The Navalny case: an offline power of online activism in Russia
Alexey Navalny a prominent blogger and lawyer gained popularity for his online anti-corruption campaign. He did this by presenting documents that confirmed theft of $4 billion dollars by a state-run corporation Transneft during the construction of the ESPO oil pipeline. Navalny’s Livejournal account has more than 38000 readers. This wide readership makes him one of the most popular bloggers in Russia, his readers respect and trust him. By re-posting his materials bloggers have made Navalny the most popular newsmaker in Russia.
He became a known figure in the offline world as well. In the beginning of February radio station Finam FM invited Alexey to its studio. During a live interview Navalny called the ruling Russian party United Russia “the party of swindlers and thieves.” Alexey also encouraged boycotting the upcoming elections by voting for any other party but United Russia. By promoting this Navalny wishes to ruin United Russia’s monopoly to power.
These claims sparked off a wide range of debates on RuNet. The ruling party reportedly filed a legal case against the blogger to protect the party’s reputation. However Navalny did not back down; he asked for bloggers’ opinion on the matter. 97% of his readers supported him and agreed that United Russia is a “party of swindlers and thieves.”
Moreover, Alexey announced a competition of posters with this slogan. The main idea is that people will print out the posters and hang them “in entryways, elevators, next to desks in offices, in office cafeterias/bathrooms. Bring one to your grandmother and hang it on her door so the old lady remembers how to vote.”
This joke turned into a meme in RuNet: bloggers started to mock mercilessly the ruling party. So now if you type the first words of the phrase “United Russia is a p…” on Yandex search engine – leading in Russia, here is what you get:
Several days ago Google was showing the same result; they probably cleared search results. Nevertheless Google shows about 535 000 results if search the phrase “United Russia is the party of swindlers and thieves.”
After the poster competition was announced anonymous users and bots attacked Navalny’s Livejournal account, and left countless identical comments. The problem was solved soon and Alexey accused supporters of United Russia in this attack. The party did not comment on this claim.
Despite the attacks and legal threats, Navalny never stops fighting the war with corruption in Russia. His anti-corruption website RosPil.info has received 5 million roubles of donations from netizens. Navalny is planning to hire lawyers who will investigate countless corruption cases against the Russian government. The blogger provides regular updates on website finances. He also provided opportunity for other prominent bloggers to monitor this activity. Navalny proved that the fight against corruption can come from the most ordinary of citizens, and yet still remain transparent and credible.
Navalny’s importance in Russian society is growing day by day, some activists even want him to participate in a presidential race. His blog posts are considered news, bloggers re-post it and journalists write articles based on it. Media picks up his stories and delivers them to the broader audience. This is a major shift in Russian news production since majority of Russians receive their news from TV and do not have internet access.