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.

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Reason: Have you found a receptive audience when you advocate for libertarianism?

Kichanova: It depends with whom we are talking. We are trying to the appropriate approach to every audience. For example, if we are discussing army reform, we invite draftees and soldiers' mothers. If we have an event devoted to freedom of speech, we invite journalists. The problem is that several years ago, even the word “libertarian” was very unfamiliar for Russians in politics. Our main achievement is that we made it familiar. Now, we have to take another step, because most people think libertarianism is anarchy for rich people, that we advocate for the rights of big business, that we stand for some oligarchs. We keep explaining that we protect the rights of every single person, that liberty is not about wealth but the ability to use your own property and labor no matter how much you have.

Reason: What do Russians think of capitalism?

Kichanova: Their idea of capitalism was compromised in the '90s during the market reforms after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The majority of people were very unhappy about how the reforms were enacted. These reforms were in favor of oligarchs The most difficult task for us is to explain that oligarchy is not about the free market, but about government invasion of the market.

Reason: You have mentioned your admiration for the reforms in Georgia, and in other interviews, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. What is that appeals to you about these?

Kichanova: Their examples show us that there is a possibility to change regimes without blood or civil war. Everyone that is advocating for Putin's regime are saying that all of the protests will lead to blood in the streets and the death of many people. Today's most important event – Navalny's sentencing – is unfortunate, but the good thing is that people went out into the streets without any permission. I think it's strange and absurd that we ask the government's permission to protest. You have to get an official paper from the city administration if you are organizing a rally. Today, people asked for no permission. I think that's the way it should have happened years ago. Then, we would not have Navalny sentenced, Pussy Riot sentenced, and many restrictive laws.

Reason: What is censorship in the media like?

Kichanova: We have some free media in Russia, but if you remember the stories of Putin's crusade against free media, the first thing he did when he came to power was to close NTV. It was the most popular TV station in the '90s. There were big protests. I did not participate myself, but my father took me to put down my signature. I was nine. It was my first civil action. They said NTV was closed for economic reasons, and that's what they're doing now. There is no direct censorship, but the journalists who criticize the government too much, it becomes more and more difficult for them to find jobs. Everyone knows, though it's not open, that the owners of the media get some orders from the presidential administration.

It's not an everyday practice, but there is a growing list of media closed and journalists fired. Several of them have emigrated, like Oleg Kashin, who was dangerously beaten three years ago. We still have free media, but they are online. So the citizens of big cities can read them and get information from the internet, but the majority of Russians get news from TV, where there is massive propaganda. There are regions where there are only government media and no private media at all. When some new authoritarian laws are passed, they show propaganda to prepare the public opinion. But, since they passed the so-called “anti-gay law,” we cannot write about gays and lesbians in a positive way, or else it's considered propaganda to harm children. There are very big fines. So, a week before that, they show films that say there is a big, dangerous gay lobby all around the world corrupting traditional values.

Reason: I read an article that said you were arrested once and detained fives times for your activism. Have you been arrested since you got elected?

Kichanova: No.

Reason: Is that because you are not doing as much activism?

Kichanova: I work at Slon.ru, which is one of the free media, I usually go the rallies as a journalist, so I have a press card.

Reason: When you were speaking with Andrei Illarionov, Putin's former chief economic adviser, he said that working in Russian politics can be very dangerous. Do you think that's accurate? If so, how do you feel about working in a dangerous job?

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.

Reason: What can you accomplish as a member of the municipal council?

Kichanova: I can do almost nothing, because the governing system of Moscow is very centralized. We deputies are elected, but do not have real authority. All of the main decisions, including the spending of peoples' money, are made by those appointed by the city administration. We have a network of independent deputies and we have very different political views, but we have one thing in common. We want the system to be decentralized. We want more authority to be given to the elected people. So, the main thing I can do is make the work of this council more transparent, like by writing blogs and inviting journalists to council meetings.  

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||

    my roomate's step-mother makes $77 an hour on the internet. She has been laid off for 9 months but last month her pay was $16652 just working on the internet for a few hours. Go to this web site and read more... www.cnn13.com

  • 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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  • DeloresJGilliam||

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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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