Vera Kichanova: Russia's libertarian revolutionary

Recent demonstrations across Britain, such as the ‘People’s March’ for a final deal on Brexit, and across the Atlantic against the appointment of Brett Kavanagh to the Supreme Court, are increasing signs of rising political participation among citizens. These movements are allowed through the free exercise come civil liberties, especially the freedom of expression, something that is lacking when you travel 3,000 miles east of Britain to the nation of Russia.

Grassroot activity and expressionism is something of a challenge for a country currently run under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, where peaceful demonstrators are arrested and organisations that receive outside support are smeared as foreign agents. Opponents of the regime are silenced in fear of assassination, imprisonment, and censorship, which does not bring much hope to those who wish to overthrow the ongoing despotism.

But Vera Kichanova, 28, has other ideas. Inspired by the civil uprising in Russia, Vera is part of a new generation of nationals who decided to get involved in politics to offer a new way of thinking to the Russian people, one that that protects and enhances the freedom of the individual, whilst also highlighting the way that government itself can pose a threat to liberty. A political philosophy we know as libertarianism.

Born on 24 May 1991 in Moscow, Vera said that her interest in politics began at an unusually young age, thanks, in part, to her parents.

"I have always been critical of the Russian government, and so are my parents," remarked Vera who began her political career by writing for her local newspaper aged 14.

"I always wanted to change the world and I was trying to find the best way to do it.

"None of my parents approved with what I wanted to do because they were scared for my security.

"It is dangerous to protest in Russia. Imagine how brave people are for defending their freedom of speech on the streets of Moscow?"

At 18, Vera started to become more involved in political activities. She did this by going to rallies on the streets of the capital, because she "was angry about what was going on in Russia". It resulted in Vera being taken into police custody at least six times for her peaceful protesting and democratic activism.

After graduating from school, Vera then read journalism at Moscow State University, with most of her work dedicated to real-time journalism and the interaction between traditional media and citizen journalists.

In 2008, Vera and fellow colleagues of hers came together seeking to challenge the political system from within. They founded the Libertarian Party of Russia, whose political philosophy rests on the values of libertarianism, self-ownership and non-aggression.

Vera and her party’s central concern was to enhance the voices of Russia’s constituents. The party’s first move was organising educational discussions, lectures and seminars with the help of supporters such as Students for Liberty and Liberland.

The second, and more straightforward option, was politics and running candidates in local and state elections. Vera herself ran for a seat as a municipal deputy in Moscow’s Yuzhnoye Tushino district, with funding primary coming from her friends and family.

Vera talked about how her party was not regarded as a serious competitor among the more established parties.

"We were a new party to start with. No one had any previous experience in frontline politics. Back then, were just idealistic students who were reading Hayek and Friedman, with all of us having a vague understanding about how we can embrace the ideas of liberty."

To the surprise of many, Vera won her seat making her the first libertarian elected to public office in Russia, an amazing feat for a party whose humble beginnings began in a small basement in downtown Moscow. Vera achieved all this at 20 years old, making her one the youngest representatives in Russia.

The news of Vera’s victory caught the attention of media outlets and newspapers such as The Washington Post, who called her ‘The new face of Russia’s opposition’.

As a delegate, Vera fought to reduce the democratic deficit of local politics by seeking greater transparency on the part of the local authorities. She succeeded by designing a website giving constituents easier access to their deputies and the district’s spending records. She also published regular articles on her blog recounting her daily activities as a local council deputy.

She also launched several campaigns, including Girls Against Draft, which opposed Russian lawmakers’ preliminary approval of a bill that would oblige draft-age men to report for military service even if they have not received a conscription notice.

As a result of her work in Russia, Vera was invited to Washington to accept the National Endowment for Democracy’s 2013 Democracy Award alongside other young activists from Zimbabwe, Cuba, and Pakistan.

After moving to London this decade, Vera made the decision to study Public Policy at the University of Oxford, while simultaneously doing research into free market urbanism. She is currently working towards a PhD at King's College London, while simultaneously working as a policy researcher at Zaha Hadid Architects, and as Editor-in-Chief for the Atlas Network in Kiev, Ukraine.

Vera has remained an outspoken critic of her home nation and United Russia, the ruling party headed by Putin. Although Vera believes that Russia is far from being the idealistic nation it is, she believes that a new type of Russia is emerging, one that is striving under the watchful eye of her party.

Grassroots politics has always proved to be a challenge in countries that crackdown on civil society, but Vera sees hope in all of this for a women still in her twenties. She envisions a Russia that will in future emphasise freedom of choice and individual judgment over the oppression currently experienced under Putin.