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Courage in the Face of Tyranny – Remembering Alexei Navalny


“A concrete kennel, measuring 2.5m x 3m. Most often, it is unbearable due to the cold and dampness. Water collects on the floor, and the window is tiny. The walls are thick, stifling any airflow, and not even the cobwebs stir. There is no ventilation, leaving one feeling suffocated at night, akin to a fish out of water. An iron bunk, reminiscent of those found on sleeper trains, is bolted to the wall.”

This is how Alexei Navalny described the cell in which he spent 308 out of 1125 days in solitary confinement. His imprisonment amounted to both physical and mental torture of a political opponent. The fact that this tragedy occurred in FKU IK-3, known as one of the harshest prisons in Russia with direct ties to the gulag system, is more than symbolic. In other words, Alexei Navalny’s death is not just a personal tragedy, it is also a manifestation of the true nature of the Putin regime: arbitrary, harsh, brutal, and unforgiving.

Alexei Navalny was acutely aware of the risks involved, yet he made the decision to return to Russia following his treatment for poisoning inflicted by Russia’s secret forces. Regardless of one’s opinion on Navalny’s legacy – acknowledging his nationalist views and well-known stance on Crimea – his return stands as an act of unparalleled courage. It’s a profound and enigmatic gesture that many struggle to comprehend, reserved for a select few: individuals of exceptional courage facing extraordinary circumstances.

Even if we may never know the exact circumstances surrounding Navalny’s death, it is clear that President Putin bears direct responsibility. Let us not forget other opponents who have died in mysterious circumstances – remember Anna Politkovskaya and Boris Nemtsov – and the many still imprisoned by Putin’s arbitrary system – remember Ilya Yashin, Vladimir Kara-Murza, Evan Gershkovich, and many others. I wonder what Western propagandists in favor of the Kremlin have to say about this. Aren’t they also complicit?

The question remains if Navalny’s death may signify the so-called black swan that announces the unexpected, yet significant event that may irreversibly change the state of affairs in Russia. Unfortunately, we do not expect that Navalny’s death will cause major upheaval in Russian society. Most probably, we will see an asymmetric response: Russian society – with exception of the absolute minority who saw in Mr. Navalny a source of hope and an alternative for Putin’s reign – will remain indifferent. Two arguments may underscore this statement:

We know that a minority of about 15 to 20 percent of the Russia population is eager for major political change in Russia, that a cohort of about the same strength is supporting the regime in the most fanatical way, leaving about 60 to 70 percent of the population that support the regime conditionally. Moreover, since the start of the war, February 2022, we have witnessed an increased and ruthless repression, first and foremost, against those who oppose the regime even through the most innocent expression. What is left for Putin’s opposition is fear, isolation and depression. It is clear, in an authoritarian regime, courage is required for those who resist. Currently, it is but a flower in the snow on a sidewalk in Moscow.

Western observers may also not forget that Navalny’s political impact is very low, mostly due to his isolation from society. Liberal candidates against Putin are not only systematically silenced or suppressed, they have in most general terms no large appeal to the general public. In the case of Navalny, people were interested in his anti-corruption campaign against the elite, except for Putin himself. Indeed, the Russian elite is most despised by the Russian people, with the exception of the ultimate leader. Seemingly, this is a Russian cultural topos still valid in contemporary Russia. As a result, in public opinion research, Navalny could count on the support of about 1 percent of the population and has not appeared in the ratings of trustworthy politicians lately.

Many questions remain unanswered in Russia’s political labyrinth. Firstly, how will Navalny’s death be interpreted within the presidential administration – often referred to as Putin’s shadow government – given its occurrence amidst the backdrop of the upcoming presidential elections in March? Beyond the veil of political window-dressing, which is essentially a façade for deception, this event is likely to evoke unease. It certainly cannot be construed as ‘good news’ for the political strategists and election managers, with Mr. Sergey Kiriyenko at the forefront, who are keen to ensure a smooth path for Putin’s re-election. Secondly, and closely tied to this, the way the Kremlin navigates Navalny’s demise remains uncertain. How will the Kremlin portray Navalny’s death? What arrangements will be made for his funeral? Ultimately, despite Western condemnation and outrage, the Russian regime holds the key to its own destiny. The only glimmer of hope lies in the possibility that Navalny’s death – and the bravery he exhibited – will not be in vain.

Source: Egmont Institute

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