Sunday, April 24, 2022

David Klion, of The Nation and Jewish Currents. The caveats, in context, in a puff piece review of a propaganda film. 

For a dissident, Navalny is remarkably self-effacing and down to earth. He watches Rick and Morty, plays Call of Duty, befriends some local donkeys during his rural German retreat, and finds it as shocking and comical as anyone else might that his would-be killers poisoned his underwear. His reaction to learning that he has survived an assassination attempt is to say he can’t believe Putin is that fucking stupid, and his successful effort to expose his poisoner (the most unbelievable sequence caught on film) is essentially a well-executed prank call. He may be heroic, but he is the furthest thing from messianic.

Navalny’s human imperfections aren’t always endearing. In an infamous 2007 video, [link to Al Jazeera] he jokes about using a handgun against “cockroaches,” a term used as an unsubtle metaphor for immigrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia. Resurfacing that video has become a mainstay of Putin’s propaganda campaign against Navalny (state media, we see, also variously accuses Navalny of drug use, homosexuality, and all manner of white-collar crime), but it’s still disappointing that Roher doesn’t feature it in the documentary, presumably because he understands that any Western liberal audience would find it repellant and inexcusable. He does ask Navalny why he has marched in the past alongside far-right and neo-Nazi demonstrators against Putin’s government, and Navalny’s answer isn’t very satisfying: While he acknowledges that the far right is unseemly, he also sees it as a valid strain of Russian public opinion and a potential part of a big tent coalition he wants to lead against the corrupt “thieves” in the Kremlin. This is an answer Navalny has given before in interviews, and it’s clear that many of his liberal allies and friends don’t love it. Watching the documentary or following any of Navalny’s recent activities, one doesn’t get the sense that the man is deeply engaged with the far right or shares its main goals and motivations, but Roher doesn’t push his subject hard enough to disavow the far right’s vile agenda, and I ended the film feeling as skeptical of this aspect of Navalny’s career as I had felt going in.

However one feels about Navalny’s personal ideology or that of the company he’s willing to keep, it’s impossible to deny his bravery. He didn’t have to return to Russia, and he did so with no reasonable expectation that he would face anything other than years of imprisonment. That selflessness—especially from someone who easily might have enjoyed a comfortable life in the West with adoring friends and family—could, one wants to believe, inspire a nation to transform itself politically.

Both videos below are on Navalny's youtube channel. You can find translations elsewhere. 

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