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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Russian Activist Aleksei A. Navalny: ‘I Am Absolutely Sure We Will Win’

Shortly before his trial on embezzlement charges was to begin, the opposition activist Aleksei A. Navalny, 36, sat down for an interview in the Moscow office of his anti-corruption fund.

Alexei Navaly, a Russian activist, at his office in Moscow.James Hill for The New York Times Alexei Navaly, a Russian activist, at his office in Moscow.

His office was as sparse as a hotel conference room, and the molding had been stripped from his doorway last summer, when he and his colleagues uncovered a microphone and video camera with the help of a wiretap detector. His comments were translated and edited for clarity.


Do you feel like the possibility of imprisonment has come closer


I am practically sure that they will lock me up. It is just a feeling, I don’t have any inside information or anything. But the case went slow, slow, slow, and the investigators understood that it was a set-up. Then suddenly, at some moment, it started to move very fast, and then faster and faster, and then to the court.


Soviet dissidents always seemed prepared to sacrifice themselves in order to fight the system, but you always seemed like an optimistic person who expected to win. Do you still feel confident, or has that been changing


I am absolutely sure we will win, and that we are right. The dissidents were spiritual titans. In the Soviet period, it was clear that if you went out to Red Square with a poster, you understood they would put you in prison and there was no other outcome. You might understand that the U.S.S.R. was going to fall apart sometime, but no one expected their concrete deeds to affect it. These were great people who from the beginning came out so they would be put in prison. Our situation is different now. It is not the Soviet Union.

From when I started my work, they always told me I would be locked up. If you scroll through my blog from 2008, when I was writing about Gazprom, you will see comments there like, “You will be put in prison” and “You will be killed for this soon.” So when I do this in Russia, I know there is a possibility I will be put in prison.

So, for dissidents in the Soviet Union, they knew there was 100 percent probability. Now it is less than 100 percent, and we are not in the Soviet Union. I see there is a large number of people who support me and I am sure we will win. I am absolutely sure. I consider that it will happen in some relatively short period of time. But on the other hand, O.K., if it happens in two years or 22 years, either way, we need to do it. To compare me to the Soviet dissidents would be a big exaggeration.

There are certain moments of hope, when it seems to me that it’s happening quickly, like at Bolotnaya and Sakharova, when I think, “Everything is about to change.” And there comes a period of reaction, and it is hard. I understand well that in the next year it will be a hard time for all of us in Russia.

In 2008 and 2009, everything looked much more demotivating. If I had enthusiasm then, I definitely have it now. I just remember what it was like in 2007, when the G.D.P. was growing at 10 percent a year, and everyone loved President Vladimir V. Putin. And even in 2005, when Mr. Putin was doing more or less normal things. You spoke out about the elimination of gubernatorial elections, there were only four people doing it. There was no Internet then, only First Channel, and everything seemed hopeless. Now things look a million times more optimistic, and we have something to compare it to.


If you compare today’s atmosphere a year or 18 months ago, did you ever have moments when you actually thought, ‘The public wants stability’


I had moments of disappointment connected with my own activities, when I understood I was acting less effectively. I had romantic ideas from articles, including Western articles, about crowdsourcing - it doesn’t work, that was exaggerated. I probably didn’t know how to use it. So my disappointments are related to organizational details, with processes, not with the overall situation.

People want stability. Any new power will provide the same stability, but stability with less corruption. The alternative to Mr. Putin does not mean the collapse of the country, or revolution. It will be an absolutely normal government, except for the trillions of dollars from oil and gas we can use for the people, so they can build a normal life instead of sending it to France. So I have no disappointment in that sense. I see that time works in our favor, technology works in our favor. So everything is getting better.


Those organizations and people who stopped supporting you - do you consider that a betrayal


As I said, man is weak. People are afraid. I can’t expect each of them to be some kind of heroic person. I’m sorry about some people who would sit there and talk about awful Mr. Putin, and how they support me, and then they disappeared. C’est la vie. There’s nothing I can do about it. We feel growing support, I would say. A lot of people are disappointed that we didn’t win back in December - “what was the reason that the revolution didn’t happen right away, when it happened everywhere, even in Egypt and Tunisia” Well, it didn’t happen. And they are upset and stopped going to demonstrations because it’s useless. O.K., we will convince these people, and we will work with them.