Skip to main content
  • Share to or

‘I’m tired of being afraid’ A Russian university instructor discussed Navalny with his students — despite running the risk of being reported

Source: Meduza
Evgeny Feldman

After Alexey Navalny’s death on February 16, a history instructor at a public Russian university decided to start his lessons with a discussion about politics — despite the risk that one of his students might report him to the authorities. Speaking to news outlet Sirena, the instructor explained why he decided to talk about politics, what they discuss at the beginning of each lecture, and how these discussions were received among students. Meduza in English is sharing a translation of Sirena’s story.

A Russian history instructor at a public university in Russia told news outlet Sirena that he decided to start all his classes with a discussion about politics during the week after the death of opposition leader Alexey Navalny. (The instructor requested that his name and the name of the institution where he works not be mentioned.)

After the news of Navalny’s death on February 16, the instructor couldn’t “look away from the horror” for two days. On the Monday that followed, he decided to start the class by asking whether his students watch the news.

I wanted to understand them. They’re not much younger than me, they’re not a whole generation apart, they relate to me much better than “grandpas,” we have some things in common. I decided to test the waters, and when 90 percent responded by saying “we have no clue what’s going on,” I said, without hesitation: “Understand that this is what happened in our country: Putin killed Navalny.”

After sensing sympathy among one of the groups, he decided to ask about Navalny at the start of each class to see how students would react. According to him, he didn’t see “patriotic” attitudes, instead finding students’ reactions to range from “indifference to sympathy, compassion, and sorrow.” The students he teaches have already had “Conversations About What’s Important” at school and so the “brainwashing has already started.”

I explained: “Guys, it’s not about who you support or don’t support. It’s about the fact that they killed a person who has a wife, children, who was a distinct symbol. And your task is to stay human.” […] I told them right away: “I’ll be the first and last [person] in the university who will be able to tell you these exact words. You already have enough patriotic conversations, you’ll get tired of them, but I’m addressing you in a different manner.

Weekly newsletter

Sign up for The Beet

Underreported stories. Fresh perspectives. From Budapest to Bishkek.

Judging by the students’ reactions, explains the instructor, it seemed like there weren’t any who were “ideological” and ready to report him. He acknowledges that there’s still a possibility that this could happen, which he says scares him, but tells Sirena that he “sleeps soundly” knowing he did what’s necessary.

I’m tired of being afraid. If I can’t even say anything anymore, then what’s next? We’ll stop thinking? An education in the humanities has instilled in me a rather different approach to life. What’s there to fear? We’re all going to die anyway and according to our beliefs, we’ll all end up somewhere. But here, on Earth, we’re responsible for our soul. I want my soul to be pure so that I can sleep soundly.

I’m not sure how brave my actions are. Brave people are sitting in prison. I just can’t be indifferent. My soul aches, it’s impossible to stay silent, and my question about Navalny came about spontaneously from deep pain and the desire to see that I’m not alone — and that’s what I saw. Somewhere deep down in their souls, people understand that they’re being fooled. And no one likes being lied to.

The instructor himself says he wasn’t “a huge supporter” of Navalny, but on the day of the opposition leader’s death, felt “as if they had killed some kind of hope, killed the very possibility of choice.” “We can argue about our personal beliefs, but now it’s completely irrelevant — Navalny is like the city of Rome: after its fall, it became metaphysical and turned into an idea. For the Russian authorities, Navalny may have been less dangerous alive. But they don’t grasp this at all or know history very well — that’s why they ended up with this outcome,” he said.

Is there hope left for Russia’s future?

‘The world doesn’t know how to stand up to evil’ The case against unrealistic faith in the ‘beautiful Russia of the future’

Is there hope left for Russia’s future?

‘The world doesn’t know how to stand up to evil’ The case against unrealistic faith in the ‘beautiful Russia of the future’

Story by Sirena

Translation by Sasha Slobodov

  • Share to or