When Alexei Navalny boarded a plane to Moscow on January 17, he turned his life into a metaphor. He knew it, his wife knew it, and everybody else on the plane knew it. So did the millions of people who had watched his documentary videos, who had seen the witty interviews he did on the plane, who have since joined demonstrations in his name. So did the leaders of Russia, including the country’s dictator and president, Vladimir Putin. This, Navalny was telling all of them, is what courage looks like.
Navalny is Russia’s most important opposition leader, and he was flying home from Berlin after spending many weeks in a hospital there, following the second or perhaps the third attempt on his life. He’d survived because a German NGO had sent a plane to Omsk to take him out of Russia, because the Novichok nerve agent used to poison him doesn’t always kill you right away, and because the Russian hospital had agreed to let him go, probably on the assumption that he would never return. (For the record: One of the doctors who treated him for poison has since died under odd circumstances, and a hospital official who refused to attribute Navalny’s illness to poison has been promoted to regional health minister.)
Unexpectedly, Navalny recovered. Not only did he recover, but he emerged well enough to star, once again, in one of the videos that have made him and his team of researchers famous. He has often targeted members of the Russian elite, unpicking their elaborate webs of corruption, making fun of their money and their taste. In January he targeted Putin himself, revealing the details of the dictator’s lush palace on the Black Sea: an indoor ice-hockey rink, a hookah bar, extensive vineyards, an “aqua-discotheque,” and an elaborate shakedown scheme that paid for it all. That two-hour exposé was released just as Navalny flew back into Russia and was placed under arrest. It circulated as he sat through a “trial” so ludicrous that he mocked the judge out loud, telling her she needed to take more legal courses. The video is still circulating now, as Navalny lies in a prison hospital where he may once again be close to death. As of this writing, it has 116 million views.
Nothing is secret about the poisoning, false trial, or harsh imprisonment of Navalny. Like the multiple attempts to murder him, these things are playing out in public, in the open, for everyone to see. [Continue reading…]