Letter From the Editors

Putin’s Russia holds few surprises at this stage. But this week, something unexpected happened – Russians came out in droves both at home and abroad to give their support signatures to the only antiwar candidate allowed to advance to the next presidential campaign stage: Boris Nadezhdin. “If there is still a politician in Russia who is against the war, then I am for him. Unfortunately, you can’t put your signature down for Navalny yet, so I’m for Nadezhdin. I don’t care where he has spoken before. He’s antiwar now, that’s the main thing,” one voter interviewed by Novaya gazeta Europe said. She’s not alone: Thought leaders like Maksim Kats and Yekaterina Shulman threw their support behind Nadezhdin. Even Navalny’s team encouraged citizens to sign the petitions that would get Nadezhdin the necessary number of signatures. Has Nadezhdin done the impossible and managed to unite the fractured Russian opposition?

Of course, not everyone is willing to look beyond some of Nadezhdin’s past exploits. Aleksandr Zhelenin, for one, is certain that Nadezhdin is nothing but a Kremlin project. He cites Nadezhdin’s past dalliances with Russian neo-Nazis, the fact that he served as an observer for Vladimir Putin in the 2012 election, and his support for the war in Ukraine in the early days. “Some might say that people can change. Of course they can. A fool can become wiser. A fascist can evolve into a leftist or a democrat. . . . The only thing that never happens is that a hypocrite and a careerist transforms into an honest and principled politician,” Zhelenin writes.

In fact, Zhelenin posits, Nadezhdin is just another cog in the wheel of institutionalized violence that has come to embody the Russian state during the 20-some years of Putin’s rule. One adept of this policy is the late Vladlen Tatarsky, aka Maksim Fomin, who was killed in a bomb blast in a St. Petersburg café almost a year ago. Darya Trepova, the woman who brought the explosives disguised as a statue, was sentenced this week to 27 years in prison – “the most severe punishment for a woman in the history of modern Russia,” according to Novaya. In her closing remarks to the court, Trepova apologized to those who were harmed in the blast, but also refused to acknowledge that she intended to kill Tatarsky. According to her, she thought the statuette contained a wire-tapping device.

In an interview, Dmitry Rylov, Darya’s husband, maintains that his wife was used by exiled Russian activist Roman Popkov and an unnamed Ukrainian handler. “She is one of the most peace-loving people I have met, and very selfless,” Rylov maintains. In fact, Darya first contacted Popkov because she wanted to move to Ukraine to “help ordinary people affected by the war.” It’s not surprising that someone like Tatarsky, who spent his life glorifying violence, died by the sword. But how did a pacifist evolve into a killer?

Perhaps a look at some historical parallels can help provide an answer. This week, the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion conducted a poll on Russians’ perceptions of Lenin, timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of his death. The results show that 47% of respondents view him “rather favorably,” 15% view him “rather unfavorably,” and 30% are neutral. Overall, the number of people who view Lenin negatively has declined since the mid-1990s. And while most of Lenin’s supporters are 60 and older, what’s surprising is that among 18-24-year-olds, 39% view him favorably. According to NG, this could be due to how the education system portrays Lenin – “when talking about Lenin, school and college teachers stress the negative consequences of the Communist experiment less often than before.” If ideological accents shift over time, who will be remembered as the hero in this story, Tatarsky, the “fallen warrior,” or Trepova, the modern-day Judith? And if mutability is the name of the game in politics, is Nadezhdin actually on the level?