Steve Rosenberg: What Navalny's Funeral Tells Us About Russia Today

  • By Steve Rosenberg
  • Russia teacher

image caption,

Alexei Navalny is one of Putin's most outspoken critics

We see events and we report on them. But in the age of 24-hour news, there is no golden time for journalists to pause, take a breath, and take in what has happened.

Since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, I've been filing non-stop for TV, radio and the BBC News website.

At 2am the next morning, after my last TV live of the day, I stop and try to take stock of the moment's enormity. Same goes for Alexei Navalny.

I talked about the problems his family faced trying to recover his body; I spoke to the Muscovites with floral tributes to him.

On Friday I saw Navalny's coffin being carried into a Moscow church. I saw thousands of Russians lining up to pay their last respects.

video title,

Watch: “Nobody's Afraid” – Crowds at Navalny's Funeral

I saw his supporters throwing roses and carnations on the corpse before going to the cemetery.

But only once I saw his coffin lowered into the grave, Navalny's death finally, fully hit home.

Tributes continued today as Russians, including Navalny's mother Lyudmila, visited Borisov's grave and laid flowers at his grave.

I'm thinking about the extraordinary sights I saw yesterday and what they tell us – if anything – about Russia today.

Given the current wave of repression against dissenting voices, it's unclear how many Russians will come out to say goodbye to a staunch critic of the Kremlin.

image caption,

People laid a steady stream of flowers at Navalny's grave at Borisovskoye Cemetery.

Hundreds of people have been detained by police at events commemorating Navalny across Russia in recent days.

As I spoke to young and old people queuing outside the church, they spoke of their hope that Navalny had given them a better, brighter future for their country.

They advocated freedom, democracy and peace.

image caption,

Lyudmila Navalnaya, mother of the late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, mourns next to her son's grave at a cemetery on the outskirts of Moscow.

Then, after the invasion of Ukraine, there were cries of “Freedom for political prisoners!”, unheard on Russian streets. People chanted slogans like and “No War!”

It struck me that here was Russia, which had been out of public view for two years; Russia, which does not support Vladimir Putin or the war in Ukraine, wants to be a democracy.

This is in stark contrast to the Russia shown on state television: Russia is rabidly anti-Western, pro-Putin, full-square behind “special military action” in Ukraine and embracing authoritarianism at home.

The question I am left with is this: Were yesterday's scenes the death embers of liberal democracy in Russia, a “last hurrah” for freedom of expression before it is extinguished altogether?

Those in power here may believe so.

image caption,

Russians gather to pay their respects to late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny during his funeral.

They are certainly working hard to achieve it, adopting repressive laws designed to silence and punish dissent.

In two weeks, President Putin will not face a serious challenger in Russia's presidential election — his staunchest critics are off the polls.

image caption,

President Vladimir Putin is widely tipped to win a fifth term as Russians head to the polls in the country's presidential election.

After what is expected to be declared a “landslide” victory, officials will portray President Putin and his policies as highly popular and dismiss his critics as a minority of the Russian public.

But, here's the thing. Russians who vote for him, I am told, do not do so because they are excited by his policies or his vision of Russia: they see no alternative.

This is what the Kremlin wanted to achieve by removing all serious rivals from the political stage.

What I saw on the streets of Moscow on the day of Mr Navalny's funeral was very different: genuine support for a politician who had inspired a segment of the Russian population with an alternative vision for Russia.

Mr Navalny is dead. But for these people, the desire for a different Russia is very much alive.

See also  Gabon coup: Military authorities put the president under house arrest

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *