Translation: Going on the Campaign Trail with Navalny

According to’s Olga Kuzmenkova tagging him, Navalny has a popular style and likes asking resonant questions, such as why Russia, despite its petrodollars, only builds as many railways in a year as China does in a week.

“Where are my factories? Where is my Cosmos?”

“Gazeta.Ru” observed Alexei Navalny as he went about meeting Zelenograd voters.

“Gazeta.Ru” continues a series of reports, “One day with a candidate for mayor of Moscow”. On Thursday, the correspondent of the publication, along with the candidate Alexei Navalny, underwent three meetings with voters in Zelenograd. If the opposition does not withdraw from the elections by September 8, he will have spent more than a hundred meetings with supporters. The “Gazeta.Ru” correspondent explains how Navalny campaigns.

“I thought that after a 25 minute delay, the maximum I could expect would be rotten tomatoes … And you applaud me”, said Alexei Navalny when he turned up in front of those who attended the next voter meeting with. In the whole campaign, this was the first time that he had been late. The candidate for mayor of Moscow had been a victim of traffic problems: on the way to Zelenograd his car had got stuck in a “grandiose traffic jam.” “A bus crashed into a trolley bus”, said Navalny, who was clearly uncomfortable about having been forced to wait. “And then there was no trolleybus to Pyatnitskoy”, said one of the standing women, good-naturedly.

Navalny started his election speech with saying that for him Zelenograd is a special place. “Here, my mother was born; my grandfather is buried here; as a child, I regularly went to my relatives here and spent a lot of time”, said the candidate. Having achieved the first of approving nods from the audience, Navalny went set to work.

Since the beginning of the campaign the oppositionist has already held 68 meetings with voters: three a day on weekdays, five a day on weekends. Navalny said that if this pace does not slow down, then by Election Day he will have managed to carry out more than a hundred meetings and talk personally with 1% of voters. However, joked the mayoral candidate, that would only happen if, prior to September 8, he did not go mad. This joke about his approaching madness has been told three times that day, in increments of two hours: 16:00 – at a meeting with Michael Pond; at 18.00 – by a fountain on Youth Square; 20.00 – at Kryukovo railway station, where trains arrive from Moscow. Three different audiences during the day laughing at the same joke.

Navalny’s life during the weeks of his being an election candidate is similar to the long-running “Groundhog Day.” Meetings with voters are on more or less of the same scenario. The oppositionist warms up the crowd, talking about who he is and why he “latched on” to the state-owned companies (when she heard about the size of the salary an employee in a legal department – 880 million rubles a year -a tender-hearted old lady in the front row clutches her breast, moaning loudly), which raises the question about a major industrial enterprise that has appeared in recent years, and to receive a reply concerning a distillery or a factory for the production of plywood.

“So I’m asking”, says Navalny, “if, during the past 15 years, we have made more petrodollars than in the Soviet Union, where are they?

“Where are my plants, where are my factories, where is my Cosmos?

“Where are my satellite towns? Where is my Academy of Sciences? Russia now builds as many railways in a year as China does in a week, even though China has no oil or gas.”

This is followed by a discussion of housing problems (Navalny mentions that the rent for his flat in a Marino panel-built block is 9.5 thousand rubles); transport (“Our roads are four times more expensive than in Europe. Do our labourers come from Switzerland? No, they are Uzbeks, who lay a road that after a year has to be relaid again”; and the wage for immigrant street sweepers and courtyard workers, half of which officials put it in their pockets.

After a brief presentation of the election programme, Navalny suggests that they move on to questions. They are, however, also more or less the same. Participants of the meeting wonder whether Navalny had studied at Yale (“Yes, and I’m proud of that, because it was a good education”); what if he were withdraw from the race before voting day (“You all come to the electoral commission and have me reinstalled” ); how will he conduct his relationship with the federal government (“According to the rules”); and what will be his first decision in the mayor’s office (“I shall devolve decision making and delegate a significant amount of authority”).

At the end of the sixty-odd meetings, the mayoral candidate gives one the impression that he is a finalist in the TV game “Name That Tune”: “with three notes” he is willing to guess any issue that is still being prepared to be asked by inquisitive, loquacious voters. A man standing in one of the back rows, starting from way back: “We have only once had honest elections. That was in 1991, and we chose Yeltsin. And he also said: “I put my head on the block, my hand there … and all the rest.” Navalny breaks into a smile.

He already knows that there will be a question like: “How do you guarantee that you yourself will not become a crook and a thief?”

He answered the very same question literally four hours ago. So the candidate for mayor confidently explains that he wants to change the very system so that not only he would become an honest mayor, but all those who occupied the mayor’s chair after him.

It looks as if the meeting could have gone on for ever if there had not been planned for that day another meeting with voters. Navalny apologizes and explains that he has to go. But the mayoral candidate is surrounded by participants who have failed to submit their questions. Two or three dozen people squeeze through from somewhere or other, eager to get the oppositionist’s autograph. In the course of a half-hour, Navalny has left his signature on labels and leaflets, as well as having been photographed with old ladies, teenagers and young adults. These mechanical actions are accompanied by an endless stream of the candidate’s answers to all sorts of questions. He stops only when it he has to turn around for another snapshot, to smile and to make a successful keepsake photo. Sometimes it is necessary to have second shots taken.

Finally, the candidate apologizes and leaves; finally, again explaining that he needs to hurry to a meeting. Several people go with Navalny to his van – he has rented for his campaign a Chevrolet Explorer minivan. Having only just closed the door and sat down in the most reclined back seat, the candidate breathes out. There are still two weeks of the campaign left.

A few seconds later he is staring at the roof. He then picks up a stack of paper, chooses his brief and begins to prepare for the next meeting. Despite the fact that all the meetings have a general scenario, for each he tries to prepare something special: the political issues and the problems in all the different areas are all the same. Fifteen minutes later, the van is parked on the Youth Square. Navalny goes onto the stage and everything starts again: In Zelenograd was born his mother, and as a child he often stayed in the town. During the pre-election rally there can now be observed not only people who have come to the area specifically for the meeting, but also visitors from the nearby multi-discipline educational establishments.

Having finished the regular meeting, the mayoral candidate gets into the car: “It was good. My aunt, cousins and a lot of relatives came.”

It is after nine in the evening. For the first time that day Navalny shows interest in two pizza boxes that for three hours have been in the van on the seat next to him. While he is trying to get the plastic bag out of the cartons, the “Gazeta.Ru” correspondent asks what’s the story with the Montenegrin company, allegedly owned by Navalny, that has surfaced on the Internet.

“We used to have such an idea. We discussed it, but then decided to give it up. That’s all there is in correspondence”, said the mayoral candidate.

“On Twitter everyone reckons that the Montenegrin tax return has been, like, confirmed today, that there is a company.”

“I do not know what it is. We asked for all documents to be sent to Montenegro lawyer, so that he could deal with it”, Navalny replied, continuing to study the contents of the pizza boxes. “When the story came to light, I called Gaidar (Maria Gaidar, who has discussed in correspondence with Navalny the registration of the real estate firm – “Gazeta.RU”) and asked, ‘Listen, have we really registered this company? Perhaps I have forgotten something?’ She told me, ‘No, we haven’t registered.” Before I applied to the electoral commission, I closed my U.S. account (an account opened by Navalny as a student at Yale University – “Gazeta.RU”). It was a very difficult and long process, but I still did. If I had known about some Montenegrin company, I would have closed it.”

Navalny stops digging into the pizza box, leans back in his chair and opens a bottle of water: “I do not want to eat.” During the campaign, he has lost six pounds.

The van pulls up next to a car park, this time at a mall in front of a railway station concourse. Navalny gets out of the car.

“I have tried to present myself as ideal candidate for mayor of Moscow. What should I like from a candidate? I should like him to come into my yard, so that I could look at him, ask him questions: nice ones and not so nice ones – all sorts.” For the third time that day, Navalny addresses a gathering. “So I decided to become a candidate. My name is Alexei Navalny. I am 37 years old.”