06/08/2024, 18.43
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Navalny's Russia without Navalny

by Stefano Caprio

Many people in Russia tried to honour his memory on June 4, his birthday. His Anti-Corruption Foundation remains an important legacy, transcending the capabilities of his followers or the prestige of his wife Julia, and may still have a role to play even in a Russia now locked in neo-Soviet totalitarianism.

Alexei Navalny would have been 48 on 4 June, the first birthday without the physical presence of the martyr of the dissidence movement against Putin's Russia.

His wife Julia, along with several friends and collaborators in the Anti-Corruption Foundation, took part in a Panichida (Панихи́да), a memorial service celebrated by a Russian Orthodox priest in a Berlin Evangelical church dedicated to Our Lady, in an inclusive ecumenical service of the "free Christianity" of the last hero of the resistance to the new totalitarianism.

Many people in Russia have tried to honour his memory as well, visiting the Borisovskoye Cemetery (Борисовское кладбище) where he is buried, or laying flowers at monuments to the victims of political repressions, in Novosibirsk, Tomsk, and Khabarovsk, trying to evade police stationed around anti-Soviet sites of remembrance.

Every public activity was prevented In Perm, the city near the concentration camp where he died.

Navalny voluntarily surrendered himself to martyrdom by returning to Russia three years ago after he was poisoned, from which he miraculously survived thanks to the treatment he received in Germany.

He was convinced that he could sacrifice himself for the sake of change, which he called the "wonderful Russia of the future", that he believed was possible before the start of the “special military operation” in Ukraine, this despite all the signs in 2021 that already belied the hopes of opponents to the regime of "Orthodox patriotism".

The leader of the protest movement was optimistic by nature, and continued to express himself with positive irony even during his 37-month ordeal in the various concentration camps in which he was tossed around, from the one in the Vladimir region near Moscow to the great cold and deadly north, smiling and joking even in his last court appearance on 15 February, a few hours before his final capitulation due to a mysterious " blood clot" in detention.

Today it is easy to say that Navalny was wrong to return; above all he was wrong to believe so much in his people, who left him to stew in hell without reacting.

His followers still at large in exile have slammed the betrayals of the politicians of the 1990s, unable to imagine any "Russia of the future", unable to create a real opposition movement from abroad, according to Russian tradition, since Russians cannot unite without a real leader.

Alexei had jumped into politics in 2000, when he joined the liberal Yabloko party, trying to run in Moscow, only to be unexpectedly excluded in 2007 for "nationalist tendencies" by party chief Grigory Yavlinsky, a survivor of the cursed 1990s who still preaches into the wind his idea of a democratic Russia.

It was the time of Russia's conversion to the ideal of its own national specificity, after the decade of openness to the West and globalisation; in a certain sense, Putin and Navalny represent two variants of the same trend.

It is no coincidence that Putin persecuted the opposition leader in apparently tolerant ways, having him sent to prison and then released, allowing his street demonstrations without being excessively violent towards him, and at his death hinting that his rival after all had it coming, since he had survived the poisoning in Siberia and could have enjoyed the glory of Western exile.

Putin’s attitude is the same for his other great opponent, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, pardoned after ten years in a concentration camp, who now issues revolutionary proclamations in Berlin, without causing any problems for the Kremlin caste.

Navalny's "nationalism" – which saw him excluded from the "presentable" opposition and had attracted criticism at home and abroad (for example, in Ukraine he did not go down well) – was a very contradictory search of a proper image for Russia, distinct from Eastern and Western stereotypes. In this sense, Putin and Navalny are really expressions of the same need, now settled with the victory of its militaristic and imperial form, but which could have been different and more conciliatory.

This was and remains a shared aspiration of the Russian people, who have always been convinced that they must express their own "idea", an alternative capable of influencing and modifying global geopolitics, be it the "multipolarity" trumpeted in world conflicts together with China, or a different "fraternity of peoples" inspired by a great Russia, like in Navalny's vision.

In the early 2000s, Navalny tried to create a new organisation called NAROD,[*] the “People”, together with writer Zakhar Prilepin, now a Putin ally who survived a Ukrainian attack a year ago, surviving a car bomb because the device had been planted under the passenger seat, where his driver sat this time, while he sat behind the wheel.

Back 20 years ago, an attempt was made to bring together the National Bolsheviks, still mourning the past regime, with the movement against illegal immigration, and the representatives of the liberal-democratic camp, including young Yabloko members disappointed with Yavlinsky's soft leadership.

NAROD’s slogan was "Stop feeding the Caucasus!" but was soon forgotten, as the experience proved unsuccessful.

After that, Alexei devoted himself only to street protests and speaking out against the corruption of the ruling caste, attracting the resentment of all the other oppositions, which makes the relationship between the various leaders of the Russian diaspora in the West particularly complicated even today.

In reality, no one has ever shown as much charisma and organisational skills as the martyr of the Kharp concentration camp, who successfully stuck the "thieves and scoundrels" label on Putin's United Russia party, that even clean-up operations like those currently underway at the Ministry of Defence in Moscow have not been able to change.

Navalny's last major initiative was the “useful vote” campaign in elections, which created so many problems in various administrations, and is now being liquidated by increasingly controlled and bogus electoral mechanisms such as the “unanimous presidency" of Putin's fifth term, exactly one month after Navalny's death.

Navalny’s best electoral result came in the 2013 Moscow municipal elections, where he officially won more than a quarter of the votes, but where the actual result was certainly higher. If the run-off with Putin's trusted Sergei Sobyanin had been allowed, history could have been very different.

Since then, the Anti-Corruption Foundation (ACF, Фонд борьбы с коррупцией, ФБК) has dedicated itself to investigating the "good lie detector", as he called it, attracting millions of users even today, while his disciple Maria Pevchikh slammed the Predateli (предатели), the "traitors" of the 1990s.

The ACF, which has released more than 100 publications and videos, technologically beating any party in Russia, even state propaganda, remains an important legacy, in Russia and around the world, transcending the capabilities of his followers or the prestige of his wife Julia, and may still have a role to play even in a Russia now locked in neo-Soviet totalitarianism.

The illusion of the wonderful Russia of the future was buried with Navalny, while the war against the whole world anti-utopia is deeply embedded in present-day Russia. Yet people’s consciousness could sooner or later awaken, but certainly not because of an unlikely pacifist resurgence, given that the eschatological conflict is now engraved in the soul not only of Russia’s leaders, but also its people.

Meanwhile, the war economy, buttressed by the appointment of Orthodox banker Andrey Belousov as defence minister and burdened by the guillotine of the new tax reform, does not arouse any enthusiasm in Russians.

It is said that the most widely read book in Russia this year is George Orwell's 1984; written in 1949 under the influence of two catastrophic world wars, it still shows its extraordinary relevance today.

The Moscow-based political scientist Denis Grekov offers the notion of "psycho-economics" whereby “the standard of living becomes an element of mass manipulation,” because it is easier to control those who are unable to satisfy all their needs, as it was done under the Soviet regime, which is in fact being unashamedly restored, with a narrowly based but increasingly rich oligarchic caste, and a mass of people reduced to a life of anxiety and shortages, especially in the provinces.

The "slavery of credits and taxes," as Grekov puts it, makes it increasingly hard for Russians to find a way out other than by submitting to the established order, or perhaps volunteer for war, the only way to earn lavish compensation.

Yet we are no longer in Brezhnev's era nor the jungle of the 1990s. Idealism or religious motivations are not enough to squash Russians’ desire to truly enjoy material well-being and travel freely around the world, and not be limited to enjoying the beaches of Bali or Colombo, or sending their kids from Eastern Siberia on holiday to see the "wonders" of North Korea, as per recent deals.

Russians are still dreaming about the wonder Navalny spoke of, which even from the grave can inspire improbable and indefinable changes, as befits the true Russian soul.


[*] National Russian Liberation Movement (Национальное русское освободительное движение)

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