Navalny will return, but only when Putin’s government ends

(CNN) — The images were emotional: Alexei Navalny mourners lined up around the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God in Moscow’s Maryino district on Friday, risking arrest to pay their last respects to the man they call their hero .

Each red carnation held by a supporter of Russian dissidents can be seen as a small act of resistance in a country where the state has cleared the landscape of all political competition. And one of the slogans chanted by Navalny’s supporters at the funeral – Ne prostim (We will not forgive) – seemed directed at Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But the fact that Navalny’s funeral took place, after two weeks of bureaucratic delays and official confusion, is perhaps a sign of the Kremlin’s confidence. Its crackdown on dissent is so widespread, and genuine political opposition so marginalised, that the program was allowed to proceed. Navalny’s funeral was the funeral of the Russian opposition movement… for now.

There was no doubt a large police presence to ensure that the event did not cross the boundaries of acceptable protest. The independent monitoring group OVD-Info reported that 91 people were arrested in 19 cities across Russia on the day of Navalny’s funeral, far fewer than the hundreds of people arrested on the day of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The full-scale invasion of Ukraine increased the risk of public opposition in Russia, leading to the imposition of tough new criminal penalties for discrediting the country’s military. Hundreds of thousands of Russians went into exile, many of whom were part of Navalny’s constituency. The person who took over Navalny’s charismatic leadership – his widow, Yulia Navalnaya – is out of the country and poses no immediate political threat to Putin, who is due to head to re-election in two weeks. All this makes this Friday’s vote all the more remarkable, but what future holds for Navalny’s form of protest?

Navalny returned to Russia in 2021 after recovering from nerve agent poisoning as he wanted to remain an active player in politics. And his brand of digital activism continued even as state prosecutors piled charges against him.

For this, he paid a price: Whatever the ultimate cause of his death in prison, Navalny’s sentence in a remote penal colony north of the Arctic Circle was designed to break him physically and psychologically.

Behind bars, Navalny remained a powerful symbol of resistance, sending messages mocking the prison administration. Even in death, his sense of humor and knowledge of pop culture stood out. His spokeswoman Kira Yarmish said that music from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s blockbuster film was played while his body rested.

He wrote, “Alexey considered Terminator 2 to be the best film in the world.” “The music of the final scene was played at his funeral.”

To quote the Terminator, Navalny will be back.

“Schoolchildren hear about heroes in schools, but here we have a real hero with whom we are happy to work for years,” said his longtime assistant Maria Pevchikh in a live broadcast on YouTube on Friday. “Navalny will become a giant figure in Russian history,”

But as long as Putin is in power, the name of the anti-corruption activist will not be visible on the streets and squares. So how long will Russian schoolchildren have to wait until it’s included in their history books? This is a very open question.


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