Archive for June 28th, 2021

As the world watches, one of Russia’s top writers exhorts Alexei Navalny: “Good man. Hold on…”

Monday, June 28th, 2021
Navalny, when he was arrested in 2017 (Photo: Evgeny Feldman)

Some time ago I wrote about the remarkable award-winning novelist, essayist, playwright Maxim Osipov, who is also a cardiologist at a small-town hospital in Tarusa, 90 miles outside Moscow. I’ve also written about Russian activist Alexei Navalny, who is now in prison once again, after a failed government attempt at poisoning. Now the American government is considering sanctions. Last week, Navalny’s legal defense team made public for the first time the full text of a Russian court ruling that outlawed Navalny’s political network as “extremist.” Meanwhile, the world is amazed at his heroism and wonders: How long can he go on? Day after day, month after month in captivity?

So what does the famous Russian writer have to say the Russian hero? From The Los Angeles Review of Books, translated by its editor, the gifted poet and writer Boris Dralyuk (we’ve written about him, too, here.)

An excerpt:

The good doctor’s advice: “Hold on.”

On January 13, 2021, when I learned that Alexei Navalny intended to return to Moscow, I posted the following to my Facebook page: “Once, at the circus, I saw a highwire act. The orchestra fell silent, and the audience did too. High up above our heads, a teenage boy was making his way along a nearly invisible tightrope. I was so afraid for him that I grew dizzy. And then a child’s voice burst through the silence: ‘Good boy! Hold on!” Today’s news inspired the same sense of dizziness, as well as the urge to shout like that child. …

Heroism as a gift, as a form of genius that cannot be faked or imitated — this is what elicits such admiration from one segment of the population and such envy from another (mostly male). It’s strange to envy a gift for politics as one might envy a gift for music or poetry, but it’s quite natural to envy personal heroism — natural and shameful. People, including those who nominally belong to the political opposition but haven’t discerned this envy in themselves, are now writing manifestos, expressing their disagreement with Navalny’s views. They fail to understand that this is no longer a matter of views. “I’m going out!” countless brave young people posted on social media after the Navalny trial, and then immediately took to the streets of their cities. Theirs was the only healthy way to respond, though it could land them in serious trouble.

Now the cheerfulness has evaporated, ceding way to profound despair. Navalny is in prison, being tortured with sleep deprivation, refused medical assistance. Every day brings darker, more depressing news. The political world has turned black and white. It’s pointless to reason in terms of right vs. left, parliamentary vs. presidential republic, nation state vs. empire. The nature of the conflict is plain as day: life vs. its absence, light vs. darkness. Society has been plunged into a state of moral catastrophe, of impotence, once again especially pronounced among men. Neither immersion in our work, nor retreat into our private lives, nor emigration can save us. Sure, there’s your small circle of friends, there’s Facebook — which has taken the place of real social institutions and fostered the illusion that we’re among our own kind — but take a closer look and you see Russian life shrinking, growing faint. First one, then another decides to leave: but how will that help Navalny and hundreds (if not thousands) of other political prisoners? No, even if you leave, even if you distance yourself from the tragedy, you won’t stop watching it. “We’ve got to do something…” “Well, we lived through the Soviet era…” “What does the Soviet era have to do with it? If you’re going to draw comparisons, then let’s talk about Germany in the mid-’30s…” These are the conversations that make up the whole of Russian life.

He ends as he begins, quietly, under his breath, whispering: good man, hold on Read it at all at the LARB here.