All posts by Vera Kichanova

Putin’s invasion has sparked a revival of liberalism in Ukraine

It’s been half a year since I moved from Moscow to Kiev. I was a journalist for independent media in Russia, a member of a Moscow local council, and a civil rights activist. All those activities have become taboo — the Kremlin calls us “national traitors” on Russian TV, and many people believe it.

But as Putin’s neo-stalinism continues to infect Russian society, Ukraine is becoming more liberal. And we have Putin’s invasion partly to thank for it.

My grandparents live in Pavlograd, a small mining town in eastern Ukraine. I’ve visited them almost every year since my birth, and things there were always the same. The people spoke Russian, watched Russian TV, and sympathized with our common past. But now there is only an empty pedestal in the center of the town, where a Lenin monument used to stand. In the museum of local history, there is an exhibition devoted the Kyiv Euromaidan revolution, and the local volunteers who have defended eastern Ukraine.

Read the rest on CapX here.

Moscow Voters Will Determine Whether Alexey Navalny Will Be Mayor or Go to Prison

Mayoral elections in Moscow are a matter of national, not local, politics. It is often said by both Muscovites and rest of Russians that Moscow and Russia are two different countries. And the Moscow mayor is supposed to be the third most influential person in Russia (after President and Prime Minister).

One of the candidates, Alexey Navalny, is regarded as the leader of the Russian protest movement. The outcome of the race will determine not just the former lawyer’s occupation for the next few years, but whether he remains a free man. He is currently facing five years in prison on trumped-up charges that are even more openly absurd than Khodorkovsky’s. His appeal comes right after the election. If Navalny gets lot of support from Muscovites he will probably remain free. If his supporters stay home instead of voting in one of the bravest persons we know, he will go to prison for a long time.

The opposition in Russia is very diverse. So whoever heads it has to be populist to a certain extent. Navalny is not definitely left or definitely right. That’s why he is supported more or less by most of protesters. At the same time, whoever wants to become a leader in the Russian opposition must have a number of other values. He or she must be persistent enough to build some institutions from ground zero in spite of administrative pressure and in spite of the fact that allies will say now and then that their efforts are in vain. And people here are too frustrated to believe that the Kremlin doesn’t control everything political, so any opposition winner will probably be accused of being a Kremlin spy.

A leader of the Russian opposition, official or unofficial, needs to be very brave. He needs to be ready to go to prison for an uncertain period of time. President Vladimir Putin prefers to not set his personal enemies free. We can see it by Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s case. Alexey Navalny has probably become another of Putin’s enemies. We know that the Russian president is too afraid to mention his name. Even when criticizing Navalny on TV, he says “a popular blogger” or “a fighter against corruption” or “an opposition leader” without saying his name!

Many people said in the beginning of the campaign that “they” wouldn’t let Navalny take part in real politics. “They” wouldn’t register him as a candidate. “They” wouldn’t let him on TV and radio. “They, they, they…” Navalny and his team have destroyed the idea of a powerful “them” who controls everything. He became the first Russian politician to carry on an American-like campaign. He attracts volunteers, he accepts donations, he involves his supporters in dozens of activities – things that are ordinary for the West but absolutely innovative for Russia. His rivals try to copy this but it usually looks ridiculous. No matter how many votes he gets, Navalny has already changed our view on what politics should look like.

Some say Navalny has no idea of what municipal economy is. But this election is not about ideology but about changing the whole political system. According to some conspiracy theories he may be even Putin’s secret successor, but actually he is the only candidate who is not subordinated to Kremlin. Few people believe he can win. That’s why there is no use debating over his political platform now. But if he gains lot of voice it will be a kind of signal to the authorities that the Muscovites want real changes.

During the latest press conference Alexey Navalny was asked whether he thinks that his case has influenced President Obama’s decision to cancel his meeting with President Putin. Navalny answered he wouldn’t overestimate his own meaning in the relationship between the two countries. Moreover, he said, the Russian opposition which is now subject to repression would prefer President Obama and other Western leaders react to what’s happening in Russia. And not only by some symbolic act like refusing to meet Vladimir Putin but by some real steps like Magnitsky Act which make “them” feel really uncomfortable.

Western Athletes in Russia: Make Sochi as Gay as Possible

I thought all those awful homophobia stories we hear happening in Russia could only happen outside Moscow, until it happened to me and my friends.

We were attacked in a bar in the center of Moscow. The attackers were screaming “Faggots!” while hitting us. The next day one of them found me online. He wrote me that they are going to beat ‘“faggots” until they are half-dead. The security of the bar refused to call the police and the official position of the owners was that we looked too extraordinary.

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When an authoritarian government can no longer win people’s silence by giving out money because the money is running out, they start using the rhetoric of patriotism in order to maintain a semblance of unity. And if there’s no external enemy, you can always find an internal one. This summer an anti-gay law was passed in Russian State Duma. Now every person who openly speaks about homosexuals in a positive way will be fined. You can’t use rainbow symbols either. they tried to fine a milk company for using rainbow in a pastoral picture.

But as my friends and I discovered, many of the consequences of the law are much less funny. Groups of young neo-nazis throughout Russia are attacking gay teenagers, humiliating them and recording it all on the video. They stay unpunished and in numerous interviews they picture themselves as defenders of the Homeland. Two openly lesbian schoolgirls, 14 and 17 years old, committed suicide in Novorossiysk. A 23-year-old man was brutally killed after his drunk friends outed him in Volgograd.

Formally, the anti-gay law prohibits the propaganda of homosexualism to children, though nobody, including bureaucrats from Duma, knows what the propaganda of sexual preferences looks like. Actually, it would be absurd to go out in the streets with the slogans like: “Be gay! It’s cool!” And no one does. But signing the anti-gay law President Vladimir Putin gave carte blanche to all those aggressive people who were seeking an enemy. Now they are sure that they have the law on their side.They feel total impunity now. They not only express homophobia but also feel like heroes. So do the chiefs who fire employees for supporting LGBT movement.

Gays are accused of showing off their private life. But it’s government officials who think it’s necessary to invade the people’s private lives. Russian gays are just trying to defend themselves. The law was first suggested two weeks before the parliament elections. Some people think that they can teach others how to live, and the government promises that they will have an opportunity to do so. It a country where homophobia prevails it is an easy way to get more votes.

The Russian government promises that the anti-gay law will not be enforced during the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi (the general idea of such an anti-ghetto seems absurd, by the way). Despite this, some Western governments and individuals are calling for a boycott of the Games. I personally don’t think it’s a good idea. Remember Eurovision: when two Finnish girls kissed to attract attention to LGBT rights even Russian federal channels had to show it. If the athletes hold rainbow flags on a ceremony in Sochi it will certainly spoil the triumph for Vladimir Putin who regards the Games as the principal project of his third term. Otherwise he wouldn’t have spent on Sochi more than any other winter Olympics have ever cost.

And in case Western countries boycott the Games, especially if they do this because of official Russian government homophobia, it will give Vladimir Putin the opportunity to show himself one more time as the leader of traditionalist world. Another film will be shown on federal TV about the decline of the Western civilization. And the houses of opposition activists who have been to America (like me) or have worked for foreign NGOs will be searched one more time. And the level of hatred in Russian society will just grow.

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