The Boring Test. Valery Panyushkin on the criteria for an effective politician

2 March 2024

By Valery Panyushkin


When addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg and speaking on how progressives can defeat Putin and end the war, Yulia Navalnaya used the word “boring.” According to Navalnaya, Aleksei Navalny was always coming up with things that weren’t boring; they were unexpected, ingenious.

And it’s true. I’m speaking now from my own personal impressions, but Navalny was one of three politicians on Earth whom I personally didn’t find boring. The two others were Boris Nemtsov and Sergei Kovalev. As for the rest of them (I’ve interviewed a fair number of them for work) my main task was to not dislocate my jaw with a massive yawn. The most boring of all was when they were running for office or being co-opted thereto.

The two most boring political institutions I’ve ever visited are the United Nations in New York and the State Duma in Moscow. The only parliament I’ve ever found interesting was in Great Britain, because the parliamentarians there actually relied on oratory skills, and because there was a mysterious bag hanging behind the speaker’s chair that was capable of changing the entire agenda for the day in an instant.*

The most boring political events I’ve ever attended are the G8 Summits. The most fun are the colourful protests of anti-globalists during these summits. The thrill there is easy to understand: lots of interesting presentations about how rich guys have messed up the Earth, lots of young women dancing, lots of upbeat music, and an utter lack of necessity to smoke marijuana, because the air’s already as thick with it as could be.

The most boring misfortune of my life has been the war. In the war, despite what you see on screens around the world, no one is accomplishing wondrous feats. Instead, they’re sitting on their rumps in the mud and waiting for a rocket to hit them in the head. The only fun there is the brutality, but that’s not my kind of fun at all.

The most interesting misfortune I’ve suffered has been a difficult illness. When someone’s sick, everyone around them racks their brains, trying to beat the illness. Even people who are apathetic about each other, or have fallen out of love, begin again to feel and show love for each other.

The sanctions against Russia have been unbelievably boring — Yulia Navalnaya was right about that. It’s interesting to watch how money moves, but when it’s stuck like dead weight it’s not interesting to follow. It would be interesting to watch money flow from Russia, but instead we have to see how it’s been blocked: it’s boring, plain and simple. It would be interesting not to stop the movement of goods and instead send an undercover agent into the shadow import market to find out what kind of vermin is selling Putin chips for rockets.

I used to interview economists fairly often for my work at a business magazine. I won’t evaluate the contributions these scientists have made to science and the country’s economy, but the most interesting interviews were with Aleksandr Auzan, and the most boring were with Sergei Guriev. I don’t know why the latter was tasked with coming up with sanctions against Russia.

I find moralizing to be the most boring genre, be it in books, newspapers, or social media. Z channels are about 99% moralizing. But antiwar social media is full of moralizing, too. I don’t have much to say about that; I can’t force myself to familiarize myself with the material. I tried to read three posts by Katia Margolis, since they were about my own imperfections, but I couldn’t finish a single one of them — I got bored.

It’s been very boring fighting my life circumstances these past two years: for example, getting rid of property in Russia. All those notaries, permission from the ex-wife — tedium. And naturalizing in Europe turned out to be no walk in the park: I had to do things like fill out a form with all the places I’ve worked since 1988. I took three nap breaks. “What kind of buzzkill thought up all this tedium?” I think to myself.

And I also wonder how Aleksei Navalny would have organized his own funeral in Moscow.

*At the back of the chair hangs the bag in which MPs deposit petitions presented to the House on behalf of members of the public or outside organisations.

Translated by Nina dePalma

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