‘Do Not Give Up’: The Message From Navalny We All Must Hear

Frame from the HBO Max documentary ‘Navalny’ directed by Daniel Roher. (Capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 17 February 2024 — Yesterday, Friday, was a difficult day. The sun had not yet risen in Havana when I learned of the death in prison of the Russian opponent Alexei Navalny. That news immediately led me to reflect on the fragility of Cuban political prisoners, some confined to punishment cells, far from any contact with their families and at the mercy of a system for which the life of a dissident is worth nothing.

Vladimir Putin had confined Navalny in a cold prison in the Arctic Circle. He was so afraid of the 47-year-old lawyer that he tried to bury him in life away from Moscow, the Russian streets and his colleagues in the fight against corruption. Autocrats are like that, they can sign for the transfer of a political opponent to the most remote dungeon rather than face him at the polls. Cowards are known by their actions and the tenant of the Kremlin is just that: a fear-filled person with power.

In the Cuban streets, no one has bought the version of the sudden death, the result, supposedly, of a blood clot

It was already afternoon, when I had read the international reactions and thought, countless times, about Navalny’s wife and children, I looked out the window to see the obscene silhouette of the Russian Embassy in the Cuban capital, its demeanor defiant and aggressive. If in other parts of the world the surroundings of Moscow’s bases of operation were, and will be, in the coming days, the center of protests, demands and cries of “Assasins!”, in Havana none of that will happen.

Cubans will not go en masse to the crude pile on 5th Avenue, at the least to light some candles for the activist and blogger who challenged the corrupt circle of Russian power. They will not do it, not because they do not feel his death, but because the Havana regime is not going to allow it. Allied and dependent on the former KGB official, the Police of this Island will not accept any gesture that upsets the Kremlin. The official media took long hours to publish a note about Navalny’s death. Neglecting him, even after he died, was another way to ingratiate itself with Putin.

However, on the Cuban streets no one has bought the version of sudden death, presumably the result of a blood clot. “They killed him,” a neighbor told me as soon as she greeted me. “Why did he return to Russia if he knew they were going to assassinate him?” Questioned a friend who had followed Navalny’s journey since he opened a digital blog and began to expose the rot of Putinism . “What is the West going to do now?” He stressed.

“Not giving up,” the Russian opponent thus summarized his legacy in a biographical audiovisual that shortly after would win the Oscar for best documentary.

It is true that he could have gone into exile, he even had a great opportunity to stay in Berlin after the assassination attempt he suffered in 2020. The doors were open for him to settle in a capital of a democratic country, give lectures at universities and help activists in his country in many other ways. But I sense that Navalny knew that if he did that, he would stop being, in a certain way, himself. The exile killed part of the politician. Living in another nation was not what he planned for his life. For the short life he ended up having.

“Do not give up,” that was the message that Alexei Navalny left for his Russian compatriots in case he was assassinated. Emaciated by the health problems caused by the poisoning, the Russian opponent thus summarized his legacy in a biographical audiovisual that shortly after would win the Oscar for best documentary. In front of the camera, he is seen repeating the phrase, once in English, once in Russian. By the time he speaks in his language he is transformed. His eyes become sparkling, the deep grooves left by the long recovery look deeper. He takes a breath, joins his hands and releases the words with a conviction that shocks. Navalny is speaking to us, and he knows what awaits him.

Unfortunately he was not wrong in his prediction. I hope that he was not wrong either in calling on Russians not to accept that Vladimir Putin gets his way.


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