Three years ago, when Alexei Navalny returned home to his native Russia to continue his fight against Vladimir Putin, everyone knew that he was facing certain imprisonment. We also understood that he was never going to leave that prison alive. 

This morning, confirmation came that Navalny had “died” at the age of 47, after three years in confinement, the last of them spent in a remote penal colony in Siberia.

Back in 2021, when the political dissident went back, I wrote this:

“Alexei Navalny is what we need – but no longer have – in the United States: A political hero. We can use the word ‘heroic’ if you stretch that definition to include health care workers, law enforcement, and the scientists who are racing against the clock to neutralize the deadly effects of Covid-19. Some of these folks are noble, some are courageous in their own way, and some are really just doing the jobs they signed up for.

But there are no true political giants. We have politicians, some better than others. But each one of them, from the lowliest member of the school board trying to shove critical race theory down our throats, to the president pale in comparison to this Russian dissident.

For years, Navalny has led a one-man crusade to expose corruption in Russia. He ran for office, losing in what were universally considered rigged elections. He’s been targeted for death. Nonetheless, this patriot who was living safely outside of his native country returned to Moscow earlier this month, and was promptly arrested. He is now in jail, for what was officially described as a 30-day term, but what might end up being a death sentence.”

I am not prescient, and it wasn’t a particular stretch to predict that this freedom fighter would die, a victim of Vladimir Putin and his thuggish allies. The writing was on the cinderblock wall. I must admit, though, that the news this morning was a gut-wrenching punch. You can anticipate the worst, but when it comes, you are never fully prepared.

Navalny’s name has long been synonymous with courage, and now it has entered the firmament of the immortals. Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and József Mindszenty have suffered the same indignities and tortures as Navalny, but at least three of them had the fortune to spend the last moments of their lives as free men. 

In the case of Mandela, he triumphed as president of the country that once literally enslaved him, Solzhenitsyn became a celebrated human rights activist whose publications and pronouncements are the gold standard, and the Hungarian Cardinal — who had been essentially a prisoner of the Hungarian government for fifteen years — was deported to Austria, where he lived the last four years of his life in freedom. The tragic story of Martin Luther King, who was imprisoned in Birmingham and later martyred for the cause of civil rights, is the one whose life most closely resembles Navalny’s.

It’s hard to imagine anyone not being deeply moved by the sacrifice made by a man who had the opportunity to live the rest of his life in comfort, along with his beloved wife, son and daughter. He could have gone on the lecture circuit, commanding substantial speaker fees and seeing his face on the cover of magazines that would anoint him “Man of the Year.” He could have been what so many these days pretend to be: true human rights activists.

Instead, he chose to enter the mouth of the lion, a human sacrifice to the evil that exists among us. The thing that angers me is that there are actually people in this country who would minimize his acts, and try and legitimize the government that imprisoned-and then murdered-him. Already there are those, primarily on the right, who are skeptical that Navalny was actually killed by Putin. I have heard some people suggest that he died because of the conditions of his imprisonment, which is ironic since those conditions were mandated by Putin. And there would not have been any imprisonment, any solitary cell, were Navalny not the most obvious and dangerous challenge to Putin’s power.

Even more disturbing were the suggestions by conservative pundit Tucker Carlson that the subways in Moscow ran well, reminiscent of the old saying that at least Mussolini got the trains to run on time, and Donald Trump’s unrepentant declaration that if a NATO ally failed to pay its dues, he would encourage an aggressor to, essentially, aggress.

Interestingly enough, the only time in recent memory that Article 5 of the alliance was invoked, the one that requires all treaty signatories to provide aid and assistance to a fellow signatory that is being threatened by a foreign invader, was right after 9/11. Guess who benefited from that? The United States.

The country I live in, one that rejects our obligation to assist allies in distress and looks the other way when freedom fighters are jailed and then tortured, is not the one I grew up in. We have a chance to pause and reflect in this dolorous moment, as we consider the passing of a moral giant, and reconsider what we owe to the international community, and to ourselves as keeper of the flame of liberty.

We could not save Navalny, but perhaps by honoring his passing, we can save ourselves.

Christine Flowers is an attorney and lifelong Philadelphian. @flowerlady61

4 thoughts on “Christine Flowers: Navalny was the hero Russia needed”

  1. I would add to the list, Boris Pasternak. Having won a Nobel Prize for Dr. Zhivago, he was forbidden to accept it and spent his life in Russian under to gaze of the apparatchiks. More recent, Fang Fang’s account of the COVID pandemic in Wuhan City. A diary account which tells you more about the Chinese Communist Party that reams of “news” reports.

  2. Oregonians in 2020 passed a ballot measure that created the most liberal drug law in the country, decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs and funneling hundreds of millions of dollars in cannabis taxes to addiction recovery services. Instead of arresting drug users, police issue them $100 citations along with a card that lists the number to a hotline for addiction treatment services, which they can call in exchange for help dismissing the citation. Those who simply ignore the citations face no legal ramifications. State data shows only 4 percent of people who receive citations call the hotline. Feelings v data. Feelings lost, again.

    The fellas, and ladies (and trans) leaders in the Pentagon already know that trying to export “democracy” to other countries does not work. Is it profitable? Yes. Is it effective in implementing an actual “democracy” where other cultures have different political structures? No, it is not effective. Did you know that Alexei Navalny was born to a Ukrainian father and spent many childhood days in Ukraine? Despite that, most say Navalny was also a Russian nationalist who would have done the same thing as Putin regarding Ukraine – but perhaps even more efficiently because he would have clamped down on corruption. A few weeks into Russia’s full-out invasion of Ukraine two years ago, one of the main spokespeople for the Ukrainian government at the time, Oleksiy Arestovych, said that a Russian liberal-democrat president would have also invaded Ukraine in the same manner – such was the logic of geopolitical confrontation. That kind of thinking presumes that the US-led West was intent on humiliating Russia in the way no Russian leader would have ever accepted – delivering a strategic defeat upon it. That’s indeed something that many hawkish commentators in the West are calling for today.
    Navalny was first and foremost a Russian politician, which is why he made what felt like a suicidal choice to return to Russia after surviving the poisoning. All we get from MSM is complete propaganda. B+L is weak sauce.

  3. Even when (somehow) Christine is on the right side of history, one can’t help but be reminded just what a moral fraud she is. In this column, she manages to say almost all of the right things and even assigns blame to *SOME* of those on the Right (albeit after the fact) But.. anyone who even casually knows her history of intellectual immorality knows that all it takes is a casual perusal of he social media to see how much time and energy she gives to promoting these same cretins. She writes here of her outrage at what happened to Navalny and then one looks at her Facebook or Twitter feed and you can see the phony zeal with which she (literally) cries and screams over some sports team. She can write paragraph after paragraph about some convoluted reason why the Eagles or Phillies are intertwined with the very fabric of every human who ever stepped foot in Pennsylvania. Navalny gets barely a mention until he’s in the news, and leading up to his death, she fawns all over the very same people who support and promote Putin. Yes. Christine is outraged again and of course she will let you know that she cried. But consider what outrages Christine and makes her cry before taking her very seriously.

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