Audio content: Young people in Moscow explaining why they came out to support Navalny at a demonstration.
Visual content: Young protesters and some of the protest memes (ducks).
Video available at TV Rain.
The anti-corruption crusader Aleksei Navalny is running for president of Russia in the election scheduled for March 2018. His campaign is a quixotic one: Putin remains very popular across the country and is expected to run for another six-year term (although he has not yet made an announcement as of mid-November 2017); genuine opposition campaigns are suppressed with legal harassment and state control of the mass media; and Navalny is probably legally barred from appearing on the ballot because of embezzlement convictions in 2013 and 2017. The convictions appear to be politically motivated — the European Court of Human Rights declared the 2013 trial unfair and, in a sort of dark comedy, the Russian Supreme Court obligingly overturned the conviction, only for Navalny to be re-tried and re-convicted in 2017.
Nevertheless, Navalny is running an energetic American-style campaign. Starting in September 2017, he began travelling to weekend rallies in cities all over Russia, organizing them through his network of regional campaign offices. In Russia rallies in public spaces must be approved by the local government. The campaign’s opening series of rallies received this administrative approval, albeit usually for sites on the outskirts of town rather than in the preferred easy-to-reach central locations. Crowds of over 1,000 people came to hear Navalny speak and answer questions in Murmansk, Yekaterinburg, Omsk, Novosibirsk, Khabarovsk and Vladivostok, so that over two weeks the politician criss-crossed Russia from the far north to the far east.
On the morning of September 29, however, just as Navalny was headed to catch a train from Moscow to a planned rally in Nizhny Novgorod, he was detained and charged with repetitive violation of the procedure for organizing public meetings. On October 2nd he was sentenced to 20 days in prison. He has since been released and the battle between Navalny’s campaign and its many opponents continues. As local authorities have been more frequently denying outright permits for public meetings, the campaign has taken to to organizing rallies on private property. When such a meeting occurred in Tambov in late October, several local campaign workers were arrested and given short sentences for violating administrative procedures. After a meeting in Irkutsk, the businessman who had offered his privately owned retail space for the rally was arrested. In Kemerovo, the boyfriend of Navalny’s local campaign coordinator was expelled from his university and her mother was fired from her job. Because Navalny is particularly popular among high school and university students, local leaders will sometimes conduct “prophylactic talks” (профилактическая беседа) with young people in advance of rallies, urging them not to be tempted by Navalny’s rhetoric.
The event featured in this post occurred on October 7 in Moscow while Navalny was serving his short sentence in prison. October 7th happened to be Putin’s 65th birthday and Navalny’s supporters ironically marked this event with a number of protest events in major cities. The TV Rain correspondent Vladimir Romensky interviews a few of the Moscow demonstrators. You will see that two of the interviewees are holding duck-shaped balloons, which, as they explain, have become a symbol of opposition and anti-corruption politics as a result of Navalny’s investigations of Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, who was found to have a special house for ducks on a pond on one of his vacation properties. The Moscow march was not officially approved, so participants presented themselves as simply being out for a walk along Moscow’s central Tverskaia Street. Only one person was arrested, unlike some of the summer protest rallies where well over 1,000 young people were detained.
For more great language practice related to Aleksei Navalny and his movement, see this post on his speech at an opposition rally in 2015 and this post on nationwide anti-corruption demonstrations in March 2017.