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Before Trial, Navalny Nominated as Russia's “Political Enlightener”

RuNet Echo This post is part of RuNet Echo, a Global Voices project to interpret the Russian language internet. All Posts · Learn more

As Alexey Navalny is gearing up for his embezzlement show-trial in Kirov (the original trial date of April 17 was moved to April 24 at the request of his defense team, to the chagrin of dozens of journalists, bloggers, and activists who descended on the regional town), there is at least one silver lining: on April 11 he made it on the short-list of the Russian “socio-political media” award Politprosvet [ru] (literally “Political Enlightenment”).

An artist's impression of Alexey Navalny being politically enlightening. Remixed by author using "Alexey Navalny" by Mitya Aleshkovsky, May 26, 2012. CC 2.0

An artist's impression of Alexey Navalny being politically enlightening. Remixed by author using “Alexey Navalny” by Mitya Aleshkovsky, May 26, 2012. CC 2.0

The 700,000 ruble prize (approximately 22,000 USD), should Navalny win it, would surely come as a welcome offset of his legal fees. It is awarded by the “Liberal Mission” Fund since 2011, and its goals are described on the award website [ru] as:

[...] привлечь внимание общества к журналистам, публицистам и блогерам, которые своими публикациями вносят вклад в политическое просвещение россиян и систематически проясняют текущую ситуацию в России и в мире.

[...] bringing public attention to journalists, publicists, and bloggers who through their publications contribute to political enlightenment of Russians and systematically clarify the current situation in Russian and the world.

The “Liberal Mission” Fund was founded in 2000 [ru], in order to promote “liberal ideology” and provide a forum for “liberal economists” and other who support market reforms. (As usual, one must note that in the Russian context “liberal” ideology does not refer to the usual western concept of social liberalism, but rather to the belief in the free market, exemplified, for instance, by the Washington Consensus.) The Fund is run by Higher School of Economics’ Yevgeny Yasin [ru] and his daughter, economist and activist, Irina Yasina [ru]. Yasin is also on the panel of judges, along with Afisha's Yuri Saprykin and physicist Sergei Shpilkin, who won the award last year [ru] for a series of articles on statistical modeling of the Russian elections published in a local newspaper [ru] based in Troitsk, a small Moscow suburb [Go hometown! -A.T.]. In 2011 the winners were [ru] the poet Dmitry Bykov and artist Mikhail Efremov for their project “Citizen Poet.”

Looking at this year's short list [ru], it becomes apparent that any mention of bloggers in Politprosvet's mission statement is largely lip service — most of the 25 nominees are journalists and newspaper columnists. There is Ilya Azar, for example, a Lenta.ru correspondent nominated for a series of interviews, and the opposition darling Kseniya Sobchak, also in for a series of interviews in Snob.ru. There are columnists from Slon.ru, Vedomosti, Orthodoxy and the World, the New Times, Novaya Gazeta, and so on.

Three of the nominees, however, do stand out from the crowd. One is Navalny, “for publications in the blog navalny.livejournal.com [ru].” While no further details are given, presumably he was nominated for his anti-corruption blogging. Another is Maxim Katz, who blogs about Russian urban development and policy at maxkatz.livejournal.com [ru]. Like Navalny, Katz is a member of the Coordinating Council of the Opposition (although he has threatened to leave in the past). The third interesting nominee is Maria Alekhina, the imprisoned member of Pussy Riot, who is not a blogger per se, but whose letters from prison were nevertheless distributed through blogs.

Some bloggers criticized even the few non-journalist nominees. For example, Arkadiy Babchenko wondered [ru] what makes Alekhina more special than the people languishing in pre-trial confinement for involvement in last year's protest turned violent:

Почему вообще нельзя было в этом году просто отойти от правил и присудить премию 24-м главным политпросветителям нашей с вами страны, которые сейчас, вот в данный момент, за это самое политпросвещение уже ровно год сидят в СИЗО?

Why couldn't they simply disregard the rules this year and give the award to to 24 main political enlighteners of our country, who right now, right this minute, are in jail for this political enlightenment for just about a year.

Although he is not yet in prison, Navalny is probably the highest profile nominee, and seems to be a clear favorite to win come May, when the panel makes its choice. As Stanislav Yakovlev wryly noted [ru]:

Навальный там вполне на своем месте; при том, что именно он, видимо, и победит. А как еще – проиграет что ли? Во-первых: кому? Во-вторых: накануне суда? Это дважды скандал [...]

Navalny is there in his own place; considering that he will probably be the one to win. How else – will he lose or something? First: to whom? Second: right before the trial? That's a double scandal [...]

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