Moscow’s biggest opposition demonstration in recent years, Russia’s most popular blogger, Alexei Navalny, is showing that it’s not just via the web that he can work a crowd.
“One for all!” he shouts at the people protesting against the 4 December election results. “All for one!” comes their response for the umpteenth time. “You can see it doesn’t just work for the Russian March,” he proudly says.
Another Moscow protest
- The Russian opposition plans to mount a major rally on Saturday to protest against the results of Sunday’s election.
- Opposition leader and former minister Boris Nemtsov says the demonstration will go ahead no matter what.
- “The authorities are trying to intimidate their own people and are doing everything possible to prevent the rally from going ahead. "
He put his finger on a sore spot. The Russian March is organised by nationalist and extreme right wing groups every year. In 2007, he was expelled from the opposition Yabloko party ostensibly because of his dalliance with Russia’s nationalist movement.
But he says his expulsion was really the result of his criticism of the party leadership. Nevertheless, last month, he made a point of taking part in the Russian March.
He finds fault with Russia’s liberal opposition for sweeping issues such as immigration and integration under the carpet. He is only too pleased to point to Angela Merkel’s words about the failure of the multicultural experiment in Germany.
The 35-year-old blogger earns his living from a lawyer’s practice. On his blog, he attacks major companies such as Russia’s Rosneft oil transport concern. He is a Rosneft shareholder and as such has insight into the financial wheeling and dealing of the company which, he says, has done the Russian state out of billions of euros.
Mr Navalny accuses the authorities of involvement in large-scale fraud and has launched a website where people can publish information about fraud and corruption.
He brought up the corruption issue when he met Prime Minister Mark Rutte during the Dutch leader's visit to Moscow in October. He called on the Netherlands to do everything possible to combat Russian corruption and money laundering.
His blogging and other activities are making Mr Navalny increasingly popular. He does not hide the fact that he would be very willing to swap his virtual popularity for a job in real-life politics, but, he says, only if the time is right. At the moment, he doesn’t believe truly democratic elections are possible in Russia.
He prefers setting up a movement that isn’t governed by electoral regulations and official approval. This makes him a formidable opponent - and one that the Kremlin can’t get to grips with. He’s young, eloquent, highly educated (partly in the United States) and is idolised by tens of thousands of internet users. In an interview last year, he said:
“I may be just a little mosquito, but my bites hurt. The system finds it difficult to put up with them. It’s my job to encourage hundreds, thousands of people like me to join in the fight. Then we’ll break down all the walls. We’re definitely going to do that.”