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‘If I enter a competition, I expect to win’ Russian citizenship in hand, mixed martial artist Jeff Monson is running for city council outside Moscow

Source: Meduza
Mikhail Pochuev / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

Mixed martial artist Jeff Monson is the proud winner of United Russia’s primaries in Krasnogorsk, and now he can run for a seat on the city council. Monson even has the governor’s endorsement. It’s quite a feat for a man who only last month acquired Russian citizenship (and renounced his U.S. citizenship). Monson is known for his love of Russia (especially its Soviet past), and he recently opened a martial arts school in Krasnogorsk. In an interview with Meduza, he explained his turn to Russian politics.

Congratulations on becoming a Russian citizen, but can we ask you if anyone advised you to take part in United Russia’s primaries?

It was ultimately my decision to run for office. A lot of people in my life have helped me along the way. In sports, in school, in everything in my life. And I think that’s an opportunity for me to give back (especially working with children and trying to make things better for kids who maybe don’t have opportunities) … is to be in politics.

It’s not for personal gain. It’s not for fame or prestige. I’ve had fame and prestige and all those things, being in sports, as a celebrity in sports. I don’t care about those things. Now it’s my turn to give back, and the best way I can give back is to be involved in sports, which I’m doing with the school for children, but it’s also to be in politics, where I can hopefully make a difference in people’s lives — especially those who don’t have the same opportunities.

Why run with United Russia? Aren’t you more of a communist, in terms of political views?

Well, I’m very socialist. I’m very left-wing. I tried working with the Communist Party, as is well known, when I first came to Russia. Even when I wasn’t involved in politics, I offered to do free seminars for kids. I offered to do many socialist things for no pay. And they said, “Yes, we’ll help you. We’ll do this, we’ll do that.” But they never did. If there was a party … if they did what they said, then I would probably still be working with them.

United Russia, yes they have a conservative part, but then there’s also the socialist part of the party, and it’s the biggest party, and there are people who are conservative and people who are more left-wing like me. It’s a big party, and it allows for a lot of different ideas. I think, from what I’ve read, I’m going to have the opportunity to do the things that I want to do within that party.

You’re saying that United Russia is the only functioning party in Russia?

I think it’s the party where I have the most opportunity to do the things that I want, that are my dreams. Like helping kids, like going to different regions in Russia (especially in Siberia, where there’s no big facilities for sports or schools for sports, and not a lot of access to these things for kids). My dream is especially with sports, because that’s my beginning. But also social issues. And to try to bring those to different parts of Russia, not just Moscow. And I think United Russia gives me the best opportunity to do those things.

What did you think of your experience in the party’s primaries?

I have a couple of people that I’m working with, and I’m still getting used to the technical things with the primaries and the registration. So I have people helping me with those things. Right now, I’m working on the more important things, like learning the Russian language. And learning about some specifics and some things that need to be done in Krasnogorsk and some issues that are important to me. Obviously, the traffic is one of them. Recycling, with garbage and stuff — that’s kind of new to Russia. That is an idea I’ve been talking about with some people. And there’s obviously the schools, for kids. So I’m working on the more general ideas.

Primaries usually include debates, but you don't speak Russian, and there’s nobody in Krasnogorsk politics who speaks English quite as well as you. How was this in the primaries that you just won?

Yeah, these are the little technical things that I need to work out. That's partly why I’m focusing on learning Russian. I know quite a bit of Russian, but I don’t speak it well enough to do debates or something like that. So that’s something I’m working on right now. And hopefully by September, when the election happens, I’ll be able to hold a debate, and be knowledgeable enough in Russian to do the job.

What do you know about Krasnogorsk and its local problems? What are you looking to change?

First, I have to say that I think it’s a wonderful city. It reminds me of my home in Seattle because of the nature and the trees, and it’s about the same population (about 150,000 people). Some of the issues I’m working with are what I said before: the traffic and, with Russia, with Moscow especially, in the Moscow region, all the garbage and what to do with this. We’re working on some projects to recycle, which is kind of a new idea for Russia.

And pushing for things with schools, for kids. Like free opportunities for kids to learn martial arts and to do activities. One of the ideas we have is having a teenager night for teens, 13 to 17, to come and have activities at our club for no money. Games, socialize, watch movies. Just give the kids something to do — positive, healthy things to do on the weekends and stuff.

We’re starting small and, as I learn more about Krasnogorsk, we can expand and try to do new things.

Are you familiar with Krasnogorsk’s municipal code of laws? What legislative reforms do you think the city needs?

I don’t know any particular laws right now that I want to change. I think I want to work with what we have. Krasnogorsk is a beautiful city and, because I really like it here, and I love Russia, and I want to make it even better. It’s like my child. And I’m going to do whatever I can to make my child happy and healthy, and this is how I feel about Russia, and especially about Krasnogorsk now. What can I do to make something I love, something that I think is fantastic, even better? I’m starting with what I know.

As I learn more, we can expand. What I know now is kids. I have a [degree] in psychology for working with kids — I’ve worked with kids my whole life — and they always, always need more opportunity, no matter how wonderful your city is, or how wonderful things are. They can always use more activities, more things to do, more structure to live a healthy lifestyle. And so that’s going to be my focus at the beginning, and as I learn more, we can expand into other things.

So you’re going to run in the September elections for a seat on Krasnogorsk’s city council? Do you still hope to reach the State Duma, one day?

You know, that’s something I would definitely consider, down the road. And the reason for that is that I want to help as many people as I can, and that would give me a big opportunity. Right now I’m focusing on Krasnogorsk because that’s where I am, and that’s where I have an opportunity to do some things. This isn’t about Jeff Monson; this is about somebody trying to do what they can. I have a lot of opportunities because I’ve done sports, and because I’ve been to Russia many times, because I have citizenship.

What do you think your chances are in the race? Do you think you’ll win, or are you only looking to participate?

It’s like with sports: If I enter a competition, I expect to win. So yeah I hope to win. I think my ideas are very good, and I’m willing to work. I don’t want just to get elected and be happy with that. No. I don’t want to be elected for anything, except to do work. I want to work for people because I’ve had a lot of people do many, many things for me. And I feel like I’m obligated to do good things back.

Interview by Katerina Kuznetsova and Andrey Kozenko