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Navalny’s value

Aleksei Anatolyevich Navalny was, in one way or another, assassinated by Vladimir Putin’s regime. Many thought that his days were numbered, since for years signs had proliferated that the Russian authorities intended to end his life. Just one month before the next presidential elections in Russia, Navalny began his fourth consecutive year in prison. And his case could get even more uncomfortable. This terrible fact necessarily calls us to reflect.

A persistent opponent

Navalny dedicated his public career to questioning Putin’s regime (and Dmitri Medvedev’s brief interregnum) through social networks. His strength was unleashed when he became an extremely popular blogger who denounced the corruption of the high ranks of the Russian autocracy. His political career began early. For eight years (1999-2007), after completing his university studies in finance, Navalny worked in the liberal-oriented Я́блоко (‘apple’) party . Although he essentially shared the ideology of the party, his nationalism and vehement opposition to immigration led him to leave said organization.

In December 2011 he was arrested for two weeks, after gathering several tens of thousands of followers who protested the irregularities committed in the legislative elections held that same month. By then he had already created the Anticorruption Foundation, from which he produced several books and documentaries. With them he accused Medvedev, considered by many to be a puppet of Putin who served as president of the Russian Federation between 2008 and 2012. Navalny was not only imprisoned on new occasions, but also began to suffer physical attacks. In mid-2019, after going to prison, he reported a first poisoning attempt after experiencing strange skin reactions.

Sacrifice for a cause

These serious warnings, however, failed to stop the dissident, who continued his work. A year later, on August 20, 2020, the passenger plane in which he was traveling to Moscow had to make an emergency landing due to the worrying symptoms that Navalni suddenly presented. Immediately, the governments of Paris and Berlin requested the possibility of hosting him. Moscow agreed and the next day he was taken to a hospital in the German capital, where it was effectively determined that he had been poisoned.

But it will be an unusual event that will define his destiny, as well as the meaning of his entire life: five months later, on January 17, 2021, Navalni returns with his wife to Russia, despite the authorities of that country warning him. publicly that they would capture him as soon as he got off the plane. Despite the protests that took place a few days later in more than a hundred Russian cities, Navalny was taken from one prison to another. Meanwhile, his guilt for the charges against him was judicially determined, in a very predictable manner.

The conditions of his captivity progressively worsened. Isolation, poor nutrition, sleep deprivation, extreme cold and other forms of punishment led to their hunger strikes. Finally, in December 2023 he was transferred to a penal colony located in the remote and frozen town of Kharp, where he died last week.

Finitude and meaning of life

With his death, Navalni forces us to think about the meaning of life. We all know that we are going to die, although we rarely know when and how. Except for the most extreme situations, the intermediate and unpredictable nature of death tends to distance it from our daily thoughts. However, for human beings, living is not simply existing. What is characteristic of human living is the possibility of choosing; It is the challenge and obligation to build a personal story endowed with some meaning, within the framework of the limitations that reality imposes on us. Consequently, it is our common mortality that drives us to search for the meaning of our lives.

Since life is made up of actions, the meaning we give to these usually shapes that of our life in general. But actions have no intrinsic meaning. Through the faculty of judgment we are granting it to you on two levels that we could call dialogic. One is the collective level, where the community judges the value of the individual’s action, while the other is the level of the individual, who in dialogue with himself judges the value of his own actions. In both cases, the meaning of the action is usually determined by the value that we assign to it, where the term value assumes its double meaning of usefulness and courage.

Significance of a decision

Those who always act based on collective judgment tend to adapt to the current order and reinforce it. Whoever, on the other hand, seeks to behave in accordance with his own conscience, not only conquers himself, but also exercises and reaffirms the consciousness of his individual existence, thus converting it into a fully human life. That is why it is usually assumed that action developed according to one’s own conscience requires great courage. That is why Socrates also said that a life without examination is not worth living. Sometimes, however, conscience can dictate imperatives so demanding that they put life itself at risk, as has happened with Navalni.

Jorge Luis Borges, in one of his stories from El Aleph, wrote that « any destiny, no matter how long and complicated it may be, actually consists of “a single moment”: the moment in which man knows forever who he is ». For Navalni, that moment possibly came when she decided to return to Russia at the beginning of 2021. Such a decision shocks those who know her, due to the serenity and almost suicidal character with which she approached that tragic destiny, as well as the question about of its usefulness. The enormous courage required to take that step is unquestionable, understanding here courage as bravery, but can we say that the sacrifice was useful, that it was worth it? In political terms, what were the concrete results that this decision managed to bring about?

The remaining example

In an era of hyperconnectivity like the current one, dictatorships have replaced collective massacres with punishment of the most exemplary individuals. This initiative is cruelly effective as long as the actions of said individuals do not awaken an effective reaction from society against the authoritarian system. The usual thing, however, is that the weight of what Étienne de la Boétie called voluntary servitude imposes itself, unfortunately, on everything else.

Now, even when that happens, the courage of people like Navalni continues to challenge us in depth. Decisions like yours come from the personal need for one’s actions to live up to the ethical commitments one imposes on oneself. In other words, Navalny did not let himself down. In that attachment to his conscience lies the exemplarity and value of his actions, as well as the ultimate meaning of his life. On the other hand, only God knows how many consciences will be ignited by the spark of his determination, or how far the direct or indirect consequences of his example will reach. We all know that without people like Navalni, freedom today would be nothing more than a chimera. It depends on us that this possibility does not end up becoming reality.

*Text originally published on Diálogo Político


Otros artículos del autor

Profesor de Estudios Políticos en la Universidad Austral de Chile. Doctor en Conflicto Político y Procesos de Pacificación por la Universidad Complutense de Madrid.


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