22 August 2020
by Ilya Shablinsky, lawyer, expert with the Moscow Helsinki Group
Aleksei Navalny is fighting for his life. The results of the unknown poison cannot be predicted.
I want to pay tribute to Navalny’s courage and determination. Right now, he has become the main political competitor and rival of those currently in power. It is he whom they hate. This has come about gradually. Many have continued to doubt him. Were their suspicions confirmed? Are they satisfied now?
There is simply no other serious force. Yes, the authorities might mention some “leftists,” politicians from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), for whom in fact Aleksei sometimes encouraged people to vote, in accordance with his tactic of “smart voting” [to cast one’s vote for whichever candidate or party is seen as representing the strongest challenge to the ruling United Russia party, regardless of who that candidate is or which party he or she represents – trans.].
I think this was a sensible tactic, but it’s time to recognise that the CPRF is part of what can be called a military-nationalist bloc. Some of its members may be nobodies, but that doesn’t change the essence of the matter. It is a bloc that was formed by those in power. I use this phrase deliberately, in order not to single out any individuals. Not out of fear, in this instance. I just don’t want to identify any individuals, other than Navalny.
That is because he is unique. He is the equivalent of a party or a bloc in his own right. Whatever one may say about him, he is the leader of the movement for democracy. Yes, a movement. It exists, and it is massive. I intend to describe things as they are.
What kind of personality he has, what kind of harsh or unfair words he may use – do we need to bother about that?
He was given a dose of poison. And before that he had spent almost a year in isolation, and nearly lost the sight in one of his eyes.
But this time, they decided to act seriously.
What does this mean? Where have we got to? We are going back to the Middle Ages. Or, rather, we are being returned there. In those days, poison was often used as a weapon in political struggles.
Everyone remembers how Anna Politkovskaya was poisoned in 2004, either on a plane or at the airport. More recently, in 2019. Dmitry Bykov was also poisoned, either on a plane or at the airport. These are only a couple of examples. The list of those who have been poisoned turns out to be substantial. All the victims remained in a coma for two or three days. Bykov barely survived.
It seems likely that the goal at that time was not death, but just whatever happened. That’s how it’s done. That’s the trademark. And it wasn’t just aimed at rivals, it was also aimed at those who were strongly critical of those in power.
In the case of Aleksei, we don’t know what dose of poison they decided on. We don’t know. Yes, in recent days he commented on the latest events in Belarus. He flew to Siberian cities. This is the normal everyday life of a politician.
But not with us.
He has said very important things. We still need his words and his opinions. We don’t have enough of them.
And what about us? All the horror, the monstrosity of what has happened, the monstrosity of this everyday practice of poisoning – are these now just everyday events that make no impression on us?
There were mass shootings, there was psychiatric abuse, and now there is poison.
And what can be said about those who, understanding everything perfectly (and who does not?), are ready to be cheerfully ironic about what happened? Here they are in the forefront…
I really want Aleksei to survive and to make a full recovery. Such a simple thing to wish for. When a person can only breathe with the help of an artificial ventilator, what else can one hope for? I also want the country to rid itself quickly of the terrible darkness that makes people treat poisoning and poisoners as an everyday part of our life. Of our Russian life.
Translated by Elizabeth Teague