While Republican voters in South Carolina are being warned in a new ad not to trust Mitt Romney because, “like John Kerry, he speaks French,” politicking in Russia, where a new president will be elected in March, is a good deal less subtle.
The ad, which matches some of Mr. Navalny’s gestures and words at protests in December to archival footage of Hitler, was posted on a Russian blogdevoted to mocking Mr. Putin’s opponents. It was accompanied by a headline warning that a revered Bulgarian mystic once said that Hitler would return in the 21st century, and text that implored viewers to “not allow this prediction to come true!”
Although the video was uploaded to YouTube on Wednesday, it attracted relatively few viewers until Mr. Navalny himself drew attention to it on his Twitter feed the next day. In the following 24 hours, it was viewed nearly 100,000 times.
The attempt to caricature Mr. Navalny as a fascist, based on his embrace of Russian nationalism, also inspired a series of cartoons posted on a pro-Putin tabloid news site, Lifenews.ru. Last month, after the blogger electrified the first protest rally in Moscow, the tabloid’s cartoons imagined Mr. Navalny spending his day barking “sieg heil,” while raising his arm in a Nazi salute even as he carries out the most mundane chores.
The resort to cartoons to attack a blogger who cites “The Simpsons” and “South Park” in interviews appears to be part of a wide-ranging campaign by supporters of the status quo to tarnish his image with Russians who trust the Internet more than state-controlled television.
As our colleague Andrew Kramer reported this week, one part of that effort was the publication of a digitally altered photograph that placed a laughing Mr. Navlany beside an exiled oligarch. The blogger’s fans responded by exposing, then mocking, the fake by creating even more preposterous fakesthat pictured him standing with a series of figures, including Stalin, Napoleon, Hitler and a space alien.
In a New Yorker profile of the blogger last year, Julia Ioffe wrote that Mr. Navalny’s embrace of Russian nationalism has baffled and repulsed the liberal opposition to Mr. Putin, which fears a movement that includes neo-Nazis in its ranks. In 2007, Ms. Ioffe noted, when Mr. Navalny was kicked out of a liberal opposition party the group cited his nationalist views as the reason.
He had been photographed attending planning meetings for the Russian March, a hardline nationalist march that has coursed through Moscow, sometimes violently, every November since 2005, chanting such slogans as “Russia for Russians!” Liberal parties had reacted to the Russian March with horror, branding it a neo-Nazi parade. Navalny argued that the event attracted more “normal” participants than “sieg heilers,” and that liberals were making themselves irrelevant by failing to address an upswell of nationalism in a constructive way….
Part of Navalny’s appeal is his rejection of Russian liberalism, which he sees as being hopelessly out of touch with a country that is fundamentally conservative. His nationalism is unapologetic and even shocking. In a series of humorous videos on YouTube, he can be seen advocating the repatriation of illegals (while footage scrolls of people of Asian appearance moving swiftly through an airport) and the use of pistols against lawless undesirables.
Mr. Navalny told Ms. Ioffe that he wanted to discuss issues like illegal immigration because, “When we make these questions taboo and don’t discuss them, we hand over this extremely important agenda to the radicals.” But even if he has nuanced positions on controversial issues, he certainly left himself open to caricature by starring in Internet videos in which hecompares migrants with rotten teeth that need to be removed, and argues that just as fly swatters are used against insects, guns should be available for useagainst lawbreakers (like Islamist militants).
At the start of the interview, Mr. Chkhartishvili’s asked, “Should ethnic non-Russians and half-Russians feel like second class human beings in your Russia?” Mr. Navalny replied: “There’s no such thing as a second class human being, and anyone who thinks there is, is a dangerous lunatic who should be re-educated, treated or isolated from human society. As a matter of principle there can be no question of discrimination against people on ethnic grounds.”
After Mr. Navalny added that he stood by a nationalist manifesto that he signed some time ago, Mr. Chkhartishvili said he agreed with that manifesto’s main thesis, which was, “Our country’s unity, power and prosperity will only be enhanced if we can ensure equality before the law for all its citizens, whatever their ethnic origins, social status and place of residence.”