Russian Activist Alexei Navalny Pussy Riot Trial 'Reminds Me of the Inquisition'
Part 2: 'If I Were Afraid, I Couldn't Do What I Do'
SPIEGEL: Despite the Pussy Riot trial, the protest movement appears to have lost its momentum. What mistakes has the opposition made?
Navalny: People have often predicted our decline in the past, but then suddenly tens of thousands take to the streets again. Since we have been criticizing the Kremlin for a lack of legitimacy after the election fraud, we ourselves have to gain legitimacy by electing a leadership, in a competitive process carried out via the Internet. We are currently doing this. I'm running for a position.
SPIEGEL: Why haven't you developed a political platform yet?
Navalny: Because we don't need one. We're not establishing a unity party with a joint program. In Russia an authoritarian leader is running the country. You can't fight Putin with elections because he controls them. That's why demonstrations are the most effective approach. Unfortunately Russia has sunk to this primitive level.
SPIEGEL: At the big demonstration on Dec. 24, you urged protesters to march on the Kremlin if the government didn't meet the opposition's demands. Does Russia need reforms or a revolution?
Navalny: If genuinely free new elections were held, that would be a revolution, wouldn't it? I'd be satisfied with that.
SPIEGEL: There's no talk of new elections. On the contrary, Putin has just instituted repressive measures.
Navalny: Yes, but he's also a pragmatist. If we allow him now to govern with Belarusian-style repression, that's what he'll do. If we don't allow him to do so, he won't do it.
SPIEGEL: How do you intend to achieve this?
Navalny: We have to take to the streets in great numbers. Foreign countries should impose sanctions against Putin's corrupt network. But we'll probably wait in vain for that to happen.
SPIEGEL: Who would win if free elections were held today?
Navalny: Putin is still very popular. His Soviet-style party would come in with around 20 percent. The left would be stronger than it is today. Pro-Western liberals would also be elected to parliament, although Russia is not a liberal country. Many votes would go to moderate nationalists, just as they also have parliamentary seats in Western Europe.
SPIEGEL: Are you a nationalist?
Navalny: I'm a realist. Since Russia has the largest number of illegal immigrants, second only to the US, and immigrants from Central Asia bring in drugs, I'm calling for a visa requirement for all those wonderful people from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Is Obama a nationalist because he hasn't reversed the construction of the fence on the Mexican border?
SPIEGEL: In a manifesto by the National Russian Liberation Movement, which you co-founded, you call for "throwing out all those who come into our home but refuse to adhere to our laws." That sounds like Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's far-right National Front.
Navalny: I don't see any contradiction there to traditional European values. And I wouldn't have any objection to a Le Pen-style party in Russia. I'm for a market economy, but also for law and order. Ms. Merkel and the EU also don't allow 140 million Russians to enter their countries without a visa. I would, by the way, do more for guest workers than most liberals. Many guest workers eke out a nightmarish existence as slaves without rights. With the visa requirement, they would be granted rights in addition to obligations.
SPIEGEL: Why did you take to the streets alongside neo-fascists in November?
Navalny: Ninety-five percent of them weren't neo-fascists. Xenophobia is fairly widespread in Russia. We can choose to force them to go underground or integrate the moderates.
SPIEGEL: But by doing so you show sympathy for their causes.
Navalny: No. Anyone who commits a xenophobic crime has to be brought to justice. We have to re-educate the others.
SPIEGEL: The US news magazine Time ranks you as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. What have you managed to change in your country?
Navalny: Of course I'm flattered, but it's a bit of an exaggeration. In an ironic twist of fate, I first heard about it while I was being questioned at a police station in the southern Russian city of Astrakhan.
SPIEGEL: You now have to stand trial on corruption charges. Are you afraid for your family?
Navalny: Certain people have wanted to put me behind bars for a long time now. That's part of my work. If I were afraid, I couldn't do what I do.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Navalny, thank you for this interview.
Interview conducted by Matthias Schepp.
- Part 1: Pussy Riot Trial 'Reminds Me of the Inquisition'
- Part 2: 'If I Were Afraid, I Couldn't Do What I Do'