Meet Vera Kichanova, Russia's Rising Libertarian Activist

Vera Kichanova believes that libertarianism has a home in Russia, and she's making changes one local election at a time.

Credit: Vera KichanovaCredit: Vera KichanovaRussia is not known for its optimists or its libertarians, but Vera Kichanova hopes to change that. 

Kichanova is a libertarian activist and journalist in a country that despises both, and she has the arrest records to prove it. Only 22, Kichanova has been detained at least five times. With an eclectic mix of brightly colored clothes, a purse full of political pins, and thick-rimmed glasses, she fits the role of a youth in revolt. Yet this advocate of Russia's most unlikely cause is also an elected official, representing the Yuzhnoye Tushino District of Moscow. She was elected to the municipal council during a surge of opposition activity in 2012. 

In July Kichanova came to Washington, D.C., to receive a Democracy Award for her efforts to promote freedom. I had the opportunity to speak with her about the work she does and the risks she faces.

Reason: How did you first become interested in libertarianism?

Kichanova: I was dating a boy who was libertarian. He advised me to read Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, and I got interested and read some books by the Austrian School. I knew there was a group of people who called themselves the Libertarian Party of Russia. They were not a party yet. They were academic people who met each other in Liberty School, organized by Cato in Georgia, and I joined them.

Reason: What's the state of libertarianism in Russia right now? What kind of organizations are growing around it?

Kichanova: The academic group has grown into a real party. When I joined it, we had our first party congress with less than 20 people participating. At the third one, there were more than 100. Now, there about 500 members of the party. I am sure that there are more. The main problem is that a libertarian is a person who would not join any party—he hates any collectivism and thinks that joining a party is not for him. He is an individualist. The libertarian movement in Russia consists of two wings, the academic wing and the activist wing. The academic has existed longer, because there were several think-tanks and websites that united people with these views. But, we were the first to realize it was time to put our views in practice, and we spent a lot effort persuading those individuals. When we are separate, it is easier to take our liberties and prevent us from doing anything in politics.

Reason: Do the laws allow forming a political party? Is the Libertarian Party official? 

Kichanova: We are now in the process of registering it. The law about parties was liberalized last year. Before, you had to gather 15,000 activists to build a party and now it's 500. We had a congress in March, and in September we are hoping to get the official document. From then on, our activists, which we have in more than 50 regions, will be able to participate in some local elections. 

Reason: Are there other parties that are forming because of the liberalized laws?

Kichanova: There are many of them, but most of them – frankly speaking – have no ideology. After massive protests of the last year, many people became involved in politics. Most of them, if they're opposition parties, have very populist platforms. It's impossible to argue with them on issues like economics, health care, military force, or freedom of speech, because Russian politics is mostly not about ideology. The most radical people on either the right wing or left wing, like we are, or the radical communists, are trying to speak more about ideology.

Reason: Are there any groups with which you can build political alliances? Can you work with the Liberal Democratic Party or A Just Russia Party?

Kichanova: We have to work together with other groups because the Russian opposition movement is so varied. If you search for some photos from our biggest rallies, you can see some red flags of nationalists, some orange flags, and our flags with an eagle. There are several demands that all opposition supports, but the parties you mentioned, which have been in parliament for many years, are not regarded as the real opposition, so neither we nor anyone else that participated in the Bolotnaya Square protests collaborate with them.

Reason: What makes a Russian individual a libertarian?

Kichanova: I've discussed this question with Kahka Bendukidze, the Georgian economist who was the leader of their famous reforms. He said that Russians are actually latent libertarians. I think that Russians have less respect for government than people from Western countries, because of our history. We have had very few national leaders who were legitimate. For example, if you are trying to advocate for libertarianism in the European Union, and you tell them that the government is taking their money, but they are building roads or spending it on something the people like. In Russia, nobody can see what the government is spending our money on. We see that they are stealing our money, because it is getting more exposure. Today, Alexei Navalny was sentenced. He was uncovering very serious corruption cases. In Russia, anybody can see the bad influence of government.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • anon||

    I want one.

  • Corneliusm||

    This is why there are no female libertarians.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    Don't be desperate. It's unbecoming.

  • anon||

    Hey, I'm not being desperate, just honest. I can imagine her with that sexy little russian accent...

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    you know, just because there's a picture of OMG A GRRRRL doesn't mean you have to comment on it.

  • anon||

    Uh, yes it does.

  • felicia55||

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  • MariaNatividad412||

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  • Gladstone||

    No libertarian can oppose Putin. So says Raimondo and Rockwell.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    Ha!

  • Stormy Dragon||

    Lew Rockwell or Rockwell Rockwell?

  • CE||

    Okay, where are Fred and Daphne? I know Scooby and Shaggy are looking for food.

  • Nazdrakke||

    So it wasn't just me..

  • Paul.||

    No, it definitely wasn't.

  • Almanian!||

    jinkies!

  • Pro Libertate||

    I'm in.

  • ||

    I saw her picture and immediately thought: I've always been a Velma guy, screw Daphne.

    I then opened the commentary and laughed.

  • JWatts||

    +1, I'm definitely a Velma guy and that's the first immediately what I thought when I saw the picture.

  • JWatts||

    Err, make that: The picture immediately made me think of Velma from Scooby Doo.

  • BMFPitt||

    I can't believe it took this far down the comment thread.

  • Cytotoxic||

    This is interesting and uplifting but starting a libertarian party is a terrible idea. It just bottles up libertarian influence where it can do the least amount of good.

  • Nazdrakke||

    More power to her, but I wouldn't sell her life insurance, either.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Velma?

  • Paul.||

    She's a libertarian, so she's in a permanent state of Cosplay.

  • CE||

    Not that there's anything wrong with either of those things.

  • Nazdrakke||

    ja by jeto hit

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Here.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Or here.

  • John Galt||

    Velma and Louise?

  • Brett L||

    Reason: How did you first become interested in libertarianism?

    Kichanova: I was dating a boy who was libertarian.

    Libertarianism, the STI.

  • Corneliusm||

    If only...

  • Paul.||

    Reason: Do the laws allow forming a political party? Is the Libertarian Party official?

    Kichanova: We are now in the process of registering it. The law about parties was liberalized last year. Before, you had to gather 15,000 activists to build a party and now it's 500. We had a congress in March, and in September we are hoping to get the official document. From then on, our activists, which we have in more than 50 regions, will be able to participate in some local elections.

    What a country!

  • Ergil||

    Don't think it's easy. Actually they can just turn you down at the ministry for any reason real or imagined. If they don't won't your party to be registered - they won't let you. They turned down one of such small parties just recently and they will now battle the ministry in courts for ages with no real hope to win.
    We have a real chance to register the Libertarian Party of Russia precisely because we are not considered a real threat to the regime. They don't take us seriously and believe us to be just some freaks who'll never get a single vote.
    They drastically underestimate our potential.
    Personally I believe Russia has a huge potential for liberty. We never really had it before, the distrust towards any form of government is collossal and the vast spaces of Mother Russia simply call for a new Homestead Act.

  • Monkey's Uncle||

    Not to ask the obvious, but do you know who else was a Russian-born libertarian heroine?

  • Paul.||

    Helen Mirren?

  • Paul.||

    Meh, her parents were Russian. Close enough.

  • Almanian!||

    Anna Kareni...no, no....ummmmm....

    huh

  • mr simple||

    Postrel was born in Russia?

  • bmp1701||

    Ivana Humpalot?

  • Ergil||

    Haha... Nobody seems to remember where Ayn Rand came from.

  • Monkey's Uncle||

    In former Soviet Union, libertarian becomes you!

  • Almanian!||

    She looks like a Muppet.

    But I can see Velma, too.

    Either/or

  • Hyperion||

    Wouldn't it be really weird if Russia became this really Libertarian free country and the USA turned into a dystopian police state, and everyone was trying to escape from here and go to Russia, but then our government restricted travel and built a big wall, that would be like the most secure wall since the Berlin wall?

  • anon||

    Actually, sounds pretty likely.

  • Ergil||

    Come on. Don't talk bullshit. Fly over here for a couple of days, we'll show you around and you'll see for yourself what things are like here. From here USA still looks like the land of the land of the free and Mother of Exiles.
    We live in a country with no law, now justice, and no freedom. The only reason they don't lock us all up is that they have limited prisons =).

  • ||

    Whatever happened to that French libertarian chick who was making waves about 5 years ago? Same profile (young, female, articulate, ambitious, attractive), different accent.

  • Tex||

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Google Translate tells me this is her with her husband.

    They're the only hipster couple on Earth I don't want to immediately pummel into the ground on sight.

  • Paul.||

    There's something adorable or endearing about that picture. I don't know what it is. Like people who dress like hipsters... un-ironically.

    Triana: Well, Dean…he’s kinda cute. He dresses like Buddy Holly.
    Kim: That’s pretty cool.
    Triana: Yeah, but I think he does it accidentally.
  • John Galt||

    "In July Kichanova came to Washington, D.C., to receive a Democracy Award for her efforts to promote freedom."

    Yes, come to the USA where both libertarians and freedom are despised.

  • Gladstone||

    Yes, come to the USA where both libertarians and freedom are despised.

    So what countries don't despise libertarianism and freedom?

  • John Galt||

    None that I know of.

  • ||

    Sealand

  • JWatts||

    Sealand considers itself a monarchy.

  • Web Design Quote||

    What makes a Russian individual a libertarian?
    Libertarianism (Latin: liber, "free")[1] is a set of related political philosophies that uphold liberty as the highest political end.[2][3] This includes emphasis on the primacy of individual liberty,[4][5] political freedom, and voluntary association. It is the antonym to authoritarianism.[6] Libertarians advocate a society with minimized government or no government at all.[7][8][9]

  • Jon Lester||

    Sure, she's done a lot for her age, and has plenty of opportunity ahead of her, but she might want to consider that Yushchenko went from hero of the Orange Revolution to a 5% approval rating upon his exit, and the Saakashvili regime has led Georgia to disaster and has also been intolerant of its opposition (when's the last time Russian police used water cannons on protesters?). She herself has said in this interview that she's benefited from recently liberalized campaign law. Fact is, all of the Russian opposition parties need time to develop into competent organizations, and to win over a skeptical electorate.

  • Anders||

    A libertarian in Pooty's Russia. I'd say she has balls of steel.

  • grey||

    What is interesting to me is how much of the media portrays Russia as basically another free European country. I know Free-European is itself an oxymoron in most Euro countries, but still, the media almost never discusses the civil liberties abuses. We had the little Pussy Riot dust-up, otherwise, notta.

  • Fousuccue||

    as Ricky responded I didnt know that a student able to earn $8360 in one month on the computer. did you look at this page www.blue78.com

  • JWatts||

    Kichanova: There was a rally last year the day before the inauguration of Putin. After that, 27 people were detained and accused of spreading mass riots. They weren't all detained on the same day. They were absolutely random people, not leaders, not even participants in some party, just ordinary citizens. So, it was done to make everybody understand that anyone can put in jail for just peaceful activism. It put everyone in fear, because you never know who is next. They did it every Wednesday for two months. You're just opening your twitter feed, and one of your friends is typing that the investigators are calling into their home and want search your house. So, one more person you know will go to jail.

    You know, that's a pretty powerful totalitarian mechanism. The dedicated activists aren't afraid to go to jail and are prepared for it, but the average citizen is not. If you go after a small, yet significant amount of the people who care, but aren't willing to give up their life for the issue, then you can significantly reduce the participation. If you stretch it out over months then everyone involved feels the dread for an extended amount of time. And by going after the smaller guy, no one can think that they are too small a fry for the authorities to bother with.

    It's a smart tactic.

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  • Web Design Quote||

    Well! thanks for nice share! Personally I believe Russia has a huge potential for liberty. We never really had it before, the distrust towards any form of government is collossal and the vast spaces of Mother Russia simply call for a new Homestead Act.
    http://www.proweb365.com/web-designers

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