Visions of "A New Political Nationalism"
An Introduction to Alexey Navalny and the Russian Nationalist Far-Right Scene.
In June of 2008, four nationalist organizations held a conference at the Hotel Cosmos in Moscow. The conference was titled “A New Political Nationalism”. A banner with a a fair-skinned blonde Russian boy against a blue sky was strung up on stage. A slogan at the top reads “The Future Belongs to Us!”.
The design is as crude and rudimentary as the point the organizers are trying to get across. The image above is grainy and low-res, but I included it because it’s a small glimpse into Alexey Navalny’s past. A far cry from the glossy and well-produced persona he maintains today.
Navalny stands with his arms raised triumphantly alongside three figures from Russia’s Nationalist far-right. They are: Chairman of the political party Great Russia, Andrey Savelyev; Chairman of Russian Social Movement (ROD), Konstantin Krylov; and the leader of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI), Alexander Potkin aka Belov.
Navalny participated in the conference as the main representative of the organization NAROD, or the National Russian Liberation Movement. (I recently published a full translation of NAROD’s Manifesto on this page)
Navalny summed up the weekends events and the main goals of the conference in a Live Journal entry from June 9th :
We argued about some things, but all reaffirmed the main point: nationalism must be a genuine political force; the principles of democracy and human rights are organic to the movement; our first order of business is to free ourselves from discrediting elements - Hitlerites, hooligans and outmoded pseudo-patriots; we must escape our marginalized cliquey ghetto and generate support within the educated urban classes.
The coordinator of the DPNI from Tver said it best, “the skinheads coming into our movement are of no use to us. We need lawyers, economists and journalists.”
The conference was written up in a few publications at the time. The headline grabbing moment came when provocateurs inside the conference hall attacked the stage wielding plastic dildos as DPNI leader Alexander Belov began speaking. The provocation was allegedly the work of an astro-turf Kremlin-backed youth group sent to disrupt the event.
At the conclusion of the conference, the organizers signed a pact outlining their intention to join forces. It was titled “The June 8th Pact” and was accompanied by a political declaration. (I’ve published a full version of the text here, in a previous post on this page.)
Here is a passage that gives a gist of the principles discussed at the conference and backed by its organizers:
The democratization of Russian politics is necessary, but it is not enough on its own. Democracy works only within the framework of a nation state, which is founded upon the historical and cultural unity of the country's population.
The nation alone – ties those in power to their population with bonds of solidarity and mutual obligation, and establishes citizens as the owners of their own country. The nation that created our country is the Russian nation. Russia will either be a Russian nation state, or it will be the helpless victim of oligarchical, bureaucratic, and criminal clans.
This is a good summary of the political philosophy that undergirded elements of the Russian Nationalist movement at this time. The organizers of the conference, called themselves National Democrats or Natsdems.
The vision is very clear: Russia must become a nation state where ethnic Russians come first. The plurinational Russian Federation is a corrupt criminal enterprise that suppresses the Russian people and favors ethnic minorities at the expense of ethnic Russians and Russian culture. In their eyes democracy in Russia would mean majority rule, and ethnic Russians could finally become “masters in their own home”.
This is a strand of the broader Russian nationalist ideology that animated the annual Russian March and what is broadly called the “Russian Movement”. All four of the leaders mentioned above were involved in organizing the annual marches. In addition to the more “moderate” groups that participated in this conference, the Russian Movement encompasses all manner of far-right extremists. They range from pagan Neo-Nazi’s to ultra-Orthodox Monarchists.
This week, The New Yorker published an article by Masha Gessen meant to tackle the subject of Navalny’s nationalism. You’d be forgiven if you read the article and leave thinking that Navalny’s involvement with the toxic elements of the Russian far-right was just a passing flirtation. The implied message is, “When he couldn’t rein in the nationalists, couldn’t use them for his own noble liberal goals, he simply gave up and washed his hands of it.”
Gessen reassures readers that “in the kind of Russia that he and his supporters are fighting for—a free, democratic society—the Russian March will be a festive annual event like the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.” They also goes out of the way to highlight Navalny’s Jewish and non-Russian ethnic supporters and acquaintances.
A passage featuring journalist Yevgenia Albats left me puzzled. In the mid-oughts Albats had recently finished a doctorate at Harvard and returned to Russia. She describes mentoring a group of young political activists including Navalny:
At the time, he told me that only a united front could overthrow the Putin regime, and only after that should pro-Western liberal democrats like him hash out their differences with the ethno-nationalists. Albats recalled that it was in this context that she told Navalny that he should attend the Russian March. They went together. “I wore a giant Star of David that I made sure could be seen from a distance,” she told me. “He took a lot of shit for walking with a kike.” Their efforts to engage people in conversation failed, and after three years they gave up.
First of all, branding yourself with a Star of David to march alongside far-right nationalists sounds humiliating. Secondly, reading this, is the reader supposed to support the cynical instrumentalizing of the far-right? The article underlines that using these forces to achieve political aims failed, but would it have been good if it worked?
Discussions around this topic have been cropping up since Navalny has been making headlines around the world. Especially in English, a lot of the discussion fails to describe the figures Navalny was associating with or their ideologies.
I don’t agree that instrumentalizing far-right nationalism for your own political goals is good. However, the real issue with Gessen’s article is that it completely misrepresents the depth of Navalny’s ties to the Russian Movement.
That is why I am highlighting this conference. All in all, the conference itself and the “June 8th Pact” is little more than a footnote in history. Looking back at the conference illuminates who exactly Navalny associated with back then, and what it means when he is called a nationalist.
Around the time of this conference figures within the Russian Movement wanted to transform into a viable political and electoral force. For inspiration they looked to right-wing anti-immigrant nationalist parties in Europe and America. Marine Le Pen’s Front National, the Lega Nord in Italy, and more recently the rise of the Alternative For Deutschland in Germany. Fundamentally, they envied the reach of nationalist, xenophobic, and anti-immigrant rhetoric of these parties within the mainstream politics of developed and democratic European states.
The organizers of the conference expressed the same anxieties about hordes of foreigners that can be seen across Europe and America. In his speeches Belov would regularly cite the banlieu of Paris as a cautionary tale. Navalny would often justify his anti-immigrant rhetoric by pointing to the example of the Republican Party in the US. Why can respectable American politicians use slogans like “Build The Wall” and Russians can’t?
In one of his essays Konstantin Krylov articulates this aspect of their common world view and what it means for Russia:
There exists a hard to grasp, but very real connection between the people and the land on which they live. Take France for example – in this case it is the French, and if you chase all the French away or even if you take away their rights by making them subordinate to foreign forces – the France that everyone loves and the world is so taken by, won’t exist. The same goes for any other historical culture.
Therefore, Russia can only be conceived as a Russian country. Russia was created for Russians, only Russians can build up this land and make it blossom. Acknowledging this in no way lessens the merits of other peoples – and they have played their role in our common heritage, and no one can take that away from them. But establishing Russia as a unitary whole must be done specifically by us – and by us alone.
The issue of economic migration from the former Soviet republics of Central Asia was key for this cohort. Obviously it is the titular issue for Alexander Belov and his “Movement Against Illegal Immigration”. Instituting a visa regime and tightly regulating migration from non-European states continues to this day to be a key part of Alexey Navalny’s political platform. This framing sees migrants from former Soviet Republics as invading foreigners. However, prior to 1991 the citizens of Central Asian republics and Russians were compatriots in the USSR.
The hatred and suspicion was not only directed at foreigners, but also at Russian citizens. In 2013 a notable campaign supported by this cohort, including Navalny, was called “Stop Feeding the Caucasus.” The basic premise of that campaign was to halt government subsidies to the poorer and less developed non-ethnic Russian republics in the North Caucasus. Really it was little more than a bunch of predictable rants about freeloading minorities sucking at the government teat.
In a typical example of the rhetoric of that campaign Konstantin Krylov remarked that he’s never seen Chechen manufactured products like TV’s for sale in retail stores, but somehow Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, “looks like something out of a storybook.”
It is hard to square the PR-boosted image of Navalny (especially in the West) when you read these statements, or find out that he and his pals led marches where hundreds of people chanted slogans like “Russia is for Russians!”
In the comments of his Live Journal, Navalny was asked to respond to photos from the 2008 Russian March that showed crowd members Sieg Heiling. His response echoes Donald Trump’s comments in the wake of the events in Charlottesville in 2017— “there were very fine people on both sides”. Navalny responded that the photographer picked out the worst faces from a crowd “otherwise perfectly normal people.” I don’t think that the emotional tenor of American politics has been healthy for the past four years, but I think the disparity here is instructive.
Of course Navalny and his politics have evolved over the years. As I mentioned in my previous piece, my goal is to inform. In this piece I hope to give some crucial context to Navalny’s activities around the time he was most active in the Russian nationalist movement.
I’ve included three short profiles on the co-organizers of the “New Political Nationalism” conference below. Alexander Belov, Konstantin Krylov, and finally Andrey Savelyev. I’ve outlined some of their biography, political views and activities over the years, and up to the present day, in order to give a real account of the type of people Navalny was associating with back then.
Alexander Belov and the Movement Against Illegal Immigration
Alexander Belov, is the onetime leader of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI, Dvizheniye Protiv Nelagalnoy Immigratsii). The DPNI gained strength in the early 2000’s as immigration from Central Asia became an increasingly prominent political issue.
Born Alexander Potkin he later adopted the name Belov once he became a public figure in the Russian Nationalist movement. Belov has as its root the word bely which means white (both the color and the race). His penchant for allusive naming can also be seen in his son’s name Ivan-Kolovrat, which essentially means Johnny-Swastika. Kolovrat is a symbol used by many far-right nationalist and neo-pagan organizations in Russia. Defenders claim it is an ancient Slavic sun rune. Often a “kolovrat” has a somewhat altered design but visual similarity to the Nazi symbol is always the point.
Belov is a veteran of the organization Pamyat, famous for its ultra-nationalist, Christian fundamentalist, monarchist, and anti-semitic stances. Pamyat began under KGB supervision in the 1980’s as a historical and cultural preservation society. The name means “memory”. It became a semi-official semi-underground meeting place for nationalists, Orthodox revivalists and conspiracy theorists.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Pamyat and its splintering factions were some of the most prominent figures in the Russian nationalist far-right. Belov first became involved with Pamyat in his mid-teens, rising through the ranks to hold prominent positions such as Press Secretary and Vice-Chairman of the Party Committee. In a recent interview from his time under house arrest, Belov was asked about Pamyat’s failure as a movement. He pushed back and candidly assessed what he sees as the partial success of Pamyat:
What do you mean failure? I remember the political platform of Pamyat when I joined very well. It was published in 1990 in the form of a letter from Vasilyev (leader of Pamyat) to Gorbachev. To strengthen the role of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (law enforcement) and FSB, then still the KGB, halt the collapse, return lost territories including Crimea, and build a strict vertical power structure. All of that was realized. The only thing that didn’t come to be is that Vasilyev didn’t become president, and a new tsar was not chosen.
By the mid-2000’s economic migration from Former Soviet Republics, especially Central Asian republics, became a hotly debated issue. There was a wave of concern that contributed to a rise in anti-immigrant rhetoric and ethnic tension. Belov and the DPNI rode that wave. In addition to immigrants, internal migration from non-Russian majority regions and republics of the Russian Federation served as a flash point.
Particular hate was directed at the people of the North Caucasus republics such as Chechnya and Dagestan. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Chechnya fought two wars with Moscow. The vacuum left by the collapse of the Soviet state also gave rise to ethnic mafias. In addition, extremist Islamist organizations have also become active in those regions. In a video from the time Belov looks into the camera and says:
I want to address [Chechen Leader] Ramzan Akhmatovich Kadyrov, who has being doing a lot to get things in order in Chechnya. Ramzan we’re fucking fed up with your comrades, fucking fed up. Take them back. The war is over. Chechens, it’s time to go home. We’re really fucking sick of you. You are a constant hemorrhoid, absolutely constant. Peace isn’t working out. Living side by side isn’t working out. As soon as you crawl out of your republic, you immediately start getting drunk, forget all about Allah et cetera.
In September 2006 the small Northern Russian town of Kondopoga experienced a wave of unrest following the murder of two Russians by a group of Chechens after a dispute at an Azeri restaurant. Belov led a contingent of DPNI members that helped incite ethnic riots on the streets of the town.
A year later, similar unrest broke out in the Southern Russian town of Stavropol following the death of a Chechen Student and retaliatory murder of two Russians. Just as in Kondopoga, Belov publicized the events online, got DPNI members together and jumped on a plane from Moscow to battle in the streets.
The riots in Kondopoga and Stavropol made national news. Belov, DPNI members, and other agitators were investigated in relation to both incidents for “inciting ethnic enmity” under article 282 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.
In 2011 the DPNI was declared a banned extremist organization in Russia and disbanded. That same year Belov teamed up with Dimitri Demushkin, who’s organization Slavic Union had met a similar fate as the DPNI. Belov and Demushkin formed a coalition simply named “Russians”. In 2015 this new organization was also banned for extremism and disbanded.
***side note: Slavic Union in Russian is Slavyanski Soyuz, or the acronym SS
Around the time that “Russians” was disbanded Belov found himself under criminal investigation. In 2015, after doing some consulting work in Kazakhstan, Belov got caught up in a strange political saga involving exiled Kazakhstani Oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov. In addition to charges of money laundering and theft related to Ablyazov’s BTA Bank, Belov was accused of attempting to overthrow the Kazakhstani government and incite a “color revolution”. Belov ended up serving 3.5 years, before being released to house arrest pending other charges.
Belov was only convicted on the financial charges. The charges of planning to overthrow the Kazakh state never amounted to anything against him personally. They did however rope in Pyotr Miloserdov, a founding member of Navalny’s NAROD and a longtime associate of Belov.
In 2018 Miloserdov was imprisoned on charges of conspiring to overthrow the Kazakh government. Miloserdov and Belov deny involvement in any such plot. Miloserdov maintains he was prosecuted as retribution for failing to testify against Belov.
In addition to Russian nationalists, many civil society figures considered both Belov and Miloserdov to be prisoners of conscience. These and similar cases, such as one against Belov’s colleague Dimitri Demushkin, are why chants of “Freedom for Political Prisoners” are frequent at far-right rallies.
Watch a few videos of Belov speaking to a crowd and you can see how well suited he is for street politics. At the flip of a switch he shifts into an earth shaking baritone, adding terrifying emphasis to slogans such as, “The Future Belongs to Us!”, “The Motherland or Death!”, and “Glory to Russia!”.
He laments that the powers that be think they can govern the “ungovernable masses” and the “animalistic crowds” that they welcome into their country. In a speech to the Russian March in 2005 he laments that Moscow is being handed over to barbarians. He leads the crowd in a chant “Russia Against The Occupiers!”. Belov’s emphatic enunciation of the words “us” and “ours”, leaves no room for doubt as to what exactly he means.
In a speech at a rally in September, 2012 rally Belov holds a child in his arms as he yells into the mic, “The Future Belongs to Us!”. It the same exact image and slogan that hung above the stage at the conference in 2008, only now with a living prop. The words and the image of the child conjure up the famous white supremacist slogan— the “14 words”. "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children."
The conference’s discussion of a “New Political Nationalism” was part of a broader effort by Belov and his associates to clean up their image. Marlene Laruelle describes Belov’s speech from the DPNI’s party conference in 2008, “He called for a new nationalism ‘not with a beard and enormous boots, but in a suit and tie.’” Elsewhere she describes Belov’s belief that there is “no future for nationalism in Russia without its Europeanization.”
Belov and others in his milieu looked westward. They found inspiration not only in the right-wing nationalist anti-immigrant parties of Europe, but also right-wing forces in the US. Around this time Belov formed a relationship with David Duke acolyte Preston Wiginton.
Belov is currently out of prison on probation. The terms of his probation prohibit him from engaging in public political activity. His old organizations are both banned for extremism.
These days you can find Belov on Twitter where he mostly retweets commemorations or Russian or Orthodox history. He occasionally chimes in on the American culture war among his many retweets. He rarely tweets his own opinions probably due to the terms of his probation.
It’s all the same dull old stuff that you’d find from your Trump supporting relatives on facebook. The boring, dumb disputes we’ve been exporting to the whole world. Democrats deprogramming Trump supporters, White Lives Matter false equivalencies, derogatory anti-trans stuff, and funnily enough— supporting Andy Ngo in his valiant fight against antifa.
Konstantin Krylov and the Russian Social Movement
Konstantin Krylov was one of the principal intellectual figures in this corner of contemporary Russian nationalism. He passed away in 2020 at the relatively young age of 53.
Krylov was an editor of the journal Questions of Nationalism. He was also a prolific LiveJournal blogger. In addition to his own blog he wrote under many pseudonyms. He had alter egos such as a Jewish poet Yudik Sherman who he dubbed “The Wonderful Yid and Bard”. He even met some modest success under another pseudonym, science fiction author Mikhail Kharitonov. Krylov’s most prominent work is a hard science fiction spin on the Adventures of Pinocchio.
The Russian Social Movement or ROD (Russkoye Obshestvinoye Dvizheniye) was founded by Krylov as an organization defending the rights of ethnic Russians. The acronym ROD evokes the Russian word rod which can mean kin, family or race but also more generally, gender or genus.
Krylov and the ROD publicized cases where, as they saw it, ethnic Russians had their rights impinged upon. The most high profile case taken up by Krylov was the prosecution of Arakcheev and Khudyakov, two Russian soldiers accused of torturing and murdering innocent Chechen civilians while on patrol in the restive republic. After being acquitted in a jury trial twice, the two soldiers were sentenced to over 15 years in prison by a judge. Krylov became personally acquainted with Arakcheev while he advocated for their innocence. Key details in the case are murky. A logbook of orders given to their unit would have placed Arakcheev and Khudyakov in two different locations on the day of the alleged crimes. The state prosecutor argued that the logbook was poorly maintained and not a comprehensive record of the movements of the soldiers.
Other incidents that attracted the ROD’s attention were the cases of Alexandra Ivanikova and Svetlana Gogolevskaya. Ivanikova was initially prosecuted for accidental manslaughter of an Armenian cab driver that was driving her home and attempted to rape her. Ivanikova was acquitted. Gogolevskaya was a teacher at a Moscow school where her disabled son was a student. One day, she confronted a bully that had been tormenting her son in class. The classroom bully was of Azeribajiani origin and Gogolevskaya was accused of beating and racially abusing the student in retaliation. After an appeal, she was also exonerated of wrong doing.
These cases attracted widespread discussion in the blogosphere at the time. Activist organizations like the ROD and the DPNI used them to rile up their supporters. The nationalist orgs saw these incidents as evidence a corrupt system that favors ethnic minorities and foreigners at the expense of ethnic Russians.
Krylov carried on the torch of the “National Democratic Movement” long after figures such as Alexey Navalny moved on to other political pastures, and organizations like NAROD dissipated.
In 2012, Krylov founded the National Democratic Party. He attempted to officially register the party and enter electoral politics but was repeatedly thwarted by the Ministry of Justice, which makes the opaque process of party registration exceedingly difficult in Russia.
Krylov is often cited as a cogent articulator of the National Democratic strain of nationalist thought. Political commentator and onetime NAROD member, Pavel Svyatenkov commemorated his good friend after his death in an article titled “Thanks to Krylov the nascent stains on Russian nationalism have disappeared.”
Bespectacled, short and stocky, Krylov spoke with the subtly pedantic accent of a nerd who would love nothing more than to spend a few hours parsing the finer points of his most obscure interests. His political writing is thoroughly unimpressive and shallow. I don’t see any reason to praise him as an erudite and nuanced thinker. At best he is a polite, unthreatening face for some truly awful, conspiratorial and regressive ideas.
In late 2008 Krylov published a tract called “17 Answers”, in response to a host of questions about Russian Nationalism posed to him by journalist Pavel Danilin. The tract is basic right-wing nationalist apologia. A screed about the historical oppression and victimization of the Russian nation. Krylov’s careful equivocation lets him evade accusations of racism and Neo-Nazism. When the text is not self contradictory, it is rife with conceptual elision that allows Krylov to sound like an intellectual while leaving out all the nasty implications of what he is saying.
Krylov’s thesis is that the Russian people carried the heaviest burden of both the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union while getting nothing in return. According to Krylov it is Russians that were primary victims of tsarist imperialism and internationalist communism. First they were oppressed by the despotic expansionist empire and then by the evils of communism. Krylov thought that in both cases the average Russian was in a state of actual or virtual serfdom. As he saw it, Russian people worked tirelessly only for the primary beneficiaries to be the people on the peripheries of the empire i.e. the non-Russian ethnic minorities that the central government tried to curry favor with.
Since throwing off the shackles of Communism in 1991, Krylov argues that the absence of true democracy has perpetuated the marginalization of ethnic Russian people. In Krylov's eyes, Russians aren’t even masters in their own home. In Krylov’s eyes Putin’s system is a continuation of the same “anti-Russian” policies of the expansionist tsars, or the internationalist Bolsheviks.
At one point or another, the many nationalities of the former Soviet Union all experienced a nationalist awakening and independence. Meanwhile, Krylov would have you think the Russian people never experienced such a moment of liberation. Those minorities and non-Russian ethnic republics that remained within the borders of the Russian Federation continue to experience unjust favoritism from Moscow. (Hence the “Stop Feeding the Caucasus” Campaign)
Krylov was not an imperialist nationalist. He thought that, historically, Russian rulers were beholden to foreign influence and to the non-Russian nations that they were trying to integrate into their empire.
However, Krylov wasn’t opposed to the expansion of the Russian people as such. In his tract he describes the expansion of Russia’s empire to the East. His description is similar to the doctrine of “Manifest Destiny” that accompanied the western expansion of the United States. Russia’s colonial possessions from Alaska all the way down to California are usually a footnote in history. For Krylov, the empire’s forsaking of Russian America becomes a reason to complain about the Imperial oppression of the Russian people. Giving away the claims in America was a suppression of the Russian people’s instinct to flourish and expand.
Krylov is not so much an anti-imperialist, as an empire-denialist. He writes:
For centuries Russia was accused of “despotism” and “imperialism”. Without mincing words, those that accused Russia of this were real imperialist powers, who plundered colonies, traded slaves and really “did not deny themselves anything”. All of this was done, ostensibly in the name of good and progress. . .
Let’s start with the facts. Russia has never been an empire in the traditional sense. If it was a “prison of nations” it has been a prison only for one nation – the Russians. Russians in Russia did not profit from the exploitation of colonies, because Russia didn’t have colonies, it only had frontiers, that took more than they gave.
Krylov’s thesis about the perennially oppressed Russian people is tied to one of his more conspiratorial beliefs: that Russia has, since at least the time of Peter the Great, been a crypto-colony of Great Britain. He compares Peter the Great’s westernizing reforms around the turn of the 18th century to the methods used by European Colonialists to control and subjugate the indigenous populations of Africa, Asia and the Americas. It’s pretty far out stuff.
Over the course of the Russian Revolution, de-Stalinization, and the fall of the Soviet Union, the official histories and commonly accepted facts had changed so many times that some Russians emerged with a particularly malleable conception of history. Marlene Laruelle describes how in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union the intellectual foundations of many Soviet people’s worldview were so destabilized by the collapse of the Soviet system that highly speculative alternative histories became popular.
“The decline of the Marxist metanarrative has generated new interpretative frames, including the notions that no single explanation is legitimate and that a permanent hidden conflict has been organized against Russia by an alliance of internal and external enemies.”
Beginning with the rise of European Nationalism in the 19th and 20th centuries, every corner of the world eventually experienced nationalist awakenings. The idea of a unitary nation state, defined by either a single ethnic group or a single coherent national culture, is a cornerstone of the post-WW2 world order.
This is a highly problematic fiction based on a brief moment in time when it seemed it might be possible to draw perfect borders. Borders that would correspond with ideal platonic forms representing each of the world’s peoples and their god given land. It is a fiction for which millions of people have died, and continue to die. No such ideal nation states have ever existed or will ever exist (especially in our increasingly globalized world). The people who hold these beliefs must also think that if you give a child a fresh box of crayons and a coloring book, they’ll dutifully color inside the lines.
It is in the context of these views that Krylov calls for a “national liberation struggle” to finally deliver dignity to the Russian people. That is the essence of the National Democratic ideology as he sees it. Krylov loves democracy because it is a system of majority rule. He thought democracy would allow the ethnic Russian majority to finally achieve supremacy in Russia. Raising the national consciousness of the Russian people would allow them to experience a national renaissance and form a respectable European nation state.
In this same vein, Krylov was an advocate of increased freedom of movement, federalism, and self-governance for the regions of Russia where ethnic Russians form a majority. In his eyes, centralized government invited corruption and oppression of the Russian people.
His attitudes towards the regions of the Russian Federation that are majority non-Russian were more opaque and self-contradictory. At times, he entertained the idea of promoting ethnic separatism. Under Krylov’s vision, the Russian government could simply allow those republics to secede. That way, ethnic Russians could just “build a wall” on the new international borders and keep all the undesirables out.
At other times, he writes that the republics of the North Caucasus are so underdeveloped and so anti-Russian that they would have to be put under a “quarantine zone” with a special status controlled by the central government.
Krylov abandons his ideals of federalism and freedom of movement so that a strong state can guarantee the rights of Russians in the barbaric North Caucasus. Quarantine the dirty, crude and dark Muslims in their historical territory where they can’t infect Russian society with their intrinsic criminality, and don’t lift the quarantine until they have learned to behave themselves.
All in all, Konstantin Krylov wasn’t a great mind, or maybe he was let down by the moronic, racist, xenophobic ideas he was promoting. Perhaps it’s no surprise that a “nationalist intellectual” would secretly be a gifted science-fiction fantasist. Both involve conceptualizing a fictional world, different but not too distant from our own that we can’t see part of ourselves in it. But, those worlds will always remain just that— fictions.
Andrey Savelyev and Great Russia
Andrey Savelyev made his way into politics as a speech writer and adviser of Dimitri Rogozin. While the other members of this coalition all had hopes to one day enter mainstream electoral politics in Russia, Savelyev was the only one of the four that was a real veteran of that system.
In the early 2000’s he had been elected to the State Duma on Rogozin’s Rodina party ticket. His time in the Duma is best remembered for a brawl that broke out between him and the blustery Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the LDPR party known for his extemporaneous speeches full of eclectic rhetoric ranging from ultra-nationalist chauvinism to the interesting mix of anti-communism combined with a healthy dose of Soviet patriotism.
Savelyev allegedly insulted Zhirinovsky, born Vladimir Wolffovich Eidelstein, for his Jewish heritage as Zhirinovsky was passing by him in the rows of Deputies. (Video can be found here with some English subtitles) Ironically, Zhirinovsky has been known to espouse anti-semitic stances at times, despite being half-Jewish himself.
At the time, Savelyev was one of the authors of an appeal to the General Prosecutor of Russia to investigate and potentially ban Jewish organizations for secretly orchestrating attacks on their own Synagogues and desecrations of Jewish graves. The implication was these incidents were planned as a provocation against Russian patriots and nationalists. It is galaxy-brain anti-semitic scapegoating, blaming Jews for real Neo-Nazi hate crimes.
Ahead of the 2008 Duma Elections, Rogozin and Savelyev attempted to register the Great Russia party (Velikaya Rossiya). Their party registration was rejected. Shortly after, Rogozin would leave parliament and take up a position as Russia’s ambassador to NATO. More recently he has been the head of Roscosmos, Russia’s Space Agency. Rogozin has thoroughly integrated himself as a technocrat within Putin’s system, largely abandoning his electoral ambitions.
Meanwhile, Savelyev has consigned himself to be a thoroughly fringe figure since his party failed to gain registration. He continues as chairman of Great Russia to this day, but it is a very minor unregistered party. He is a voluminous writer, and has written a healthy handful of monographs on all sorts of nationalist topics in addition to prolific blogging. In a recent blog post titled “The Nation and Race” Savelyev writes:
With regards to the Russian Federation, under the influence of waves of migration the native race is dying out – they have become “Rossiyane”, rootless nomads living in globalized cities - a nominally raceless community, which is devolving towards extinction.
You can also find Savelyev vlogging on YouTube. He has a healthy head of silver hair and his background is draped by his party flag. The tsarist Black, Yellow, White tricolor emblazoned with a Byzantine Double Headed Eagle holding a golden Chi Rho.
In his vlogs Savalyev rambles about the evils of both the “Putinoids and the Navalnoids”. In one video, he describes being deplatformed from an online bookshop for promoting “alternative views regarding the 6 million deaths of Jews in the holocaust”.
No such vlog would exist in the year 2021 without a healthy dose of anti-vaxx, anti-mask talk. A popular COVID related conspiracy in Russia is that the government will use the vaccine roll out to implement mandatory “chipafication.”
It’s no surprise that Savelyev has expressed sympathy for the COVID-denying priest, Father Sergei, who made global headlines at the beginning of the pandemic after refusing to obey COVID protocols and barricading himself in a convent near Yekatinarinburg.
Savelyev reacted to Putin’s recent statement about “Caveman Nationalism” in a vlog titled Putin Needs Russian Slaves. He calls the idea of multi-national Soviet and multi-national Russian person a myth. He denounces the multi-cultural multi-confessional Russian Federation as an “occupying regime”. The “Putinists are occupiers” running a system designed for one purpose— to enslave the Russian people.
Savelyev’s language echoes that of both Belov and Krylov. As I mentioned previously, he puts his own spin on those views by couching them in his proudly Orthodox Christian, Monarchist, and Neo-Imperialist worldview.
Among the four organizers of the “New Political Nationalism” conference, he has the least to do with Alexey Navalny. There’s not much evidence of a personal relationship between the two. A good illustration is the contrast between Saveylev’s deep Orthodox faith, and Navalny’s mere lip service to Orthodox Christianity. Moreover, Saveylev consistently expresses contempt for Navalny on his blog. He considers Navalny’s supporters to be dupes.
So what does all this have to do with Alexey Navalny and NAROD?
In an essay titled “Alexey Navalny and the Natsdem. A pro-Western Nationalism?” Marlene Laruelle concisely captured Navalny’s essence. She writes, “Navalny can only disappoint those who expect from him a modicum of theoretical construction: he is a doer, not a thinker.” She goes on:
His goals are eminently political: the broader his support, the better. As Natalia Moen-Larsen showed, on his LiveJournal, Navalny devoted only 15 percent of blog posts between 2006 and 2012 to nationalism issues, confirming that the topic occupies a relatively modest place in his activity – significantly less than denouncing the regime’s corrupt schemes, for instance.
Ultimately, nationalism occupies only a portion of Navalny’s political activity and worldview. To the extent that Navalny is a thinker, his views look to be influenced by the strain of nationalist thinking espoused by Konstantin Krylov. Krylov was a key figure in promoting the Natsdem ideology, and the rhetoric around the need for a Russian “national liberation movement” that Navalny embraced. Hence the name of NAROD— the Nationalist Russian Liberation Movement. Krylov writes:
Russian nationalists are not calling for the capture of lands, for supremacy over other peoples, for humiliation or oppression of other nations. They don’t want to enslave others, they want to free themselves. Their main demands are — halting the oppression of the Russian people, the creation of a Russian national state on historical Russian lands. In short, Russian nationalism — is a nationalism of national-liberation.
Here is an excerpt from NAROD’s Manifesto that mirrors Krylov’s language:
We want to free our nation from corruption, lies, despotism, and treasonous rule. We are calling for a national liberation struggle against a perverse political system, founded and ruled by oligarchs in league with government officials, whose only purpose is to increase their personal wealth (capital) no matter the cost to the nation.
As discussed above, Krylov’s world view is rooted in conspiratorial thinking that denies Russia’s history as an imperial power. Navalny’s views are less exotic and more milquetoast than Krylov’s cryptocolony theory.
There’s not much evidence of a close personal relationship between the two, but as discussed above, Navalny was an outspoken supporter of a few of Krylov’s causes. The “Stop Feeding the Caucasus” campaign mentioned earlier is one example. Navalny wrote an English language blog post in support of Krylov after he was sentenced to community service for “inciting racial enmity” during the course of his campaigning.
Another example is the case of Arakcheev and Khudyakov. Navalny blogged about this case multiple times. It is also the primary inspiration for a clause in NAROD’s Manifesto. The clause states that, on the one hand, anyone who fought against the Russian government in the Chechen Wars should not be granted amnesty, and on the other, Russian government soldiers should be granted full immunity. The details of the Arakcheev case are contested and somewhat murky, but such an immunity would potentially also cover much more blatant abuses:
Unilateral acts of amnesty for participants in the military conflict in the Chechen Republic are unacceptable. Those who took part in military conflict on the part of the federal forces must be granted immunity from criminal prosecution.
Navalny’s closest personal relationship among the organizers was with Alexander Belov. In an interview from 2018 Belov says of Navalny, “I know him personally and I consider him, if not a close friend, a friend after all. So I still see him that way. I even owe him 50,000 rubles, that he leant me back in 2008 for a trip to South Ossetia. I always forget to pay him back.”
Navalny’s anti-immigrant rhetoric is his most obvious political connection to Belov. Navalny’s xenophobia (forever enshrined in the famous Muslims are Cockroaches and Immigrants are Rotten Teeth videos) is an expression of the same views vociferously advocated by Belov and the DPNI.
There are instances where Navalny, like Belov, points to Le Pen in France or other right-wing causes favorably. Belov is clearly committed to those political principles. The fact that Navalny has not disavowed his past views is well documented elsewhere. In a March 2020 interview with boy-wonder libertarian blogger Yegor Zhukov, Navalny confirmed his readiness to take part in a Russian March again as a supporter of the “national democratic movement.”
What Navalny actually deeply believes is a little bit more of a mystery. He seems to move left or right— whichever way the political winds are blowing.
This week, Amnesty International announced they do not consider Navalny to be a “prisoner of conscience” due to the views he’s espoused and his failure to disavow those views. That decision has sparked widespread outrage among Navalny’s supporters, and accusations of a plot to discredit Navalny engineered by RT.
In a strange moment where history seems to have come full circle, a 2011 tweet from Navalny denouncing Amnesty International came to light. He accused them of “political prostitution and hypocrisy.” Why was Navalny so upset at Amnesty on January 8th, 2011? It seems it was because Amnesty left Vladimir Tor off of a list of “prisoners of conscience”. Tor had been arrested at protest actions in December 2010 along with opposition figures, Eduard Limonov, Boris Nemtsov and Ilya Yashin. At the time, Tor was the head of the Moscow branch of Alexander Potkin/Belov’s DPNI. The following year he was a co-founder of Konstantin Krylov’s “National Democratic Party”.
Amnesty is a flawed organization, but there is evidence that the decision is consistent with their past judgement. I personally don’t place much stock in their decision. I don’t think it will meaningfully alter the perception of Navalny among average Russians.
The figures Navalny associated with aren’t murderous skinheads or unabashed Neo-Nazis, but those associations shouldn’t be brushed under a rug. As I’ve outlined above those associations are matters of fact. They are not inventions of bad-faith critics looking to discredit Navalny. One thing is clear, Navalny’s past relationships, cooperation, and shared political views with figures on Russia’s far-right will continue to haunt him.
P.S. I encountered one similarity between Andrey Savelyev and Navalny. It is not a direct connection, but it illustrates the political landscape they were operating in. In 2005, ahead of local Moscow elections Savelyev’s former party Rodina (led by Dimitri Rogozin) filmed a pre-election ad that displayed the same prejudices as Navalny’s infamous videos. It featured the slogan “We’ll Cleanse Moscow of Trash”.
For those who don’t understand Russian, here’s a short summary: A group of watermelon chewing men, coded as migrants from the Caucasus, sit on a bench in a yard between typical Moscow apartment blocks. They carelessly throw the rinds on the ground. The rinds fall right into the path of a blonde Russian mother pushing her baby in a stroller. Rogozin and another man look on at the scene from the sidelines and then intervene. Rogozin tells them sternly, “Pick up after yourself”. His sidekick puts an arm on the shoulder of one of the men and says “Do you understand the Russian language?”. A narrator cuts in with the slogan, “We’ll clean up our city!”.
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