Translation: The 35 Cyber-Friends of Navalny

35 CEO’s of Russian Internet companies have signed a public letter supporting Navalny in return for his promise to ensure accountability and the rule of law.

Navalny’s 35 Friends

Small businesses get involved in politics.

Thirty-five representatives of Internet businesses are to speak publicly in support of the candidate for post of Moscow mayor, Alexei Navalny. This is a precedent, as “equidistanced oligarch” businesses used not to openly try to support the opposition.

A group of 35 Internet entrepreneurs has launched a manifesto in support of Navalny. “Instead of voting from our hearts, we have made a socio-political contract”, they wrote. “Our support is not an act of charity. We expect the protection of the rule of law from Navalny, support for independent courts, and real accountability of public officials. For our part, we will support Navalny’s policy by means of our reputation and our financial, organizational and other resources.”

“The Contract” has been signed signed by the founders/owners/top managers of, amongst others: The Internet-shop “Vikimart” (Camille Kurmakaev and Maxim Faldin); the discount service Groupon and the educational portal (Elena Masolova); (Yuri Virovets); the publishing house “Mann, Ivanov and Ferber” (Mikhail Ivanov); the polling site Votepoller (Valentin Preobrazhensky); and (Dmitry Navosha).

Kurmakaev told “Vedomosti” that two weeks ago, businessmen met Navalny in order to discuss how they could help. From this was born the idea of ​​a social contract for new businesses and new policies. “It is often said that business should be kept out of politics, but we consider this a position of cowardice and hypocrisy. It is time to recognize that politics has a direct impact on business. We have joined together in order to be represented politically, part of our work being direct social responsibility”, stated the manifesto.

The draft document was circulated to several dozen businesses, all of them representatives of the “new economy”, said Kurmakaev. There were refusals to participate: some said they did not care about politics, and some that they support Sergei Sobyanin; some that they were afraid of the challenges involved.

“Navalny is removing a barrier to the growth of the economy: corruption, which increases 3-5% annually”, explained Preobrazhensky as regards his decision to join the contract. “Being afraid of problems when doing business is acting too late: doing business in itself has become a problem. It’s time to decide”, he said. “It is stupid doing something with our companies because of the retaliation that will come from the authorities: we are not giants; we are not Yukos”, said Masolova. “But keeping quiet about this is even sillier. The authorities deal with companies from a position of power and remaining quiet shows our weakness.”

All signatories of the manifesto have been made as individuals, stresses Kurmakaev, donations to the election fund from entrepreneurs have also made as physical persons. Russian businesses are not very willing to make donations as legal entities to anyone, except to the All-Russia People’s Front, one businessman admits

Navalny has not yet received any donations to the electoral fund from legal entities, confirmed Leonid Volkov, the candidate’s election chief of staff. According to him, in addition to financial support from entrepreneurs that appear on the list, they advise staff on management issues, help with IT-infrastructure, and some work with the “Agitation Cube”. “The important thing is that the support is open”, concluded Volkov.

In May 2012 a group of 16 businessmen and intellectuals publicly stated their financial support of the Navalny Fund to combat corruption. Two of them, the former rector of the New Economic School, Sergei Guriev, and his wife, the economist Catherine Zhuravskaya, subsequently left Russia for fear of prosecution.

“Open support for the opposition has been given by small businesses, which is a completely new situation”, said Vyacheslav Igrunov, the deputy of the State Duma until 2003. Following the equi-distancing of the oligarchs and the Yukos affair, big business has only helped those parties that were put forward by the Kremlin. They would not risk not doing that now: too much is at stake. But small and medium businesses are apparently so fed up with the present system that they are ready to take such steps”, concludes Igrunov.