The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.
Reasonable people can certainly differ about Aleksei Navalny the man.
His anticorruption campaign is brave, clever, slickly presented, inspirational — and even funny. He’s smart, articulate, and charismatic.
But on the other hand, it’s easy to find his nationalist past more than a bit disturbing.
But while we can differ and argue about Navalny the man and what kind of a leader he would be should he ever come to power, it’s hard not to view the Navalny phenomenon — the forces he’s unleashed in Russian society — as anything but positive.
Because thanks to the Navalny phenomenon, more and more Russians are thinking of themselves as citizens rather than as subjects.
Thanks to the Navalny phenomenon, a new generation is being motivated by hope rather than by fear.
Thanks to the Navalny phenomenon, an increasing number of Russians are starting to believe in a different story about what it means to be a Russian citizen.
And at its heart, politics is all about the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.
For years Vladimir Putin’s regime has been telling Russians that they cannot have democracy, that they cannot have honest and accountable government, and that they cannot be Europeans.
And now Navalny is telling them: “Yes we can. Yes — we can.”
And if this belief ever truly takes hold, the Navalny phenomenon will have succeeded in transforming Russia.