- Share to or
‘By imprisoning hundreds, Putin is trying to terrorize millions’ Anticipating a harsh new court verdict, Alexey Navalny speaks about the importance of resisting fear — the main instrument of Putin’s regime
Alexey Navalny, a key figure of the anti-Putin opposition in Russia, is awaiting a new court sentence, due to be announced on Friday, August 4. The new charges of extremist activity threaten the politician with a 20-year sentence, in addition to the nine-year prison term he is currently serving in a penal colony outside of the city of Vladimir. Instead of bringing Navalny to a courthouse, the Russian authorities arranged to try him right at the penitentiary. Although the trial has been closed to the press, Navalny has published an extended blog post, anticipating the sentence and its intended chilling effect on the Russian opposition. Ahead of the verdict, Navalny urges his supporters not to give in to fear in the face of Putin’s calculus of intimidation. Meduza has translated the main part of Navalny’s letter to the opposition, abridging the final part containing the politician’s acknowledgements.
In another day, a sentence will be announced, and I would like to say a few things before that happens. To put the figures in context, so to speak.
It’s going to be a long prison term, “Stalinesque” as they say. The formula for calculating it is simple: the prosecution’s request minus 10–15 percent. They asked for 20 years, so I’ll get 18 or something close. This doesn’t matter that much, since the terrorism trial is steaming ahead next, and that’s a chance to top things up with another 10 years.
Here’s, then, my number one request. When that figure is announced, please don’t display your solidarity by gasping that it’s “just like under Stalin.” Instead, express your solidarity with myself and other political prisoners by thinking for a moment. Consider why this sentence needs to be so flagrantly long. What it means to do is to terrorize — terrorize all of you, rather than myself, and I’ll even say, terrorize you personally, you who are reading these lines at this very moment.
You must have noticed that propaganda is silent about this trial. There’s nothing about it on TV. This is because an “ordinary Russian” is sure to feel ambivalent about it. Eighteen years for some victimless “extremism” without real consequences might strike him as a plain injustice. He might even start sympathizing with me in secret. As for you, you already know everything. And it’s you whom the severity of this verdict must startle, bewilder, intimidate, and disabuse of any thought of resistance.
Please think about this and realize that by imprisoning hundreds, Putin is trying to terrorize millions. We live in a country where, right at this moment, tens of millions of people are opposed to corruption, lawlessness, and war. Tens of millions of people, right now, are in favor of fair elections, democracy, and political succession. They want Putin to leave. We know for certain that, if one out of every ten people outraged by Putin’s and his government’s corruption would take to the streets, this regime would fall by tomorrow. We know for a fact that if those who oppose this war came out into the streets, they would end it instantly.
But this is just wishful thinking, and not how things work. Someone has to be the first, and that’s scary. Russia is no exception in this regard. Those who are discontent with dictatorships simply don’t take to the streets until those regimes come near the end. Not here, not in the USSR, not in Iran, not in Cuba, nor in East Germany. All change is achieved by the most active 10 percent of the citizenry. This is you. Repressing — imprisoning, punishing, or fining — 10 percent of Russia, or 1.5 million people, is impossible, either politically or practically. Instead, there’s a will to frighten you and keep you cowed, and to rob you of all motivation to do something.
This strategy (Putin’s, as well as any other dictator’s) works. Here’s an example. What had always made our organization invincible was that no one could cut off our funding. We are financed by dozens, nay, hundreds of thousands of small donors. You cannot cut that funding off. But by magnifying prosecutions for alleged financing of extremism, the authorities finally forced 95 percent of our donors within Russia to start feeling nervous about supporting us. All activity requires money; there’s nothing you can do without it; and here, intimidation has worked really well. (Let me remind you, by the way, about this instruction on how to support us anonymously and safely with cryptocurrency.)
To be quite honest, we ourselves often help Putin in his strategy of intimidation by having a fit and grasping at our hearts every time someone gets arrested, adding to our own and other people’s fear. Everyone should be spoken about, no one should be forgotten, but we must always be clear that state power in Russia has been illegally usurped. Those who have usurped it cannot keep hold of it without arresting innocent people. They imprison hundreds to keep millions in fear.
This is something to keep a cool head about. Putin should not achieve his goal. And I really don’t want him to achieve the goal behind my sentence. Hence my second request. When the verdict is announced, please think about just one important thing: What more can I do to resist? What can I do to stand in the way of the Kremlin thieves and scoundrels, to keep them from devouring my country and my own future? What can I do, in light of all the risks and all the circumstances?
The third request is the most important one. When you answer that question, please, don’t you dare tell yourself there’s nothing you can do. Everyone can do something. You can. You can talk to your neighbors; put up a flier; share one of our investigations; send 500 rubles a month either to us or to other opposition organizations and media; blog; take part in DMP-2; post on social media. You can support political prisoners, paint murals, or go to a street rally.
There’s nothing shameful about picking the safest method of resistance. What’s shameful is to do nothing. What’s shameful is to let yourself be intimidated. Whatever sentence they may have planned for tomorrow, it won’t achieve its goal if you understand what it’s all about, and if you say “I’m not afraid” with your daily cool-headed, maybe small, but still real contribution to the struggle for Russia’s freedom.
- Share to or