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Free for now, blog 'martyr' aims high

Helen Womack (via SMH) | Aug. 6, 2013
The anti-corruption blogger, on bail since receiving a five-year jail sentence, is making maximum use of whatever time he has left as a free man to pursue his campaign for election.

The Kremlin continues to play cat-and-mouse with Mr Navalny, who has no idea when he might be taken back into custody. He has appealed against the conviction and sentence.

But if he is to be free to pursue a political career, it will not be enough for the new judge to suspend the jail term because the criminal record will still bar him from holding public office. The conviction itself must be quashed, which would amount to a massive climbdown by the regime.

When he emerged, somewhat shaken from a night in the cells in Kirov, Mr Navalny reserved judgement on whether he would continue campaigning, if the Kremlin was going to manipulate him.

"I am not some pet kitten or puppy that can be thrown out of the election with 'no, you're not taking part' and then allowed back in with 'well, let him take part for a month'," he said then.

His position now, according to Mr Volkov, is that as long as he is free, he will campaign. If he is back behind bars, there will be no point in carrying on and he will call for a boycott of the vote.

A lawyer by training, Mr Navalny came to prominence during the street protests against falsified elections in 2011. In his blog, RosPil (from the word raspilit, meaning to saw off a chunk for yourself), he has exposed corruption in the ruling party, United Russia, which he dubbed the "party of crooks and thieves".

He spent six months at Yale University in the US, a biographical detail his conservative enemies use to suggest he is serving American interests. His liberal critics worry that he is too much of a Russian nationalist.

Mr Volkov said his boss was running a Western-style election campaign, "except he's not kissing babies". Apart from the subject of corruption, Mr Navalny was talking to voters about illegal immigration "because it's the number one concern for Muscovites and no politician can afford to ignore it".

Speaking in the cellar of Mr Navalny's cramped HQ on Lyalin Lane, Mr Volkov said his boss was against what he called "kitchen xenophobia", the petty disagreements of Slav and Asian neighbours who did not like each other's wedding rituals and meat butchering practices.

But he believed it was necessary to introduce order and transparency into the migration system, for the sake of native Muscovites and the mainly Muslim migrants alike. Mr Navalny approved of the Australian points system, he added.

"The biggest employer of illegal migrants is City Hall itself," Mr Volkov said, noting that on paper the street sweepers from Central Asia earned 45,000 roubles ($1500) a month but in reality, they took home 15,000 roubles and the difference was going into bureaucrats' pockets.


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