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‘I didn’t feel any human relationship’ Interview with the activist who says Alexey Navalny ‘ignored’ him after he was hospitalized

Meduza
17:07, 13 july 2017

Alexander Turovsky's personal Facebook page

On July 13, Alexander Turovsky, a volunteer at Alexey Navalny’s Moscow campaign headquarters, complained on Facebook that he’s received no help from Navalny, following a July 6 police raid on the campaign’s Moscow office that left Turovsky hospitalized and fined 500 rubles (about $8) for refusing police orders. The activist says he’s been “ignored” by Navalny, whose critics sometimes accuse him of failing to pay enough attention to volunteers and detained protesters. Navalny’s own activists have never raised these charges, however, and Turovsky’s complaints have become the candidate's first publicity crisis since he announced his presidential run last December. Meduza spoke to Turovsky to find out why he wrote the Facebook post and what exactly he expects from the Navalny campaign.

Why did you decide to write this post?

I sat down, thought about everything, and realized that I’d become disappointed in Alexey [Navalny] and what happened. I didn’t feel any support from him personally. Nobody mentioned me, and almost nobody visited or talked to me. This kind of upset me. It was with a clear head that I decided to write the post. I understand that now a lot of people are writing things, accusing me of things… That’s their right.

Was it your own decision to write this post?

Absolutely. This was my decision, and I wrote it myself, and there’s absolutely nothing else to it.

Do you feel better now?

I’m not feeling very well. I’ve been sleeping a lot and eating well for the past few days, but there were some definite consequences to those beatings [by police]. The feeling in my head is completely off. It’s not like before. I’m dealing with some very unpleasant symptoms. And I need to treat them somehow, but I don’t even know if I’ll be able to.

What did the doctors tell you?

That I have a brain contusion. They also diagnosed me with a concussion and said that it might lead to complications in the future. I need to undergo a rehabilitation course and take medications. That’s what I’m doing now.

I was at Navalny’s Moscow headquarters the day you were beaten by police officers, and I remember that [Moscow campaign chief] Nikolai Lyaskin and [campaign manager] Leonid Volkov mentioned your name during their interview, saying that they didn’t know where you were. Are you aware of this?

I don’t know everything that happened. I wasn’t following it. It seems to me that it was all to hype up this story, and I served as an instrument or something, to create this hype. After a day, everything disappeared. I’m grateful to the ordinary staff at the campaign office, who stuck by me. They did a lot for me, and I don’t mean to downplay their help.

And the fact that three lawyers from [Alexey Navalny's] Anti-Corruption Foundation defended you in court doesn’t qualify as support?

It was help that it turns out was offered to make everything go away. It was all just for PR. Generally speaking, the whole situation with me was hyped up just for PR.

What would Navalny have needed to do, to have avoided your disappointment?

He could have met with me even once. If he’d visited me or supported me somehow, or mentioned me. But in fact this didn’t happen.

Where exactly should he have mentioned you?

If in his blog post Alexey had said that I wasn’t just a volunteer who got beat up, but actually used my name. He could have somehow identified me personally. But he didn’t do any of that, and so I felt that he was treating me as nothing but a political tool.

So your claim is that Alexey Navalny wrote about one of his volunteers beaten up by the police, but he didn’t reveal the name of this volunteer?

Among other things, yes. He didn’t even find out about what happened next. Everything ended, and everyone forgot about it immediately.

Did Alexey ever telephone you?

He called me in court. We talked for literally 10 seconds. “How are you doing? Hang in there.” And that was it.

And that seems insufficient to you?

I feel that the candidate for whom I’ve fought for so long and for whom I’ve expressed my support should have showed me more support. This really upset me, and I was disappointed.

Did any other campaign staff call you to ask about your recovery?

After a couple of days, I didn’t get any further calls.

Will you be leaving Navalny’s campaign?

I won’t be participating in Alexey Navalny’s campaign.

Why did you wait until now to write this post?

All this time, I’ve been resting and trying to recover. I wasn’t up to dealing with all this. But now I feel like I can discuss it properly and express my thoughts.

Why didn’t you approach the campaign in private about your disappointment, before writing this post?

I have no issues with Nikolai Lyaskin or the people from the Moscow office. On the contrary, they’ve been very good to me. But I expected something else from Alexey Navalny: his respect and some support. But it hasn’t happened.

Is this disappointment permanent?

The only thing I’ve been hearing from everyone is “Oh, Sasha, it’s not so bad. That’s the bloody regime.” But I felt I was just a pawn. I didn’t feel any human relationship. They made me into some kind of martyr. I didn’t like all this, and I decided to write about what I think.

Anybody working with Navalny becomes part of his campaign. This came as a surprise to you?

I wasn’t ready for this. I expected more personal support.

You realize that your Facebook post can be used, for example, on Dmitry Kiselyov’s [television] program, and you could involuntarily find yourself in opposition to your own former colleagues in Navalny’s staff?

That wasn’t my goal. But if someone wants to use this, I can’t do anything about it.

And what if the state mass media asks you to comment on the situation? Would you agree to speak to them?

I don’t know yet. I’ve already got about 100 unanswered calls. I didn’t expect this to cause such a reaction. I wasn’t trying to offend anyone.

Are you planning to respond to the comments on your Facebook post, including comments by Lyaskin and Volkov?

Right now, I can’t say.

Are you answering calls from Navalny’s campaign staff?

Yes, I’m answering them. I’m not going anywhere. I just can’t do everything all at once.

And what if Navalny himself were to call you and apologize. Would your feelings change?

Let Alexey call, but I’ve already described the whole situation, and that wouldn’t likely change my opinion.

Why haven’t you changed your Facebook profile photo, to remove the “Navalny 2018” banner?

I just haven’t been focused on that. I haven’t found time to do it. I don’t think it’s very important.

When did you start working with Navalny?

Since 2015.

And this is the first time you’ve ever had any doubts about the merits of his character?

This was the first time I’d encountered anything like this. It never happened before. I’m disappointed now. I got a look at the whole picture, and I came to the conclusion that I don’t want to participate or give my support anymore.

Nikolai Lyaskin

In comments to Meduza

This looks very much like a planned provocation. Sasha and I were in contact the whole time, including through his close friend, whom he told he just needed to get more rest, before deciding what he would do next. On Monday, he met with Lyuba [Sobol] during our YouTube livestream, and we all asked him how we could help. He said everything was fine, and that he just needed to get rest. And then, four days later, all this happened.

He writes that he didn’t get any help, but that’s not true. We provided legal assistance, emotional support, and publicized his story. Our people literally slept at the hospital to make sure the police didn’t take him away. I don’t want to encourage conspiracy theories, but everything he’s saying now seems a bit fishy.

Alexey personally phoned him on Friday. If this is all to get a special blog post from Alexey, then it’s really the height of madness, because Alexey got to work the moment he was released from a special detention center. Alexey said, “whatever he needs, we have to help,” and he got involved in [Turovsky’s] trial. He told us to do everything we could to make sure [Turovsky] didn’t spend “even a second” in jail.

Alexey Navalny

On Facebook

Both in style and in terms of facts, this was a very strange [Facebook] post for Alexander. We’re trying to reach him right now, to make sure that he wrote it all himself and wasn’t pressured into it. He’s not answering his telephones. Everyone who knows him is saying that the text clearly wasn’t written by him. I spoke to him myself when he was in court, and I reminded him once again that we were ready to offer him any assistance. The Anti-Corruption Foundation hired 3 (three) lawyers for his defense — more than we’ve ever hired for anybody. [...] The speed with which all these infamous trolls and propagandists have picked up this story is impressive, which is to say that it’s all very very strange. I hope that everything is alright with Alexander, and we of course are ready to continue defending him and helping him, regardless of these new circumstances.

On his own website

Regarding the situation with Turovsky, everyone who knows him excludes the possibility that he was sent as a mole or bribed. We have serious grounds to fear that he was intimidated — that he was scared by something — and we are worried about him.

Alexander, you will read this post. However difficult your situation is, we’ll all understand, and we will try to help you with all the resources available to us. Come see us. If you can’t come, meet with someone you trust, and tell them. We're on your side.

Russian text by Sasha Sulim, translation by Kevin Rothrock