Mar 12, 2021 | OPINION | By Ian Chalmers | Illustration by Xixi Qin
Alexei Navalny: Dissident, Blogger, and Political Activist in the Russian Federation. Politicians hate him, and the people love him.
Navalny is so disliked by Putin himself, Vox reported in “Why Putin wants Alexei Navalny dead,” that he directed a secret agent to poison him. The poison that nearly killed Navalny in August 2020 was Novichok, a highly toxic nerve agent and the go-to for eliminating political enemies in Russia.
Navalny later recovered in a German hospital. He went back to Russia knowing full well as soon as he got off the plane he would be arrested, and when he was arrested, he had a smile on his face.
Navalny was then put on trial, wrongfully charged with embezzlement. Just years earlier, in 2012, according to a BBC report, “The anti-corruption campaigner was accused of defrauding a timber firm,” and was sentenced to three and a half years in prison.
Voice of America published Navalny’s comment: “I offended [Putin] to death by surviving.” The charge and sentence would prevent Navalny from running for the mayor of Moscow in the upcoming 2023 election, but it would also spark massive protests in Russia that has not been seen since Putin came back to power in 2012.
People took to the streets to protest Navalny’s sentence as well as corruption and the need for change in the Russian political system. Lockdowns were put into place, Russian riot police — nicknamed cosmonauts for their space-like helmets — patrolled the streets, and people were detained in mass arrests or were beaten by police batons. These tactics are common to authoritarian regimes and well-practiced.
Protests have been rare in Russia since the Bolotnaya rallies in 2011-12, after which Russia implemented a series of restrictive measures. Laws to limit legal protests created a system where people have to wait in line just to hold up a sign. Laws were also passed to prevent protests altogether.
In 2018, when Russia hosted the FIFA World Cup, the government raised the age at which seniors could collect pensions. To quell outcry, transportation services were either shut down entirely or would skip over popular rallying places. Ergo, Russian protestors have the odds stacked against them.
Despite all these measures to prevent protesters from protesting, they still have poured out onto the streets. People want an end to the repressive measures and limits to their personal freedoms the government has imposed on them. This is a wider movement and an aftershock of the worldwide protests during the summer of 2020 to let governments know that the people are not out of the fight. We are living in a time of protest — a world of protest — and that will not be easily stopped.