Russia, the death of Navalny and change: Patronising Russians does not help them

Cross-border Talks’ looks at the life, death and meaning of what Alexey Navalny represented. Veronika Salminen and Malgorzata Kulbaczewska discuss Navalny’s career, social base and legacy. They also address the question of change in societies outside the centre of the international capitalist system, dissidence, nullification and interconnectedness in today’s world. 

Cross-border Talks’ looks at the life and death of Alexey Navalny and meaning of what he represented. Veronika Susova-Salminen and Malgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat discuss Navalny’s career, social base and legacy. They also address the question of change in societies outside the centre of the international capitalist system, dissidence, nullification and interconnectedness in today’s world. 

Their conclusion is that change in Russia will happen in surprising ways, and has always been unexpected. But for the time being, the weaponisation of people like Navalny and patronising attitudes towards Russia are not helping its society to develop. On the contrary, with the rise of Navalny as an opposition leader after 2012, repression in Russian society has increased. And today it is at a very high level. At the end of the conversation, in which the two experts on Russia answer Vladimir Mitev’s questions, Veronika and Malgorzata reflect on hope and change in today’s world, where the centre and the periphery are increasingly at odds, and attempts at change are labelled as foreign interference and shut down.

Vladimir Mitev: Welcome to a special cross-border conversation edition of our podcast, prompted by the death of Alexei Navalny, a leading opposition figure in Russia, on 16 February 2024. We will discuss and reflect on what his death means? And we will once again discuss Russian society with our two co-founding editors of Cross-border talks, Veronika Sushova-Salminen and Malgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat, who are very familiar with Russian issues and will certainly have a lot to tell us.

Let us start with the first question, which is perhaps a kind of introduction to the situation. My question to Veronica would be: what should we know about Navalny and how should we remember his figure, his life and his contribution?

Veronika Sušová-Salminen: Yes. Hello everyone. Well, I might not say how he should be remembered because it’s not up to me. I think it’s up to the Russian society and the world society. But I would try to sum up his political profile.

I think Navalny is probably the best-known opposition leader in Russia in recent times, one of the best-known figures who has been very openly opposed to the current regime of Vladimir Putin. And he has had quite an interesting career. He is definitely not the kind of, you know, Western, straightforward liberal that we very often imagine in Europe. He had a very varied career before he became the main opposition leader in Russia. And he started out as a politician or involved in politics in Yabloko, which is probably, you know, it’s one of the best-known liberal parties in Russia. It still exists, but unfortunately it has been very marginal for many years.

So he was a member of Yabloko for a long time – for about seven years from the beginning of the 21st century. But even then it was clear that he had views that differed from those of the leadership. He was critical of Grigor Yavlinsky, the leader of Yabloko. And soon after that there was also some divergence in political priorities. So until 2007, if I remember correctly, he was a part of Yabloko, and after that he started to be a figure associated more with the not-so-liberal opinions. He had liberal views, but he also had Russian nationalist views and slightly xenophobic views, because he was one of the most outspoken critics of migration in Russia, especially migration from Central Asia and the Caucasus. And he was also involved with Russian nationalists, and I would like to emphasise here that actually at that time, it was around 2006-2007, Russian nationalists were not supported by the regime. So most of the political prisoners in Russia at that time were nationalists. And you have to understand why Russian nationalism is not supported or was not supported. It threatened the stability of Russia. Because when you start to have the motto Russia for Russians, you have a society and a state that is multiethnic and you cause the problems. So this is just to say that he had very diverse, we can even say illiberal opinions. But of course every politician evolves.

And Navalny also developed. Around 2011-2012, when we had the first open opposition to Putin’s return to the presidency, Navalny already had a profile as an anti-corruption politician, an anti-corruption opposition leader. He was very well known for criticising United Russia, the ruling party in Russia, for corruption. And we have to realise that this was something that made him very famous on the one hand. But he also raised the issue of corruption, which was a huge problem for the current regime, because we have to understand that Russia, Putin’s Russia, is first of all a hyper-capitalist society. And capitalism, as we know, has a lot to do with corruption. But in Russia we have it specifically contextualised by the Russian type of neo-patrimonialism, by the system where you don’t really have the boundary between private property and public property, where there are rules, but they are often circumvented and they are circumvented by those who are supposed to protect them and so on and so forth. So I think Navalny has made a name for himself here around corruption. And corruption is really a huge problem in Russia and it is really at the heart of the Putin system. If you think about it in terms of political economy, there were huge protests in 2011-2012. And one of the themes of those protests was, of course, anti-corruption measures and criticism of the regime through corruption. So this is one of the things that I think made Navalny, in a way, an enemy of the regime.

And he had a populist message for the people in Russia, something that could mobilise people around his issue because it is very widespread and everybody knows about it in some way and meets corruption in some way. But as you know how the career of all these opposition leaders ended in 2011-2012 during the protests, we know that Putin was re-elected and started the first wave of repression, which was also a concern of Navalny and many other leaders. Navalny was put on trial and almost went to prison. Then there was a kind of split in the Kremlin. Factions seemed to be fighting among themselves. And in the end, because there was a kind of turnaround, he was even allowed to stand for election in Moscow. Of course, he was not elected, but he gathered quite a lot of support in Moscow.

But since 2012, I think the situation for Navalny and the same opposition leaders as him deteriorated and deteriorated until, as we know, he was even poisoned in 2020, most probably by some faction of the siloviki in Russia. Unfortunately, when he returned to Russia after his stay in hospital in Germany, we know that all these threats were against him because of his opposition activities in relation to the various cases that the Russian justice system had opened against him. So he ended up in prison as a political prisoner. So that is the short version. There is a lot more to say about him, but I do not want to complicate the situation. That, in a nutshell, is who Navalny was. And I would really emphasise this corruption and anti-corruption policy as something that was a very important issue and why he was so unpopular among the elites, not just Putin, but the elites in general.

You mentioned that he did well in the local elections in Moscow and maybe he had a social base. Let me ask you more about that. Who are the types of people, classes or groups of people in Russian society who supported what Navalny was proposing as a message or as an action? And also, to what extent has he really managed to change Russian society?

Małgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat: Well, he is now a historical figure. He has gone down in history, starting with his 27% in the Moscow elections and ending with the fact that he set an example of personal sacrifice, because when he came back to Russia after his treatment in Berlin, he definitely had no illusions about what might happen next. He knew he would be arrested. He knew he would be treated harshly in prison. And he certainly knew that at any moment his life might be in danger.

Nevertheless, he decided to go to the end to prove that he really believed in his idea and that he really believed in what he was fighting for. But does this mean that he succeeded in bringing about change in Russia? Unfortunately, I have to say “not really”, because as we can see today, Russian society has never been so militarised, so united around Vladimir Putin and so determined to continue the confrontation with its Ukrainian neighbour. The invasion that Russia started almost two years ago is something that Russia sees as a confrontation with the entire West, the collective West, as Putin likes to say. So I would say that Navalny gave hope to a very particular group of people, a very particular generation of people. l I will come to that in a moment. But he fell under the blows of the securitocracy, as Leonid Rogozin, the independent Russian journalist based in Riga, puts it.

Well, you asked me who supported Navalny and which social groups, which types of people actually stood by his side. I would say it was mainly people who did not consciously live through the 1990s and who did not see Vladimir Putin as the person who brought order and prosperity back to Russian society. In the Moscow vote, when he got that 27%, it was a wonderful success for somebody who had no access to the mainstream state media, who could not run a proper campaign as we imagine it in the West. So he won mainly the votes of the young, of the educated, of those who had some personal contacts with Europe, with the West. In other words, people who believed that Russia could actually continue to reform and become a democracy, Western-style people for whom democracy, transparency and anti-corruption were not just empty words. In other words, these were people who hoped for further transformation in Russia and hoped that it was possible.

But most of Russian society, as we see it in the end, did not really feel that it was possible. I mean, the repressions prevailed, and for most people the fear that what had got better under Putin could be taken away from them was stronger than the belief that there could be change or that there could be further development in Russia. We have to remember that the 90s were indeed a traumatic period in Russian history, when millions of people were thrown into virtual poverty because of this horribly unjust transition that was taking place in Russia. Then because of the mass theft of what used to be state property and because of the way in which the oligarchs amassed their wealth at the expense of everyone else in Russia. So for, I would say, older generations and people from outside the big cities who were hit hardest in the 90s, it was just not worth the risk. They preferred the stability and relative prosperity that the system brought back, even if it meant no democracy. And here we have to remember that for democracy, the 1990s was not some golden period that Russians regret. As I said, it was marked by poverty. It was marked by a sudden increase in inequalities. So, in fact, relatively few Russians can really say that they really lost something on a personal and economic level with the destruction of democratic structures. So Navalny’s support came mainly from the young, from the educated, from those who did not really feel that they owed anything to Putin, who felt that Russia could develop and move forward. But it was, as we are now seeing, too little to make any substantial change, given how determined the other side was? So the Putin camp, the fast ones, the rest of the oligarchs who are favourable to Putin, how determined they were to keep power firmly in their hands.

Okay. You mentioned that he gave hope to certain social groups in Russian society. And I would add that many of the reactions in Europe, for example on social media after his death, are that with Navalny’s death the light or the hope for Russia has gone out. I would like to ask both of you to what extent you agree with this statement that hope or light is now gone in Russian society. And also, to build on that a little bit, this idea of hope or change is related to the understanding that Russian society can somehow be modernised, Europeanised or corrected, if you like. Do you think Russia can be changed for the better?

Veronika Sušová-Salminen: So let me start with the answer. Well, this is a very difficult question. Malgorzata just mentioned that Navalny’s supporters were a certain class of Russians, a certain group of Russians in Russian society. And we really have to admit that the support for the ideas he represented in Russia is and has always been very, very small. There really is a majority of Russians who support the current regime in one way or another, and it can be active or passive support. Very often it’s passive support, by the way, and it’s given by this belief in any kind of possible change, this belief that we’re going to change something and we’re going to end up in the 1990s.

Malgorzata said that they are afraid of losing what little they have. So I strongly believe that Russia has to change itself, that it has to be the Russians who do it. And it’s not up to the West to patronise and tell the Russians how they should be and what they should do, because it doesn’t work. We can see that it doesn’t work. And if we look at this kind of Western support behind the Navalny case and behind Navalny, we will see that he was in prison for many months and nobody was even interested. What is going on with him? Only if you really read the Russian media, mostly the opposition media, would you know how many times he’s been in isolation or in the so-called SHU (special housing unit), as it’s called, and how many times he’s been there and what’s going on with him. So this Western support behind him, these words about light and hope and so on and so forth, I think they are misplaced. It is not up to them to say these things about the future of Russia. And very often they do it in a way that I think does not help people like Navalny at home, you know, to fight their battle because this regime is based on the fact that the West wants to interfere in Russia’s internal affairs and wants to destroy Russia’s independence and so on and so forth.

Of course, Russia can change and will change, I think, sooner or later. But it will most probably not be on the West’s terms. We should stop thinking that way. And we should support those who are trying to bring about change in Russia, but really without this stereotyping and this pathos, which I don’t find credible, even if it’s coming from the politicians of the Western powers. In a way, I don’t trust these words very much, but I believe that the case is not lost. We just have to be patient, because the Russians have to do it on their own terms.

Małgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat: If you want my thoughts on the question of whether Russia can change, I would point to Russian history and say that Russia has changed several times, in ways that were totally unexpected by the West, and at moments when nobody really expected it. Let me just remind you that both the October Revolution and the fall of the Soviet Union came as a total shock to Western experts and people who write professionally about Russia, who had expected both the government and then the Soviet governments to last for decades. So perhaps we can expect the Russians to be able to change the system again, even though at the moment the system seems very strong, very determined not to crumble and absolutely ruthless in dealing with the opposition. But as Veronika said, this change will be made by the Russians themselves. Also because of the great suspicion with which anything that comes from the West is treated in Russia at the moment. There is this narrative that comes from above, from Putin, that Russia is at war with the West as a whole, and that this existential war has been going on for centuries, not just decades, but centuries, and that this war has its civilisational roots in the division between Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Therefore, anything that comes from the West at the moment will be treated with suspicion, and people who try to preach Western ideas in their pure form will also be met with suspicion by their compatriots.

But can Russia change? Yes, I believe that Russians can change. They have shown that they can change even under unfavourable conditions. And we know from Russian history that there have always been moments of repression. There have been many moments of repression. And again new generations of fighters have emerged.

Veronika mentioned something that I would like to discuss with both of you. Navalny was weaponised. He has been seen as a banner by both people who support him and people who oppose him. What do you think about this weaponisation, this use of Navalny as a kind of weapon against the enemy or to rally support for one group of people in their endless struggle for supremacy with others? To what extent did Navalny’s weaponisation help and to what extent did it create problems for his own struggle, which I understand is important.

Małgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat: If I may, I would like to start by responding to what you said earlier about the light that has gone out of Russia. I would like to say now that this is totally unfair to other Russian dissidents who are still in prison, who are still alive, who are still serving their sentences. And although they were probably not so recognisable to Western people, they also did great things. They also stood up to fight and say that with the death of Alexei Navalny, even though he was the most recognisable person, the light has gone out. It is also absolutely unjust towards the other political prisoners in both Russia and Belarus.

And when you talk about weaponisation, well, I think the case here is complex. It is not just that Navalny was weaponised by someone else. It was somehow his own decision to be the leader of the movement, to be the face of the movement, to be the person who’s recognised as the one who denounces corruption, who points out how Putin’s palaces, for example, look, who shows the videos and the recorded conversations. So he deliberately made himself a face of protest, and I’m sure he understood what the consequences would be.

If you mean the weaponisation by the West and how much that helped. Well, we can only speculate about that because there are no, there are no very credible political opinion polls from Russia. And we cannot judge the feelings of Russian society by the signals or the information that comes out of there. So we can’t really say whether the fact that Navalny has been given this position as the most recognisable opposition figure in the West has actually made him suspect in the eyes of some people who could potentially become his supporters. Maybe, yes, maybe some of them really felt that Navalny must be a figure who is somehow being pushed towards Russians by external forces, which is not welcome. But maybe that was not the decisive factor. And I’m inclined to say that it was not the decisive factor.

Veronika Sušová-Salminen: I would just build on what Malgorzata is saying now. It is certainly true that we cannot say what society’s perception was of his role, and not only his role, but the role he played or played and still plays in the Western narrative on Russia. But what we can say for sure is that the regime works. It is self-perpetuating. It lives in its own bubble. The regime in Russia is so often isolated from society. So, from the point of view of the regime, this Western support was psychologically, simply, psychologically given to the siloviki and people who are in favour of repression. And I would like to point out that there are not only people in the regime who are in favour of this kind of, er, really harsh, repressive, coercive methods. There are different factions that are much more in favour of non-coercive methods of staying in power and maintaining the status quo, because this is about maintaining the status quo. 

And I would say that this status quo is even stronger than Mr Putin. He is the face of the status quo. But everything in Russia is not just about Mr Putin. So for this self-perpetuating regime, the Western support, the way the West is dealing with Navalny, I think it is a strong message to tighten the screws, that this is, you see, there is more intervention. And I would like to underline here that really the biggest tightening of the screws came after 2012, when Putin returned to the presidency and then after Navalny’s return to Russia. It was February 2021. At that moment there are two breaks with the previous practice and you could see that the methods of the siloviki are more and more open and the repression is stronger. It is more open to the leaders of the opposition. It is more open to anyone who publicly expresses dissent, opinions. And now this, that and opinions can be about the way Russia is governed. Later it was about the war in Ukraine, criticism of the war, as you know, criticism of the army’s performance. All that is forbidden in Russia. So for the regime this is a kind of signal to push more towards these ends. And the West plays an unfortunate role in this, that they don’t understand psychology or they don’t care. I can’t say or they don’t realise that they are basically giving the, the regime, self-reproducing instruments to tighten the screws and to say that these are the people who are interfering in Russian domestic politics and they want to make a colour revolution and they want to steal our great mother Russia, our money and they want to destroy Russia and so on. So, uh, this is one of the aspects, you know, we have to realise that there is a certain psychology, there are certain interests, there is a certain mentality behind the regime. And unfortunately the weaponisation of Navalny by the West gives these people more tools to stay in power and to continue the repression.

I want to ask you something else, specifically about repression in Russia. After Navalny’s death, there has been a lot of discussion about the Russian prison system. I would like to ask you specifically about repression in prisons in Russia. What should be said or known in general about, um, the issues related to it?

Veronika Sušová-Salminen: Yes, I wanted to talk about this issue because just today, when I was watching some news from Russia and some telegram channels, I noticed that it came up as an issue. As we know, Navalny died in prison. He died in prison, uh, where he was for a few months in a hard prison in the Arctic zone of Russia. And unfortunately we have to say that in Russia, despite all the changes (because there have been some changes, we have to be fair), the carceral system is still very harsh. It’s very much based on the methods of the Gulag. It’s not the same as the gulags. I don’t like it when people say it’s the same as the gulags, because the gulags were actually a much more sophisticated, larger, economically differently constructed regime of carceration. But still there are a lot of legacies from that time and in Russia about 2500 people a year die in prisons. And now it is because of health problems or because of suicides. It’s one of the highest numbers of people dying in prison in Europe. Definitely, Russia also has one of the highest number of prisoners per capita, per 100,000 people in Europe, only one third after Turkey and Belarus in 2023. 

If I remember correctly, it is true that during Putin’s rule the number of prisoners was lower. It is almost half lower. In 2000 there were 1 million people in prisons, and now in 2023 there’ll be about 433,000 people in prisons. But we have to realise that there really is a particular context in which Navalny found himself, and many times in the past, and recently there have been many cases which have specifically pointed out the abuses in Russian prisons, including legalised torture. I have already asked who was watching Mr Navalny’s fate after the fame had disappeared, after they had locked him up and after no Western politician was talking about him. In the last two years he’s been 27 times in what they call in Russian a shizo. They call it shizo. It’s called shtrafniy izolator, which is basically isolation of place, in English slang it’s called SHU, if I remember correctly. It means in the place where you’re isolated, where it’s one of the harshest regimes in the prison system. And you are usually there because you have broken some kind of rule. So he was in isolation 27 times. And that isolation in the Russian case can be very harsh. I think it’s harsher in every country. But in Russia they say it’s particularly harsh. It’s legalised torture.

But there are other cases of torture that have been made public, and these cases, because they have been made public, have even been punished. It has to be said that the regime doesn’t really turn a blind eye to this sort of thing. But the reform was not done because the reform, in my opinion, would mean that they would have to basically build the whole system from scratch and not continue, you know, the practices.

So Navalny was definitely the victim of the system in this case. And I don’t want to speculate on what caused his death. It’s clear that it could be the system itself, but of course the people who sent him there are responsible, that’s clear. So the carceral system in Russia is very specific. And unfortunately, if you are locked up there, you have really big problems, especially if you are a political prisoner, of course, and especially if you are someone like Navalny.

When we talk about Navalny’s death, Malgorzata, what changes, if any, will take place after his death? And what should we expect to see in Russian society in the near future?

Małgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat: If you are expecting a wave, a revolutionary wave, to begin with the death of Alexei Navalny, I am afraid I have to say that nothing of the sort is going to happen. And here again I would refer to the revolutionary history of Russia, or more generally to the history of Russia, where Navalny is not the first freedom fighter or revolutionary fighter to sacrifice himself believing in his ideas and believing that his death could be a catalyst for change. But, as the history of Russia teaches us, such changes never happened. The revolution in Russia took place in a completely different way, due to completely different factors and due to great structural changes in society as well as external conditions, and not because of the sacrifice of one individual, no matter how tragic and heroic it was. So while there were spontaneous reactions, there were spontaneous laying of flowers or spontaneous groupings in the streets of Russia in some cities, which is in itself heroic because, as Veronika said today, it is dissent. To be a dissident in Russia literally means to get into trouble. But it was not a critical mass that could threaten the regime.

We have to be very careful when we talk about the feelings of Russian society and the opinions that are widely shared in Russian society. It seems that the number one issue in Russian society at the moment is the confrontation with Ukraine and with the West. And secondly, the, I would say, everyday problems, everyday problems related to work and life and survival in some cases, and the questions of corruption or the question of democratic institutions are no longer of interest to the broad masses of society, if they ever were in the recent past. I would say that for the anti-government or a circle of people who opposed Putin’s regime, this death is a blow and a rage. But it is not a tragedy that could be linked to a protest movement. At the moment there are no conditions for a protest movement in Russia, no conditions for a mass protest movement that could not be thwarted immediately by those in power. So I don’t expect any big changes in Russia now or in the near future in relation to this particular tragedy of Alexei Navalny and the way he has been treated by the Russian cultural system. If there is going to be a change in Russia. And again I would say that in general I believe that change is possible. It would be connected with something else, and most probably, if the new Russia is a democratic Russia, Navalny will be praised as one of the heroes of this new Russia. But right now it would be. I don’t expect a new protest movement to emerge from this death.

We have talked a lot about the changing Russia and also a little bit about the expectations or the role that Europe or the West, our region, plays or could play in it. I would like to end with a question to both of you. We see that there is a continuous stigmatisation and repression of the people who are fighting for change, not only in Russia, but in many different countries or zones that are outside the centre of the international capitalist system. And there is a tendency for national governments to label these people or groups or organisations as foreign agents. In other words, they are seen as foreign or as going against local traditions or local society. And at the same time we see these people, these organisations being weaponised by the West. So what is the future of the relationship between the centre and the zones beyond it, when we have so many sanctions, cancellations, repressions, between the centre and the periphery? And how can the centre and the periphery maintain a certain level of engagement in this world that we are already part of and in which we see how huge countries or huge areas are trying to shut themselves off, to close themselves very much and to see any new position within them as being sponsored by the evil West.

Veronika Sušová-Salminen: You have asked such complex questions that I am not sure I can answer them all, but Malgorzata can take over from me. You know what? First of all, we have to realise what it means that there is increasing repression in Russia and beyond? It means that those who are doing this repression, who are initiating this repression, are losing their legitimacy. That is the most important thing. At the moment, if you have enough legitimacy, you don’t need to use as much repression. You get into trouble with legitimacy. And now it’s clear in Russia, it’s clear in the West, by the way, and it’s even more clear in other regimes. They are using instruments that are repressive, that is physically repressive, or different and tense ways of repressing dissent. This is important to recognise, and I think we are at this stage now, and a lot of things are changing in the structure of the world.

One of the things that is changing is that the position of the major Western players, like the United States, is weaker than it used to be. And that has a particular impact on the old system at the core. There are a lot of problems in the core, and there is always a reaction in the periphery. And that reaction is very often to look for some kind of alternative. And now there can be positive or negative alternatives. We can see a lot of negative alternatives that are not only connected with globalisation, which I think is a very positive development because it’s going to be more ecological and better functioning, but with the political reaction of open conservatism, of returning to some traditions that people believe are still alive.

Russia is part of that history. I think in many ways Russia is part of history. It is very often forgotten, or nobody wants to admit, that many of the problems that Russia has are problems that we have in the West, and they are not caused by Russia, they are not caused in the West by Russia, and in Russia, by the West, by the fact that we have been so interconnected for so many centuries. And globalisation has made that interconnectedness even stronger. So I would say that these structural changes, which are probably also causing the legitimacy crisis in the core and in Russia in different ways and in different contexts, are very important for understanding what is going on. But of course we are also in what I would call, you know, a kind of interregnum, as Gramsci called it, that we are in a situation where something new is being born, but we are still not clear about what it is. And all these old ways of thinking are coming up and coming back as a kind of answer, which is the wrong answer. So I don’t know if I could answer that question because it’s a very complex question, but I would say that’s how you understand what’s going on.

And I would add that the repression of dissent is really not just in Russia these days. It’s not only in the peripheral countries in some so-called third world countries. It’s also happening in the West, unfortunately. Now, with all this talk about disinformation and all these different ways of repression, which are also part of the story, part of the fact that we are globalised, we are interconnected, and there is a crisis of legitimacy of the system. And that is what gives rise to all these problems. So it’s necessary to say that sometimes stigmatisation is just a way of externalising your own problems somewhere else. We, like in the West, we externalise problems. We say it’s Russia, it’s Putin who’s causing these problems. But in fact we are just trying to escape the problems.

Małgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat: Thank you very much, Veronika, for your last comment, because I also wanted to point out that nowadays, unfortunately, it is not only the non-democratic countries in the periphery that use this label of external influence, and it is not only they who accuse dissenters of being sponsored or inspired from outside, which is the ultimate accusation. Unfortunately, we see that this accusation of being inspired by Russia, by China, by somebody else is also used here in Europe, even in the so-called old democracies, against people who have their grievances, their problems and their reasons to revolt against the government or to demand some reforms from the government. We are experiencing this right now, where farmers have taken to the streets in a number of European countries, and in a number of cases we have heard that even though they are protesting against certain policies of the European Union, it is actually Putin who is behind it. And that’s really not serious, because I can’t imagine that ordinary working people are going to take to the streets and protest and spend their time in confrontation with the police, which can be very brutal in France, for example, as we’ve seen in many protests, just because Putin said something or Putin’s trolls wrote something on Twitter.

And to come back to your questions, what happens to the periphery and the centre in this new relationship, in this new situation? I think Veronika is also right when she says that we don’t know what will be born. But in fact something is emerging and we still don’t know what it will be. I think we have a problem with the mirroring of the crisis in both the non-democratic countries of the East, if you like, or the periphery, and the global centre, the West, the democratic countries. There is the question of the crisis of legitimacy, which has different roots in both groups of countries. But at the end of the day, in the West, as we can see in the polls before the European elections, people are more and more willing to vote for far-right parties, for parties that promise to throw out all the liberal consensus and all the mainstream politicians of today. While countries like Russia, countries like Belarus, countries like Kazakhstan are going through their own immense crisis of legitimacy. Let me just remind you that some of the commentators have claimed that this internal legitimacy crisis was one of the reasons why Putin decided to go for an external war. So for different reasons and at different levels, all over the world, there is a growing group of citizens who don’t trust the leaders, who don’t trust the political class. There is, of course, the capitalist system. The global capitalist system can be seen as one of the main reasons for this, because the growing power of capital and transnational institutions is taking power away from elected representatives. And then people realise how their voice is losing power. This is particularly important for the West, for the democratic countries, but also international capitalism is limiting the ability of the oligarchies of the authoritarian countries to ensure a certain level of prosperity for society, to win or buy social com, and therefore these authoritarian elites also resort to different kinds of repression to stay in power anyway. So I think the fact that we are living in a time of crisis is the most important lesson we have to remember. We have moved quite far away from Alexey Navalny and his personal tragedy, but I think he was aware of that as well.

Yes. Thank you both for this cross-border conversation not only about the life, not only about the death of Alexei Navalny, but also about the greater meaning of his life and struggle and the idea of change in a country like Russia or even everywhere. We are journalists and we think we have a role to play in creating a better society and change. But we do it in a way through our media, in a way that really crosses borders, through a communication that may be more complex, that may not be as simple as a message. I remember George Orwell’s novel 1984, where there were these five minutes of hate, if you remember, where people were encouraged to vent all their frustration against an enemy that was perhaps also constantly changing. I will be happy if our cross-border talk today really contributes to a more complex understanding or thinking about what change means and how change might be brought about. And that is how I will conclude this lecture. I invite our listeners to follow our media on a number of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, Substack, etc.

Cover Photo: Alexey Navalny in 2020. Source.

Subscribe to Cross-border Talks’ YouTube channel! Follow the project’s Facebook and Twitter page! And here are the podcast’s Telegram channel and its Substack newsletter!

Like our work? Donate to Cross-Border Talks or buy us a coffee!

About The Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *