The Anti-Putin Movement: An Interview with the Blogger in Chief

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Aleshkovsky Mitya / ITAR-TASS Photo / Corbis

Russian protest blogger Alexei Navalny, a key figure in the rallies after Russia's disputed parliamentary elections, outside a court on Dec. 25, 2011

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The Kremlin has started offering concessions in response to the protests. For one, it has proposed a law making it easier to register political parties. You've said that you want to create a party of your own. What will be the structure of this party and its political priorities?
Our goal is to make a party that is massive, effective and cheap. The last point is not the least important. We just don't have any money. We need to use new technologies, first of all the Internet, for the practical functions of the party, like a reconstituted Facebook. Many people call it Democracy 2.0. I'm a lobbyist and fanatic of this system. It should allow people to register online and verify their identities through a bank card or by some other means, and then let them take part in [the party's] decisionmaking, voting and so on. This gives a guarantee that everyone votes, that there is no vote rigging, that everything is open and there is legitimacy. This does not mean that the party is virtual and not real. In the present day, the split between the virtual and real worlds is irrelevant. The protest on Bolotnaya Square [on Dec. 10], was it real or virtual? Yes, it was organized by virtual means, on Facebook. But I think it was more than real enough.

But half of the Russian population does not have Internet access. Would your party just ignore them?
Every party looks for its own constituency. I can rely on people in big cities, where there is plenty of Internet penetration. Of course, I would like to attract people from villages, but I don't have money for that. What we do have already is a pool of millions of people we can reach through the Internet. We can reach them efficiently and on a daily basis. Sure, I would love to go talk to every grandma who lives in some village in the Ryazam region, but I don't have that possibility. You can only reach such people through television, but we don't control the television channels. So it's pointless to even talk about.

Nationalism has always been at the core of your politics. You have called for tight control of immigration, for the right to bear arms, and you have said that the Movement Against Illegal Immigration, a group banned last year for extremism and hate speech, is "as harmless as the girl scouts." Will your party represent these values? Will it be a nationalist party?
Consistency for me is everything. I am not ready to back away from my views. With age, everyone forms certain core principles, and I have a basic stand on the main issues. I only see one problem with my views. Maybe I didn't explain them clearly enough. That means I will keep explaining them, because people aren't afraid of my views. They are afraid of the word nationalism.

By necessity, we have no other way to refer to these views but as nationalism. The problem is that people associate this word with some abstract nationalist menace. But when people talk about the nationalism of Navalny, we're talking about very simple things. I support limits on illegal immigration, including through visa requirements for visitors from Central Asia. When you enter the U.S., you need to give fingerprints. Yes? Yes. Did the U.S. build a wall on the border with Mexico? Yes, it did. And Obama voted for that wall. So how is my position on immigration more nationalistic than even the Democrats in the U.S.? Few American politicians would step out in support of visa-free travel with all of Latin America. But we have a visa-free system with Central Asia. And when it comes to arms control, yes, I think that arms should be more accessible to our citizens. At home I have two rifles, and do I go shooting people out my window? No. We have hundreds of thousands of hunting weapons in circulation, and the number of crimes committed with legally registered guns is minimal, microscopic.

But any crook in the country knows where to buy a gun. You go to Chechnya and buy an automatic for 3,000 rubles. This agenda is not even part of the radical right. It is a standard position, often held for instance in the U.S. mainstream. I wouldn't say this is a populist position at all. More likely the majority of citizens would not support it. And when it comes to the [Movement Against Illegal Immigration], I'm not saying they're sweet guys. I'm saying they are all different. They are marginals because they have been pushed underground. But if they are the ones talking about illegal immigration, our goal is to make sure illegal immigration is not only discussed in the radical underground, but in the political mainstream. Our goal is to bring this discussion out of the context of beating the crap out of the all the immigrants and into the framework of imposing visas, ensuring that [immigrants] have insurance, ensuring they are paid a minimum wage, and everything else that exist in other countries.

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