An Interview with Anna Veduta
Anna Veduta serves as spokeswoman and press secretary for Moscow Mayoral Candidate and Anti-Corruption Leader Alexei Navalny. She graduated with a degree in Political Science from Moscow State University and recently gave keynote speeches on Russian Civil Society at Yale and Princeton.
The Politic: How significant is the result of the recent mayoral election?
The result of the recent mayoral elections is difficult to overestimate. Not only did one-third of Moscow citizens vote for Alexey Navalny, but more than 20.000 people volunteered to support the campaign. In Moscow, where the members of the opposition (especially so-called “non-systemic” ones) were literally predicted to get not more than 5% on the elections, the 30% gained by Alexey Navalny is an astonishing achievement. Officials were stunned that the situation got out of their control. Authorities were sure they were the only people that could allocate power, but it turned out the real power lay with the Muscovite, who decided despite the state’s propaganda and fraud. I think this lesson proves that even under conditions of unequal opportunities, the real leader will prevail. True politics in its original and genuine meaning was brought back to the agenda as a result of this campaign. I believe the outcome will be seen in the long-term, as this is all about shifts in consciousness. I am hoping for a true intellectual revolution.
The Politic: Will Mr. Navalny try to be elected again for a position within government or will he continue fighting from outside the government?
As a matter of fact, Alexey Navalny was given a suspended sentence as a result of the trial in Kirov. This means that he is basically not allowed to run for any elections for at least 5 years. To add, he has another trial coming up. Despite all these “nasty little things” Alexey will continue his work His Foundation against corruption is now being expanded, new people have joined our team, and we are permanently working on projects to make fighting against corruption as efficient as possible.
The Politic: Do you think there is enough support for the opposition today so that elections with no frauds on the government’s side, on a national scale or only in Moscow, would produce a leader from the opposition?
As far as I am concerned, we do already have such a leader and his name is evident. If the mayoral elections in Moscow were not only competitive, but transparent and fair, the second tour would have been inevitable. Although the government used it’s tv-broadcasting monopoly with all the classic propaganda praxis, took advantage of the lack of independent media and used other thieves’ wiles to make Sergey Sobyanin win the Moscow mayoral race, that was not enough. So they had to use fraud during the election! This indicates the current degree of dissent within the society, which is permanently increasing.
The Politic: There have not been any major oppositionist protests for a longer period of time now. Why is that?
We recently had March for the liberty of Political Prisoners which was rather numerous. Rallies are not to be the only mean of political protest, so we’re working on other efficient methods – we want to do work that is more profound, more pervasive. And our Foundation against corruption is definitely a flagship of that.
The Politic: During the Oslo Freedom Forum in 2012, Garry Kasparov said: “The change in power in Russia will not be through the ballot box.” In 2012, Mr. Navalny himself said: “I can see that there are enough people here to seize the Kremlin and the White House right now. We are a peaceful force and will not do it now. But if these crooks and thieves try to go on cheating us, if they continue telling lies and stealing from us, we will take what belongs to us with our own hands”. Given that “the crooks and thieves” continue their activity, what are the chances that the movement will actually transform into a violent one, relying on force?
You better ask people of the Russian Federation that question. The main thing about protest movement in Russia is that, contrary to official propaganda, it is not directed by anyone. Alexey was just revealing the mood of people. We’ve seen a lot of changes since that time.
The Politic: What are Mr. Navalny’s immediate and long-term goals?
His main goal did not ever change. He wants to improve life in Russia, so that his children and grandchildren would be proud for the country and willing to connect their future with it. Sounds a bit rhetorical, but it’s true: fighting corruption is only a mean to prevent thieves from stealing the future of our children. As corruption is a mainstay of Putin’s Russia, the only way to strive against it is to increase pressure on the government. At this point immediate and long-term goals don’t differ at all – the question is only the embodiment of this pressure.
The Politic: According to Mr. Navalny, what would be a realistic prediction for the time needed to change Russia’s politics completely?
During the winter protests 2011 everyone, including Alexey, predicted Putin’s regime to fall in a short term. Unfortunately this scenario have never come to life. But we are not to predict – that is the prerogative of political scientists – we are to hasten the moment. And this is the goal we are fully focused on.
The Politic: Some of the oppositionists seem worried by Mr. Navalny’s nationalism. To what extent is that felt among the supporters of Mr. Navalny? Does this create an obstacle on the road to the aims of the opposition?
Don’t misconstrue and don’t misapprehend me, but this question is my “top favorite.” State propaganda in Russia is creating and spreading myths about Navalny, which are diametrically opposite from the truth. Looks like Alexey is at once a “bloody nationalist” and an “American spy”, I am surprised you are not trying to verify the second “theory.”
On a serious note, Alexey’s “nationalism” is revealing the existing problems, which cannot be solved by ignorance or understatement. The flows of illegal migrants, drug trafficking, increase of crimes committed by migrants and, as a result, rising intolerance – these are real problems to be solved. Navalny tries to bring them into the agenda, although our authorities prefer to mystify: the alternative reality shown on state television has nothing to do with real life in Russia. If everyone who tries to bring urgent problems into legal field is to be blamed a nationalist, then who is to take responsibility for the consequences of occurring events?
The Politic: It was implied by Mr. Navalny during one of his public conversations, that Putin would rather go to war than organize genuine anti-corruption trials. How far do you think is Putin prepared to go in order to remain in power?
I have no doubts this man is not familiar with humanity and empathy. All he is worried about is power – endless and uncontrolled. This is evidently highlighted by Dima Yakovlev’s law and the Magnitsky case. Rephrasing the classics: “the man’s not for turning,” but it’s no good at all. He is insatiable in his lust for power, he will use all means.
The Politic: How likely is it that Putin, seeing no other options, would start implementing reforms in order to ease the opposition?
The main thing is that it’s not opposition who craves the reforms, but it’s the national economy and other institutes and the people of the Russian Federation who do. At this point the reforms should have been implemented long ago, but it never happened, so actually there is no real hope time works for people in this case. The scenarios of the future of Russian economy and politics developed by such prominent economists as Mikhail Dmitriev or Oleg Tsivinsky and Sergey Guriev range from abysmal to catastrophic. I don’t believe Putin is not aware of that, he just prefers to ignore the evidence.
The Politic: At the beginning of year 2012, Grigory Chkhartishvili said that Putin would not be able to commit fraud during the elections because the media from around the world would be turned toward the situation in Russia. To what extent do you think it has been beneficial to have the Western media focused on the developments in Russia?
The independent media is a mainstay of each democratic society. It forces politicians to be transparent and responsible. Unfortunately authoritarian regimes have nothing to do with this statement. Putin is not afraid of either Russian, or foreign media, he seems not to be concerned about his negative image abroad at all. At the same time The Forbes names him the most influential person in the world after all he has done to ruin his public reputation. So why should he change anything even being viewed under a microscope?
The Politic: What has been the most fulfilling moment as a member of the Opposition?
July the 18th. Alexey Navalny and Piotr Ofitserov were accused for stealing state timber according to “Kirovles case” and were taken into custody. They were supposed to stay at prison for next 5 years. This triggered a huge rally calling for freedom for them near the Manegnaya square in the centre of Moscow. Even my mother came to protect the rights of Alexey and Piotr. Alexey’s wife Julia, his attorneys, several journalists and me were in Kirov, watching the online broadcasting. Julia posted a tweet on Alexey’s twitter: “Thank you so much, that is so great to know you are not alone”. The next day Alexey and Piotr were temporally set free and on 16th of October imprisonment was replaced by a suspected sentence for both. This was a moment I knew – it was the people who protected him. Those, who were courageous enough to say “no, we won’t let you take innocent people to prison.” Saying that I still get goosebumps – all was not in vain.