A legend from this day. Ilya Shablinsky on the death of Aleksei Navalny 

16 February 2024

by Ilya Shablinsky

Source: Spektr.press

TASS reports that Aleksei Navalny has died in a penal colony in the polar region. I’m going to have to believe it. I don’t want to, but I must.

The autopsy report will say something or other, but everyone is well aware that the 47-year-old leader of the Russian opposition, imprisoned since January 2021, was tortured to death with a method normally used in Russian prisons to slowly kill particularly stubborn prisoners.

Over 300 days spent in punishment cells (including his final days), sleep deprivation, no medical care, and goodness knows what else on his very last day.

In August 2020, Aleksei Navalny was poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent, a phosphorus compound. It deals a fair blow to the body. The torture inflicted in prison and in the camp was supposed to finish off the work of the poison – they were counting on it.  

Everyone knows perfectly well that it was done on the order of a particular murderer and sadist who, as fate would have it, has assumed dictatorial power. A person who hated and feared Aleksei. The leader of the Russian opposition remained a serious and formidable opponent of the dictatorship, even from prison.

Now, like several years ago, the talk on social media is of whether Navalny should have delivered himself into the hands of his killers after his treatment in Germany. I don’t know about that. Now, I probably wish he had just stayed out of Russia and stayed alive.

But that’s the path he chose, and this is where it has led him. Being a politician in exile wasn’t for him. So, what can you do?

In recent years, Navalny’s ordeal has been compared to that of Nelson Mandela, a leader who had to wait for his freedom and for his time to come. His country waited a long time, and at last Mandela was released.

Admittedly, the conditions of Mandela’s imprisonment, however difficult they were, still made it possible for him to survive and return.

The conditions in which Aleksei found himself did not. The bunch of sadists who carried out the order of sadist No. 1, outdid their foreign counterparts in terms of sheer nastiness and sadistic ingenuity, as you might have guessed. But then, didn’t we already know this to be the reality in Russia? Weren’t we aware of this side of the country? What happened today will say nothing new about the Russian regime or its dictator, bathed in blood (and this time it’s no metaphor). We know all about them.

It’s more important to talk about something else.

We who despise the slavery into which our country is now plunged have lost a leader. The loss is simply immeasurable. Aleksei himself may well have had something ironic and encouraging to say about this, but I’m at a loss for words.

He remained true to himself in brutal conditions. He gave advice and made proposals on matters at hand: the war, the election, everything. He vowed to be a sort of Father Christmas in the Arctic Circle. He was joking and smiling just a day before his death. All through the three years of hell he spent in the penal colony and through the 300 days in the special hell of a punishment cell, he kept that grin on his face and maintained that calm demeanour.

Everyone saw it.

Living at this time, in this age, it’s very difficult to keep hidden not just sheer villainy, but also the unadulterated courage that is the stuff of legend – it’s right there for everyone to see. Press the button and open the screen of your device, and you will see.

Aleksei Navalny was in tune with his time. He was a man born of his time.

His writings and films stay with us, preserving his inventiveness, his wit, and his acuity. They will continue to help us. He created a whole stratum of political life and, for several years, revitalised public life in the country, which had been dying a death.

Those things will live on. Navalny long ago secured his place in the history books, but we did not know, and he himself did not know, what the cost would be.

We found out today.

That cost would of course have played on his mind – he was aware of everything. But then, he read that novel by Mikhail Bulgakov and was probably mindful of the maxim of one of the main characters: cowardice is surely one of the most terrible vices.

These harsh words can be understood in different ways. Aleksei Navalny made a choice which assumed that his every action would be assessed at the highest level. It was in his nature. To an extent, he provides the measure by which will be judged this whole period of time, and by which we shall be judged too. Look at his face, just look at it!

Anyone who conquers fear can become a legend. Victory parades and renaming streets, squares, airports – all that comes later. Aleksei Navalny is already a legend, from this very day.

Translated by Lindsay Munford

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