NED Vice Chair Judy Shelton presents the 2013 Democracy Award to Vera Kichanova.
Grassroots politics are always challenging in countries that crackdown on civil society, and this is particularly so in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, where peaceful demonstrators are hauled off to prison and organizations that receive outside support are smeared as “foreign agents.”
But there is a new generation of Russians who are challenging the system from within. After multiple arrests for participating in street protests, Vera Kichanova sought a seat last year on a northwest Moscow district legislative council as part of a coalition of independent and opposition activists called Our City.
Vera began writing for her local newspaper at the age of 14. She has worked for the independent publication Novaya Gazeta, known for its investigative reporting and the heroic journalists, including Anna Politkovskaya, who have been murdered in the line of duty. As a journalism student in the same department where Anna studied, Vera was arrested at a Kremlin-organized event where pro-government youth were instructed to smile and clap for the visiting President.
In the 2012 municipal elections, Vera and her fellow activists were not regarded as serious competitors. Campaigning door to door, she promised to design a website giving constituents easier access to their deputies and the district’s spending records. Vera also spread the word through her popular blog and won the seat. She was 20 years old.
In her role as a councilwoman, Vera deals with neighborhood issues, helping to improve the daily lives of people. But she has by no means abandoned the struggle to bring about large-scale political change. She sees change taking place incrementally, as she and her fellow young activists take advantage of breaches in the iron wall built by the current regime. And she places her insider role and that of her fellow young independent councilors in a larger context, saying that this marks the beginning for her generation to train themselves to run the country.
A libertarian who has organized debates for the unregistered Libertarian Party, Vera dreams of a country in which “drunk police officers no longer attack citizens.”
For her pragmatic idealism and her determination to help chart a democratic future for her country, the National Endowment for Democracy is delighted to present its 2013 Democracy Award to Vera Kichanova.
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