how had they acquired their money. "There are so many people with LSE diplomas in Transneft and Rosneft, do you run a special embezzlement course here?" (host laughing).
  • There is no good cop in Russian presidential tandem, as there is no bad cop either. They're both evil and even more precisely, there is only one guy who's in charge, not two of them. For the same reason it doesn't really matter who of them will "win" the next elections.
  • Putin's rating is not a complete fake and he's indeed the most popular politician in the country. But his real figure is hardly higher than 35%, and when everybody learns that, it will drop significantly.

But what I didn't like today was the same attitude I didn't like in Navalny before this talk when reading his posts back in Russia.

The man on the slide above is Oleg Simakov, a supposedly corrupt Russian official, as many of them are (at least he was caught red-handed with £1.000.000 deal). But he was never named during the talk while mentioned several times, because he was always referred by Navalny only as "Mister Unibrow". That might be funny (well, for the first two or three times) but don't you find that Mr. Putin is already very good with rude jokes? Do we really need another guy with this precious talent?

I also had a chance to ask Navalny about his late political commercials showing him shooting a stereotypical immigrant with a handgun. My question was how did his beliefs change since that moment and does he regret now or proud of that activity. The answer I got was long and calm but in brief he told that yes, he's fine with that. I don't really think Navalny is a true racist or something, but I have a strong feeling he's not very picky with his methods. Whatever works, he will use. First liberal socialism in Yabloko party, then nationalism turned out to be less effective, so why don't we try corruption - oh yeah, that works. Okay, but what will be the next? I am not really comfortable with that approach, if you ask me.

There were funny moments as well. "We are not living in a better country because of ourselves", said Navalny solemnly, which, in the context given, made me giggle. Some of us are actually living in a better country, aren't we.


Speaking of who lives where, while standing in the line I overheard some talks between Russian students. Many of them are concerned by the new immigration rules which no longer privilege foreign UK graduates over other foreign workers, so if you don't manage to secure a job soon enough after graduating (being now handicapped by the foreign workforce limitations during your search), you have to leave. "It's actually not that bad", - said one guy - "There are much more opportunities in Moscow. Not as comfortable as London, but nothing money can't buy". And as I mentioned in the beginning, I couldn't help thinking that many corrupts targeted by Navalny reason in a very similar way.

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