The fate of a fearless "hero".

"He was not afraid, he believed in what he said and he had confidence in himself.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
01 March 2024 Friday 16:15
14 Reads
The fate of a fearless "hero".

"He was not afraid, he believed in what he said and he had confidence in himself. And the people supported him because of that, not because others, including power, said so", assured Gúlia (her husband Ígor in one hand; in the other, three carnations), one of the thousands of people who accompanied the body of the Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalni, who died two weeks ago in an Arctic prison, on his last journey.

Like many others who attended his funeral and burial, this couple considers Vladimir Putin's best-known Kremlin dissident of the last decade a hero. "Also, it was our hope. If he wasn't afraid, we shouldn't be either. That's why today the right thing was to come here", he added in the middle of a kilometer-long queue that surrounded the church of the Icon of the Virgin Mary and continued two or three streets further.

After several hours of waiting, applause erupted that seemed to have no end when the hearse appeared with the dissident's body. More timidly, someone started chanting “Navalni, Navalni!” and the crowd chanted the name for a few minutes.

"The most important thing that he brought to us, in my opinion, was the courage to fight corruption, because it is the main problem of many countries, including of course ours", assured Vyacheslav while obeying the instructions of the police officers, clearing the entrance to the Orthodox temple and sending everyone arriving to find the end of the snaking line.

For at least a day, the thousands of Navalni's supporters who went to bid him a final farewell followed his example and were not afraid. And they ignored the words of the Kremlin, which through the mouth of its spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, warned that participating in unauthorized demonstrations is punishable. "We want to remember that there is a law that must be obeyed: any unauthorized meeting will constitute a violation of the law," he said in his daily press conference.

Peskov did not respond to journalists' requests to assess Navalny's figure as a politician, and also avoided sending a message to the opponent's family. Having become the most critical voice of the Kremlin since the protests of 2011 and 2012, the most important of the Putin era, the Russian president has always avoided at least speaking his name in public.

Lawyer and opposition activist Aleksei Navalny, who was 47 and serving three decades in prison, died on February 16 in a remote prison in the Russian penitentiary system, known as the Polar Wolf for its harsh living conditions . The IK-3 penal colony in the village of Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District, is 1,900 kilometers northeast of Moscow and 60 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle.

The death certificate issued to his mother, Liudmila Navàlnaia, states that he died of natural causes. According to the prison authorities, the opponent fell ill after falling, lost consciousness and neither the prison services nor the ambulance that arrived could revive him.

Navalni's co-religionists reject this version and directly accuse Putin of ordering what they call his "assassination".

The funeral began, as planned, at two in the afternoon, Moscow time (noon in Barcelona). It was feared there could be delays because mortuary officials did not hand over the body to his family until an hour before the ceremony began. But finally the hearse arrived ten minutes before the start of the service.

They were waiting in the neighborhood of Marino, where Navalni lived when he was free with his family (wife and two children), people of all ages. Some carried carnations and red roses in their hands. No banners or any other object indicating that a political event was attended and not a funeral. In addition, everything took place under the watchful eye of a large number of police officers, who deployed a strong security device.

"Navalni was our hero, our hope, the only one of a few who was so brave to go to the end and who told people that Russia could change," explained Yelena, a woman from about forty years, before tears prevented him from continuing to speak.

"I don't think Navalny was wrong to return to Russia (in January 2021, after recovering in Germany from poisoning with the nerve agent Novichok). This was his mission. For me he was like the Russian Che Guevara", assured the retired Vyacheslav.

According to Yekaterina, Navalni was always "someone very alive". He “chose his destiny and followed it regardless of the difficulties. In addition, he brought many to politics, explaining it in a very didactic and intelligent way."

Irina, who was accompanying her husband Vyacheslav, thought there would be half an hour for the public to enter after the religious service, but in the end only the family and friends of the opponent could be in the church.

To compensate, many had brought candles, which they lit with devotion and respect as the ceremony took place inside.

Since he returned to Russia and was arrested in January 2021, Navalny has not known freedom. Even if some of his followers doubt whether he might have made a mistake in returning, they all emphasize his courage to follow his ideas despite the consequences. Another question is whether the last hope of those who want to change the current political system in Russia is leaving with him. Ígor and Gulia are pessimists. "All the other leaders (of the opposition) are weaker. I don't think there is any hope in the short term", he says. And she supports him: "There is no hope in the current swampy waters".

Not far from the buses that brought the police and the vans of the OMON (riot police), the young Ramazán confessed that he was not a follower of Navalni, but that he considered it an obligation to approach him to dismiss him. "It was a symbol of freedom. I am here mainly because Navalny was a brave man. It will be very difficult for whoever takes the testimony of his cause to be able to compare to him".

"It is impossible to lose hope, because it does not depend on a single individual", believes Iekaterina. And Vyacheslav is more optimistic, who states that "if the day always comes after the night, there is always the possibility of change, and I think it will come soon".

Cries of “Aleksei, Aleksei!”, followed by applause, indicated almost an hour later that the religious duties had ended. The hearse left the temple again while followers, supporters or simple admirers of the opponent chanted his first name. Some people threw the bouquet of flowers in the path of the mechanized float.

This one went to the Borissov cemetery, two kilometers to the south, crossing the Moskva river.

There were also thousands of people who followed the car on its final journey to the cemetery. Half an hour of walking, crossing the Bratéievsky bridge to save the river, while they were watched by police stationed every ten meters along the way. Most were alert that they would not be able to access the cemetery. But this did not prevent them from accompanying the opponent. "We will go there and wait there", said several people. They knew that this was of no use, but also that with Navalni's example it was a kind of obligation for them.

The body was laid to rest while the song My way, by Frank Sinatra, one of Navalni's favorites, was playing, as his allies emphasized in a live broadcast from the funeral ceremony.

Who could not go to the funeral was his widow, Iúlia Navàlnaia, in exile. She said goodbye to her husband with a message on the X network (formerly Twitter). “Thank you for 26 years of absolute happiness. And even during the last three years of happiness (since Navalny went to prison). For your love, for your support, for making me laugh even from prison, for always thinking of me," he wrote. "I don't know how to live without you, but I will try to make you happy up there and be proud of me," added Navàlnaia, who a week ago promised the opposition's supporters that he would continue with his mission.

Many of the demonstrations that Navalni organized or inspired ended up in arrests. At his last farewell, despite the fact that it took place without major incidents, there were also some. The police arrested at least 56 people in 14 cities in the country, according to data from the OVD-Info agency. The highest number of arrests were made in Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg and Moscow, 14, 10 and 6 respectively.