News & Updates

Alexei Navalny, In His Own Words

On Friday, February 16, Russian authorities reported the death of Alexei Navalny, Russia’s foremost anticorruption activist and opposition politician. He reportedly died in the remote “Polar Wolf” Arctic penal colony, while serving a combined sentence of more than thirty years.  The 47-year-old lawyer was President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken critic, known for speaking out against the corruption and kleptocracy of Putin and his cronies.

On August 4, 2023, in his last court hearing, Navalny offered these words, excerpted below:

Everyone in Russia knows that someone who seeks justice in court is completely defenseless. The case of such a person is hopeless. After all, if the matter has gone to court, then there is no power behind this person. Because in a country ruled by a criminal, controversial issues are resolved by bargaining, power, bribery, deceit, betrayal and other mechanisms from real life, and not by some kind of law. . . .

Nevertheless, every opportunity must be used to speak out, and speaking now to an audience of eighteen people, seven of whom put black masks on their heads that cover their faces, I want to not only explain why I continue to fight that unscrupulous evil that calls itself “the state power of the Russian Federation,” but also urge you to do it together with me.

Why not? Maybe you put on these masks because you are afraid of something human, what you have and what can be reflected in your face not covered with a balaclava? For example, the prison guard who is now standing behind me, by virtue of his position, should know what kind of courts I have to face. And so I explain to him about another criminal case and the upcoming trial, about the new term that threatens me. Each time he nods his head, closes his eyes and says: “I don’t understand you and I never will.” I should try to explain to him.

The question of how to act is the main question of mankind. After all, everything around is so complicated and so incomprehensible. People have run off their feet in search of a formula for doing the right thing. Looking for something to rely on when making a decision.

I really like the wording of our compatriot, Doctor of Philology, Professor [Yuri Mikhailovich] Lotman. Speaking to students, he once said: “Man is always in an unanticipated situation. And here he has two legs: conscience and intellect.”

This is a very wise idea, I think. And a person must lean on both of these legs.

Relying only on conscience is intuitively correct. But abstract morality, which does not consider human nature and the real world, will degenerate into either stupidity or atrocity, as has happened more than once.

But reliance on intelligence without conscience is what is now at the heart of the Russian state. Initially, this idea seemed logical to the elites. Using oil, gas, and other resources, we will build an unscrupulous, but cunning, modern, rational, ruthless state. We will become richer than the kings of former years. And we have so much oil that the population will get something. Using the world of contradictions and the vulnerability of democracy, we will become leaders and we will be respected. And if not, then be afraid.

But the same thing happens everywhere. The intellect, not limited by conscience, whispers: take away, steal. If you are stronger, then your interests are always more important than the rights of others.

Not wanting to rely on the leg of conscience, my Russia made several big jumps, pushing everyone around, but then slipped and with a roar, destroying everything around, collapsed. And now she is floundering in a pool of either mud or blood, with broken bones, with a poor, robbed population, and tens of thousands of those who died in the most stupid and senseless war of the 21st century lie around.

But sooner or later, of course, it will rise again. And it depends on us what it will rely on in the future.

I do what I think is consistent. Without any drama.

I love Russia. My intellect tells me that it is better to live in a free and prosperous country than in a corrupt and impoverished one. And as I stand here and look at this court, my conscience says that there will be no justice in such a court either for me or for anyone else. A country without a fair trial will never be prosperous. So — now the intellect says again — it will be reasonable and right of me to fight for an independent court, fair elections, to be against corruption, because then I will achieve my goal and be able to live in my free, prosperous Russia.

Maybe now it seems to you that I am crazy, and you are all normal, because you can’t swim against the current. And I think you’re out of your mind. You have a single, God-given life, and what have you decided to spend it on? To put on robes on your shoulders, and these black masks on your head and protect those who are also robbing you? To help someone who has ten palaces build an eleventh?

In order for a new person to come into the world, two people must agree in advance that they will make some kind of sacrifice. A new person will have to give birth in pain, and then spend sleepless nights with him. . . .

And in the same way, in order for a new, free, rich country to be born, it must have parents. Those who want it. Who is waiting for her and who is ready to make some sacrifices for the sake of her birth. Knowing she’s worth it. Not everyone has to go to jail. It’s more like a lottery, and I pulled out [a winning] ticket. But everyone has to make some sacrifice, some effort.

I am accused of inciting hatred towards representatives of the authorities and special services, judges and members of [Putin’s] United Russia party. But no, I don’t incite hatred. I just remember that a person has two legs: conscience and intellect. And when you get tired of slipping on this power, hurting your forehead and future, when you finally understand that the rejection of conscience will eventually lead to the disappearance of the intellect, then, perhaps, you will stand on those two legs on which a person should stand, and together we can bring the Beautiful Russia of the Future closer.


Image Credit: Evgeny Feldman for Alexey Navalny Campaign/Handout


The Legacy of a True Russian Patriot

Lucian Kim

Alexei Navalny loved Russia and was willing to risk everything for it. It is hard to grasp the magnitude of his death for his people and his country.

Why Alexei Navalny Mattered in Life and Still Matters in Death

Kathryn Stoner

Vladimir Putin may have imprisoned, tortured, and killed the brilliant opposition leader, but even now Navalny is a threat to the corrupt autocracy he has built.

Russia’s Road to Autocracy

Michael McFaul

Thirty years after the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia is firmly in the grip of an autocrat. Where did Russia’s path go wrong?