Navalny: Courage incarnate

The Russian dissident could have taken up France and Germany's offers of political asylum, but knew his fight was strongest when waged shoulder-to-shoulder amongst the thousands of others yearning for a chance at freedom

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Columnists

February 16, 2024 - 4:08 PM

A man holds a poster with a portrait of opposition leader Alexei Navalny during a protest in front of the Russian embassy in Berlin, Germany, Friday, Feb. 16. Navalny, who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests as President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest foe, died Friday in the Arctic penal colony where he was serving a 19-year sentence. He was 47. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

For the last 15 years I have anxiously watched the trajectory of Alex Navalny, the Russian dissident who so bravely exposed President Vladimir Putin as the ruthless dictator he is.

On Friday morning, Navalny, age 47, died in a Siberian prison.

According to news reports, the overwhelming sentiment in Russia is of despair. Even from a prison cell Navalny was their beacon. Warning, guiding, signaling to not give in to the widespread corruption that is rotting Russia inside out.

In a dictatorship like Putin’s, people’s fears of retribution keep them sitting on their hands.

Not Navalny.

When only a young attorney, Navalny began publishing his investigations of corruption of Russia’s state-controlled companies.

In 2011, he began organizing anti-government protests and was duly arrested on various charges. 

From then on he was on authorities’ radar: A threat to the status quo.

Over the next 11 years Navalny was repeatedly imprisoned, and physically and mentally tortured. 

Any other person would have yielded to the intimidation. Navalny used it as a weapon to expose Putin’s corrupt reign.

Putin’s rule has so far spanned five U.S. presidencies. At his behest, the country’s constitution has been amended so that he is eligible to remain in office another 15 years. He is up for “re-election” next month. No opposition exists.

Even while imprisoned, Navalny was nominated to run for president in 2017, his support was so strong. 

Navalny was poisoned twice. The first in 2019, while in prison, and again in 2020, when tests substantiated that a bottle of water had been injected with a Soviet-era nerve agent. 

When the news got out, Navalny was flown to a German hospital where he was kept in a medically induced coma for two weeks. 

His survival was heralded by democracies the world over. 

Navalny’s recovery took five months, which, according to Russian authorities, violated his bail conditions.

Instead of returning to Russia where he knew authorities would be waiting, Navalny could have taken up France and Germany’s offers of political asylum. 

Nonetheless, he returned, knowing his fight was strongest when waged shoulder-to-shoulder amongst the thousands of others yearning for a chance at freedom.

His subsequent arrest — I’ve lost count — spurred widespread protests where more than 5,000 were arrested across the country.

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