Staunton, August 19 – Aleksey Navalny, despite his reputation for “politically incorrect” Russian nationalist statements, has now turned to Moscow’s non-Russian diasporas for a very simple reason: they form a minimum of 1.5 million of the city’s residents and cannot be ignored by anyone who hopes to win election there.
Last week, the Moscow newspaper “Bolshoy gorod” reported, the opposition candidate met behind closed doors with eight representatives of Moscow’s various non-Russian diasporas. A video is to be posted later (bg.ru/society/navalnyj_vstretilsja_s_predstaviteljami_diaspor_mo-19138/ and nazaccent.ru/content/8789-kandidat-v-mery-moskvy-navalnyj-provel.html).
One of the eight, Bella Shakhmirza, who has been involved in meetings between the city and diasporas in the past, said, despite requests from Navalny’s camp not to speak, that Navalny had not backed off from his nationalist positions but that he “appeared more charismatic” than she expected and did say that “everyone must be equal before the law.”
“In general,” Shakhmirza continued, “the atmosphere of the meeting was very good” as it was obvious that “very nice and acceptable people” are working with Navalny, but she added that given that she is from the North Caucasus, Navalny’s hostility to that region makes him “unsympathetic” to her. She said it would be “strange” if she were to support him.
Today, Vladislav Maltsev, a “Nezavisimaya gazeta” commentator, offers on the “Osobaya bukhva” portal his answer to the question: why has Navalny, given his reputation and base, reached out to non-Russians whom he has often described often extremely uncharitable ways? (specletter.com/vybory/2013-08-19/ot-rossii-shansona-k-rossii-lezginki.html).
Between 2008 and 2011, Navalny was openly nationalistic in his public comments, even becoming one of the leaders of the “Stop Feeding the Caucasus” group. But by the end of 2011, Maltsev points out, Navalny had softened his hostility to specific non-Russian groups and focused his criticisms on the regimes in place in the North Caucasus.
In November 2012, Navalny did not take part in the nationalistic Russian March despite the expectations of many. And in May 2013, he told RBK that Russia needed to provide more aid to the North Caucasus, not less (top.rbc.ru/viewpoint/14/05/2013/857422.shtml), a very different position than he had had only a year earlier.
The reason for his political evolution is “simple,” Maltsev says. “The support of the nationalists alone” is not enough to win the election, and that remains true even if Navalny somehow attracts “the classical liberal” groups “for whom nationalism to put it mildly is not comme il faut.”
Consequently, Navalny is trying to reach out to Muslim minorities in Moscow. A recent poll by Islamnews.ru suggests he has more support there than anyone would have expected, coming in a close second only to Sobyanin despite his statements and the lack of campaigning directed at them (islamnews.ru/voting-182.html ).
But what remains uncertain, Maltsev says, is whether Navalny can attract more non-Russians without losing support among the Russian nationalists who have long been his base. The candidate faces a real risk that every Muslim vote he picks up will cost him a nationalist one or even more, a pattern that makes this a very high risk strategy indeed.