Russian Expats Keep Flame of Dissent Alive in Destin

Russian Expats Keep Flame of Dissent Alive in Destin

Russian expats, joined by the Mayor of Destin, Bobby Wagner, made their case via protest against the Putin Regime in Russia.

 Bundled up in jackets, hats, and scarves, anti-corruption activists faced the frigid January air poster board signs in hand- to protest Vladimir Putin’s regime. 

In affiliation with the Free Navalny USA campaignNikita Smirnov organized his fifth Destin protest against the Russian Government under Vladimir Putin. Smirnov said he wanted to exercise a freedom “that isn’t currently in the possession of our fellow citizens back home in Russia.”

Mayor Bobby Wagner made some Destin news when they gathered alongside the protestors at Morgan Sports Complex with signs and speeches prepared to spread awareness and publicly oppose the Russian government. 

Alexei Navalny, the namesake of the campaign, is a Russian lawyer, Kremlin opposition activist, and political prisoner currently being held in a penal colony in Siberia. Navalny is the current leader of the Russia of the Future Party, in which he and his supporters promote the idea of a “new Russia”- one they say will replace ‘elitist, pseudo-democratic administration of today’ with a freedom-promoting democratic-republic form of government.’

Following Navalny’s arrest in 2021, numerous protests have popped up around the world in an attempt to expose the corruption of the Putin administration and promote the release of Alexei Navalny from prison. 

Who is Protesting Putin in Destin, Florida, and Why?

The organizer of the Destin, Florida, chapter of the Free Navalny Campaign is Nikita Smirnov. Originally from Russia, Smirnov moved to the United Kingdom at 18 to attend university. While studying in the UK, Smirnov had the opportunity to study abroad in The Netherlands, further expanding his scope of knowledge regarding other cultures. 

Soon after earning his undergraduate degree, Smirnov moved to the United States in January of 2018 to pursue his Masters of Business Administration with a specialization in marketing at Suffolk University. After completing his MBA program in 2021, Smirnov moved to Destin, where he lives now. 

However, Smirnov did not begin his public opposition to the Russian government until this past year, as the Kremlin started to impose harsher rules and regulations on Russian citizens over the months following the invasion of Ukraine in 2022. 

Since last year, Smirnov has hosted five protests in Destin aimed at exposing the alleged and proven misdeeds of the Russian government run by President Vladimir Putin


Russian Issues With Free Speech, Expression and Assembly

Putin announced this week he would run for re-election. Many commentators believe it is a foregone conclusion he will win the contest. 

“It’s been a quarter of a century since he [Putin] has entered power,” Smirnov, the protest leader, said, “There is a whole generation now in Russia that has grown with Putin and hasn’t seen anyone else in power.” The northwest Florida protest leader emphasized the need for a new leader in Russia, “one that can introduce democracy and freedom to a population that has been battered by the injustices of tyranny for far too long.”

The characteristics of Putin’s regime extend further than a lengthy reign and freedom-squashing reforms. Russia is a heavily surveilled state. The government has installed cameras in small towns and cities alike to keep a close eye on citizens. Their goal is to ensure any form of public opposition to the government is caught and swiftly reprimanded. 

Additionally, critical thinking skills have been permanently removed from the educational curriculums of all academic institutions

within Russia, enabling the government to rule over a population that won’t question motives or recognize propaganda. 

For Smirnov, the protest signals that Putin may have power, but he hasn’t yet won – and silenced dissent. “Putin is about war. Putin is about poverty. Putin is about all of the cruelty, so we just want our Russia to be free and happy, and so that is why we are here, Destin, Florida. Even though it is a small place, we still have the supporters out here just to let everyone know that we are standing against this regime…for our fellow citizens who are currently in Russia and don’t have such an opportunity to go out and not have to fear the consequences that may be followed after.”


McKinsey Lamm

McKinsey Lamm

McKinsey Lamm writes about Niceville High School Sports for Mid Bay News. She covers local football, girls and boys soccer. She also works as the sports editor for the Eagle Echo - Niceville High School's Newspaper.

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