The New Despicableness of Doubting Navalny

Alexey Navalny's closing statement in a trial that could land him in prison for up to six years was a stinging, poignant speech against the current government, which he called a “feudal regime.” The popular anti-corruption blogger and opposition leader stands accused of embezzling $500 thousand worth of lumber from a state-run timber company in Kirov, where he worked as an advisor to that region’s governor. Navalny and his supporters have denounced the hearing as a politically motivated show trial. In his final address to the court, Navalny declared [ru]:

Я заявляю, что и я и мои коллеги, мы сделаем все для того, чтобы уничтожить этот феодальный строй, который делается в России. Уничтожить систему власти, при которой 83% национального богатства принадлежит 0,5% населения.

I state that I and my colleagues are doing everything in order to destroy this feudal order that is being made in Russia. To destroy the system of power under which 83 percent of the national wealth belongs to half a percent of the population.

In a post on his Facebook page, Russian mathematician and economist Alfred Kokh wrote [ru]:

Навальный неправ! У нас не феодальный строй. У нас апартеид: раздельное существование.

Они живут в отгороженных заборами местах, нас и их за одни и те же преступления наказывают по-разному, если кто-то из нас пытается получить их права – то его сажают в тюрьму. Это называется – апартеид.

Найдите, как говорится, десять отличий. Не найдете.

Navalny is wrong! We do not have a feudal system. We have apartheid: a separate existence.

They live in isolated fenced-off places, we are punished differently for the same crimes, [and] if one of us is endeavors to get his rights—he is sent to prison. This is called apartheid.

Find, as they say, ten differences. You will not find them.

Kokh’s note was reposted on the popular social network VKontakte, leading to a debate [ru] between two users about the differences between feudal and apartheid states, with one saying:

так одно и то же. При феодализме рыцари и выше тоже жили отдельно от крестьян, для них были другие законы и т.д.

They are the same. Under feudalism, knights and [those] higher also lived separate from the peasants, there were other laws for them, etc.

To which the second user replied:

рыцари и выше – привилегированная часть население (народа). Апартеид – инородный захватчик.

Knights and [those] higher were a privileged part of the population (of the people). Apartheid [implies] a foreign invader.

"Navalny is watching you." Scene from Navalny's Moscow mayoral campaign HQ, 4 July 2013, photo by Oleg Kozlovsky, CC 2.0.

“Navalny is watching you.” Scene from Navalny's Moscow mayoral campaign HQ, 4 July 2013, photo by Oleg Kozlovsky, CC 2.0.

Whatever the judge decides when the sentence is read out on July 18, Navalny’s closing statement seems to have cemented his place as a moral authority for many Russians. Aider Muzhdabaev, a deputy editor at Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper, wrote [ru] in his blog at Ekho Moskvy:

Последнее слово, с которым выступил Навальный, – простое, понятное, жесткое. Немного корявое, без изяществ, риторической красоты.

Он не оратор, Навальный. И даже, наверное, не политик. Может быть, он националист. Может быть, даже мизантроп, некоторые так говорят. Не знаю…. Но он смелый парень, которого следует по-человечески уважать….

Вот исходя из этого с сегодняшнего дня я и буду думать о Навальном, сверять свои мысли (высказывания) с этим фактом.

Время рассуждений о том, хорош он или плох, на мой взгляд, прошло. Раньше было можно, а теперь подлость.

The last words, delivered by Navalny were simple, clear, and firm. [They were also] a little clumsy and without grace or rhetorical beauty. He is not an orator, Navalny. And even, perhaps, not a politician. Maybe he is a nationalist. Maybe even a misanthrope, as some say. I don’t know…. But he is a brave man who should be respected as a human being….

On the basis of this, today I will think about Navalny, and compare his thoughts (statements) with this fact.

The time for speculating about whether or not he is a good person, in my opinion, has passed. Previously it was possible, but now it is despicable.

For the full text of Navalny’s courtroom speech (in English), please see either here or here.


  • larussophobe

    You say Navalny is a “moral authority for many Russians” but that begs the key question: How many? Polls show that the vast majority of Russians have no idea who Navalny is, and that a significant portion of those who do know don’t trust him. That’s because the vast majority of Russians don’t get their news from the Internet, the only place Navalny is viable, but from state-sponsored TV, where he has no traction at all.

    The other key question you don’t address is: What are these “many Russians” prepared to do if Navalny is sent to prison for many years on what they believe are false charges? Navalny promised that street demonstrations would grow dramatically in strength, but the opposite occurred. They shrank significantly. Who has Navalny identified as his successor in case of prison, and what will be done to protest his jailing? It seems nobody has any idea.

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  • […] statement has caused a stir in Russia, leading even those skeptical of Navalny to express admiration for the tone and rhetoric of the speech, and to debate whether they truly lived in a “feudal […]

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