Alexei Navalny Is With Us Forever Now

Alexei Navalny Is With Us Forever Now

It was on New Year’s Day. On January 1, 2015, Alexei Navalny called me. “Well, you and us have no one else left but you and us. Let’s work together,” he said.

It was indeed probably the hardest time for both him and me. I was editor-in-chief of the Dozhd TV channel at the time, and we were almost destroyed: we were cut off from all cable and satellite operators, and we were kicked out of our studio. But Navalny faced much worse: the criminal case, which was invented only to force him to stop his political activities, came to an end with Alexei himself given a suspended sentence, but his brother was imprisoned. Well, the main thing is that all of us, both Dozhd and Navalny, were not sure if we were still needed—in 2014 Putin occupied Crimea, Russia was overwhelmed by a wave of jingoism. Dozhd stopped being the most influential TV channel and Navalny stopped being the most popular politician. “Well, you and us have no one else left but you and us.”

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We really started working together then—we helped his team, Anti-Corruption Foundation (ACF), to make the first high-profile investigative movie: about Prosecutor General Chaika. That movie has 26 million views today. By now ACF released dozens more great investigative films. And I’m proud to have been around at the very beginning.

In late 2015, I wrote a book called All the Kremlin’s Men. Inside the Court of Vladimir Putin. One chapter in that book was about Alexei—although he never belonged to that court. However, he was always its main enemy.

Each chapter began with a portrait of the character, and I described Navalny then as follows:

“Alexei Navalny is an alien. At first glance he looks like an ordinary person, and watching him walk the streets or ride public transportation, you might inadvertently think that he is an ordinary man. In short, he does everything that ordinary people do and which top government officials and superstars do not. But appearances are deceptive. Navalny wears a human mask, like an extraterrestrial in a sci-fi movie, to hide his real identity—that of a politician.

Navalny’s life is hard. The state machine is out to get him, and he has to deal with that somehow. For instance, he does not drive for fear that a “provocateur” might jump in front of his car, whereupon he, Navalny, could be prosecuted.

Navalny is certainly aware that he is a superstar. Jail is perhaps the last place Putin wants him to be, since that would make him a martyr and increase his popularity. Navalny understands his exclusivity. He is probably the only real politician out of Russia’s 143 million inhabitants…

But Navalny is a unique person who made a conscious choice. As yet he has no power, and may never have. But he has certainly sacrificed the chance to lead a normal life, although he describes it as an opportunity to change Russia for the better.

If Russia had an open political system, Navalny would probably not be alone. But because it does not, there seems to be no one else crazy enough to trade in life for politics. Why does Navalny continue to believe that his time will come and that one day he could succeed Putin as president? There’s only one rational explanation—he’s an alien.”

I was naive at that time—all of us, including Alexei, were naive. We would never believe that Putin wanted him dead. Because we thought that he didn’t want Navalny to be a martyr. We were wrong. We are people and people are often wrong.

When Putin poisoned Navalny in 2020, I knew he would survive. I don’t know why. Maybe I was too naive again. I always thought that Alexei is very morally strong, he is a historical figure, he cannot die. And he survived, exposed his assassins and made Putin a laughing stock. And for me there was not even a question whether he would stay in Europe or go back. I’ve described it all before: if he were an ordinary human being, he would stay to live. But he’s an alien. He had already made his choice to devote himself to politics. And that’s why he had to come back.

About a week ago, I received an email from Alexei. It was, of course, incredibly funny and energetic. He wrote that he was sitting in a cell from which you can’t see a blade of grass or a leaf, and even to take a walk he was taken only to a neighboring cell, but he wrote it so cheerfully and dashingly that there was no doubt that everything was all right with him, nothing would break him. 

He also wrote about the collapse of the USSR and what a unique chance Russia had in the 90s, and how it was lost, and how important it is not to miss the chance that will appear during the upcoming collapse of Putin’s Russia. 

He also wrote about Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Nabokov, Solzhenitsyn, and Vysotsky. He was glad that in the new colony he was able to reread Crime and Punishment—because the library there is very small, there are only books from the Russian school program, but Dostoevsky, of course, is there. His letter ends with his traditional joke: “Be like Nabokov and better!”, he writes.

Now I don’t know if he had time to receive my reply, where I tell him why I don’t like Dostoevsky. And also describe  some important moments from my future book. And at the end I write: “Hope to see you soon.” 

I never doubted that I would see him again. I was always sure that Navalny is a supernatural person, he can’t die, aliens don’t die so easily. 

I think many of us thought he was a magician. Everyone knew that it cannot be like that: at some point he casts some sort of spell, Putin disappears and Alexei becomes the Russian president. Everyone knew it would be long and difficult. But, somehow Alexei will manage to survive it. And then, after all, some sort of spell—and, pop, he is the president of Russia.

But it turns out it won’t be like that. He won’t be the president of future Russia, he’ll have to be the founding father of the future Russia. He is with us now forever as a perfect example. As a messiah. As a superhero for many generations, on whose story children will grow up. It is not Putin they will look up to. 

He will remain in history as a man who believed that Russia could be a normal democratic country, believed in values, and despised the nonsense about a unique Russian path and doom to be an empire. He was always an idealist. He was not a cynic, did not believe that everything could be sold and bought.

For many years Russia was a very cynical country. Nobody believed in anything. Many people seriously believed that there was no democracy in the world, and there was no freedom of speech, only propaganda everywhere, and there was no such thing as fair justice. But Alexei believed in all those values. And he gave his life for it. So now we all have to believe. And the next generations will grow up and learn by looking at him—and they will also believe.

Now it seems to many people that Russia no longer has a future. But in fact, its future is precisely those people who are mourning Alexei Navalny all over the world. He united us and asked us not to give up. “You and us have no one else left but you and us. Let’s work together.”

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