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 movement you are helping to lead poses a serious threat to the people in power. Moreover, you have said that you want to put Putin and his circle on trial if they are deposed. If push comes to shove, they could respond with force to defend their authority. Are you ready for bloodshed if that's the direction it goes?
Do I want bloodshed? No, I don't. But am I ready for the possibility that force will be used against us? Yes, I am ready. Any politician who fights with our corrupt regime needs to be ready for that. If he's not ready, he's got no place here. The battle here has certain terms. [The state] opened a criminal case against me a year and a half ago. I knew this would happen, and it happened. I knew they could arrest me for 15 days at a protest, and they did [on Dec. 5]. But that's part of life. We are in a political situation where a person can be put in jail for nothing. So that's what we're fighting against. And the fact is, you shouldn't go walking in the woods if you're afraid of the wolves.

But in your speeches to the crowds last month, you took a very provocative tone, as if to goad the authorities. You said from the podium that you would "chew through the throats of those animals," referring to Putin's United Russia party, which you call "the party of crooks and thieves." You said that the protesters are ready to "take the Kremlin now." Why do you say this if you want a peaceful scenario?
I say this because it's true — we can take the Kremlin now. But we're not going to because we're a peaceful people. We simply have to demonstrate our strength. Everything we're doing amounts to nothing without posing a potential threat. These people who gathered are totally peaceful, they don't want a fight. But potentially, if their rights are ignored, they can do a lot. And that threat is the driving force of reform. If [the authorities] understand that people are gathering just to make political demands, to take part in flash mobs and take pictures with each other, they'll say, 'Big deal. So a few thousand of them got together and took pictures arm-in-arm.' But who's afraid of them? Nobody. So we need to make clear that these people came out because the government doesn't work anymore. They demand change and they will continue to demand it. We need to make clear that there is a palpable threat. It exists. We can take the Kremlin now.

Your favorite political weapon has always been the Internet. Why did you choose this approach?
Well, this all came out of necessity. It wasn't that we were so tricky that we came up with the Internet. It's that the Internet is all we have. The only difference is some politicians were inclined to evolution, and others weren't. Those [others] couldn't adapt to the Internet. They kept saying, 'We demand access to television. Give us one hour of airtime, and we'll change everything.' But anything less than television wasn't good enough for them. I had a different approach. I understood that I'll never be on television. Nobody will give me airtime. I have no money. I have no oligarch friends, and don't have any particular desire to make oligarch friends. So the only thing I had to count on were my concrete abilities, like the North Korean motto: Rely only on yourself. And I developed my own methods. I did what I could. I started filing lawsuits [against state corporations] and telling people about it online. This all looked marginal and funny. But with time my audience grew. And now my blog has more readers than most newspapers have. There are 1.5 million unique views on my blog per month. It just grew over time. And it grew mostly because of the fact that there is no freedom of information. People don't get free and objective information. So they go to find it on the Internet. If the things I write in my blog were to be said on television and written about in the broadsheets, then nobody would need me or the Internet. But you can't say these things on television, so when I began saying them on the Internet, I had a sort of exclusive. And when people went online to find some information, they came to hear my exclusive. This was the only free place for discussion and information available.

Still, this online community has stayed online until only the past month or so, when they started attending street protests en masse. You have explained this shift as something called the 76-82 effect, referring to the Russians born, like yourself, between 1976 and 1982. Can you explain this theory?
This is the Moscow baby boom. And it has come of age. Actually, the name 76-82 comes from an insanely popular community on Livejournal [Russia's most popular blogging site], called 76-82, where people write about memories that they share with people from this generation. Things like, I don't know, chewing gum, movies, the Communist youth camps of a very particular sort, at the end of the Soviet Union, in the late '70s and '80s, where the kids were still technically [Communist Young] Pioneers, but nobody really believed in the [Soviet] system anymore. There are tons of these people. They are the biggest generation of working-age Russians, and they got stuck somewhere between the Soviet Union and modern-day Russia.

They are now taking up more and more positions in society and have developed firm political views. A huge number of these people have now had the opportunity to travel, to go to the Czech Republic, to Germany, wherever, and to realize that we could live this way too. So they start asking themselves, Why can't we live like they do? What's the reason? There is no objective reason. On the contrary, there are reasons why we should live even better. But we don't. People don't like this. So for this generation, the anti-American and anti-Western rhetoric doesn't work nearly as well as for the rest. The main thing that Putin and his gang maniacally use to fight the opposition is that we are all some kind of American-funded monsters. But people understand that this is a load of crap. Sure, Americans have their interests. But the people of this generation, they understand that our existence is not defined as a conflict between East and West.

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