Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny has been generating a lot of headlines recently, and was the subject of a long article last week in The Guardian by Shaun Walker. The Guardian regularly writes on the subject of Navalny. According to the search function of its website, there are 728 Guardian articles mentioning his name. The Guardian also lists 377 for the late Boris Nemtsov, and a massive 1,590 for oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. This contrasts with a mere 114 articles mentioning the leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Gennady Zyuganov, and 163 mentioning Vladimir Zhirinovsky, head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia.
The Daily Telegraph is even more extreme, with 1,100 articles about Navalny, 554 about Khodorkovsky, and 287 about Nemtsov, compared with only 92 for Zhirinovsky, 85 for Zyuganov, and 51 for Kasyanov. The score for the Washington Post is Khodorkovsky – 341; Navalny – 272; Nemtsov – 205; Zhirinovsky – 59; Kasyanov – 56; and Zyuganov – 28. For the Globe and Mail: Khodorkovsky – 337; Kasyanov – 106; Nemtsov – 80; Zyuganov – 65; Zhirinovsky – 61; Navalny – 36; and for the Toronto Star, Nemtsov – 82; Navalny – 75; Khodorkosvky – 59; Zhirinovsky – 26; Kasyanov and Zyuganov – both 21.
The pattern is fairly clear: leaders of Russia’s ‘systemic’ opposition receive much less coverage in the Western media than members of the ‘liberal’ and ‘non-systemic’ opposition. The one exception I have been able to find is The New York Times which leads with 844 mentions of Khodorkovsky, but which has 499 of Zyuganov and 481 of Zhirinovsky, compared with 330 of Navalny and 166 of Kasyanov.
The outsized attention given to the non-systemic opposition gives an entirely false impression of its political significance. For the most part, the media gives Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky, who head substantial political parties which got about 13% of the vote in last year’s Duma election, less attention that Kasyanov and Nemtsov, whose PARNAS got less than 1%, and substantially less attention than Khodorkovsky, whose Open Russia organized demonstrations last week which attracted just a few hundred people (which didn’t prevent headlines such as ‘Thousands of Russians Present Letters of Protest in Demonstrations’).
As for Navalny, an opinion poll published by the Levada Centre today gives him almost imperceptible levels of popular support. According to the poll, if a presidential election were held this Sunday in Russia, 48% would vote for Vladimir Putin, 3% for both Zhirinovsky and Zyuganov, and just one percent for Navalny. Several other candidates would also get one percent, while 42% replied that they either don’t know or wouldn’t vote at all.
If you discount this last 42%, then the result of a Russian presidential election this week would be:
Putin – 83%; Zhirinovsky – 5%; Zyuganov – 4%; Navalny – 2%; Others – 6%.
That rather puts into perspective all the recent hype claiming that Navalny has fundamentally altered the Russian political dynamic. It also makes one wonder whether the media has its priorities right.