The recent protests in Russia demonstrate the power of the Internet and new media. Blogger Alexei Navalny has risen to prominence marshaling opposition to Putin’s regime.
In December 2008, his blog had just over 1,500 regular readers. By May 2010, it had over 11,000 and today it has over 60,000. His Twitter account has over 117,000 followers.
The popularity of his blog allowed him to start mobilising internet users to take an active part in his anti-corruption campaigns by means of what he called his “unstoppable mass complaints machine”.
Since February, Mr Navalny has waged a concerted online campaign against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, which he memorably dubbed the “party of crooks and thieves”. He has organised online contests to find the best poster and most popular YouTube song attacking United Russia.
His abilities were on display in the recent protests following the fixed elections in Russia:
The full measure of Mr. Navalny’s charisma became clear after protests on Monday night; an estimated 5,000 people materialized, making it the largest anti-Kremlin demonstration in recent memory, and Mr. Navalny was arrested on charges of resisting the police and sentenced to 15 days in prison
However, there appears to be a darker side to Mr. Navalny:
He espouses Russian nationalist views. He has appeared as a speaker alongside neo-Nazis and skinheads, and once starred in a video that compares dark-skinned Caucasus militants to cockroaches. While cockroaches can be killed with a slipper, he says that in the case of humans, “I recommend a pistol.”
Mr. Navalny, for better or worse, has become the face of the anti-regime elements in Russia. At the very least, Russians are finding a way to voice their discontent with their failing system. Here is some further coverage of Mr. Navalny and the protests in Russia, his blog, and his recent letter written from jail.