For some, he's cause for hope -- an injection of new blood into Russia's tired opposition. Others may think him silly for an outspokenness deemed futile, or akin to a mosquito buzzing around the Kremlin who ought to leave well enough alone.
But according to a new poll, the vast majority of Russians think Aleksei Navalny
, the pioneering anticorruption blogger and anti-Putin campaigner, is a nobody. Literally.
A new survey by the Moscow-based Levada Center
of 1,600 urban and rural citizens from across the country found that 75 percent of Russians have never even heard of the guy.
Granted, the figure is down from 94 percent in April of last year, but it is still likely to strike some of Russia's politically engaged, not to mention Russia-watchers in the West, as awfully small for man who has fast become the opposition's poster child.
Perhaps the data speaks to the rural-urban spread? The pervasiveness of media censorship? The lingering lack of internet penetration in Russia? Plain old disinterest?
Maybe a bit of all of the above.
The poll data also provides an interesting look into the thinking of those who have heard of Navalny. There's a slight dip, but about the same number of Russians as this time last year -- one-third -- say that the accusations of official graft made on Navalny's blog are true. A smaller percentage of Russians than last year (11 percent versus 19 percent) say the claims are probably false.
When those Russians who had heard of Navalny were asked why they thought he has been summoned on various occasions
for official questioning, most respondents -- 38 percent -- said it was to pressure him into stopping his muckraking. Nineteen percent of respondents said officials wanted to question Navalny in order to launch investigations into the corruption he uncovered.
One final question on the survey asked those who were aware of Navalny to indicate whether they would vote for him if he ran for president. Six percent said they would -- about the same as last year -- while the percentage of Russians who said "definitely not" rose from 19 to 38 percent.
"What’s most interesting about these survey results is the degree to which they demonstrate the growing sophistication but also cynicism of the Russian body politic," says Matthew Rojansky, the deputy director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington.
"Navalny may be emblematic of protest against the current corrupt authorities, but he is not automatically taken seriously as a viable political leader. Thus, politics in Russia has faded into a particularly murky shade of gray, where there is room for those who oppose the current system but support Putin, as well as for those who support free speech, protest and transparency, but would not want to see the protest movement’s leaders in power."
There's a lot going on, it seems, in the world of Russian politics today. At least, that is, for one in four of the country's citizens.
-- Richard Solash