Pavel K Baev
Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)
Two up-and-coming researchers and one in mid-career embarked on the hard task of investigating a complex and controversial phenomenon in Russian politics called Alexei Navalny – and produced a solid and very timely book. It is not a political biography, and with the subject of research behind bars, it is too early to write one. The evidence presented leaves no doubt that the incarceration is a means of political persecution, but the dispassionate narrative doesn't aim at building a case for setting Navalny free. Instead, the examination seeks to explain why the apparently stable regime takes this particular opponent, whose name is never pronounced in Putin's court, so seriously. The authors identify three sides in Navalny's on-going struggle – the anti-corruption activist, the politician, and the protester – and demonstrate how starting from a small base, he has been able in each kind of activity to gather a force of devoted followers and to make a difference in Russia's harsh political environment. It is not only a rare combination in his character of courage and sense of humour, devotion to the family and commitment to the cause that attracts veterans of resistance and young rebels to join his networks, but also the ability to use every uncensored means of modern communication against the tightly controlled old-fashioned media. Navalny's main strength is in connecting with younger generations, who feel denied the freedom of expression and innovation in the stifling atmosphere of autocracy upheld by the ageing clique of Putin's cronies. Their response to the challenge personified in one man, who refuses to learn the lesson from nearly deadly poisoning, is tougher repressions, but Russia's future cannot be defined by fear.