Commentary on Political Economy

Saturday 2 March 2024

 Serge Schmemann

March 1, 2024

Editorial Board Member

Every Rose at Navalny’s Funeral Was a Rebuke to Putin

The spectacle of Alexei Navalny’s funeral on Friday must have filled Vladimir Putin with fury.

He had done everything to silence Navalny, to crush any hint of disobedience from his followers, to eradicate any questioning of his war. And yet Putin could do nothing to prevent thousands of Russians from lining up in a dreary, remote Moscow district to pay their last respects to their fallen hero, to chant “No to the war!” and to defy the massed police in full riot gear.

I remember a similar outpouring of silent defiance in the Soviet Union, after the enormously popular balladeer and actor Vladimir Vysotsky died, when thousands of grieving Muscovites spontaneously gathered outside the theater where he worked. Vysotsky’s ballads spoke to the misery of ordinary Soviet lives, and at that moment popular grief overcame fear. The grief for Navalny was even greater: He spoke to an acute, simmering frustration among many Russians with what Putin has done to them and their country.

They may not be the majority in Russia. Putin still seems to command support among the millions of rural, less-educated Russians who believe in his propaganda about a hostile world out there that only he can hold at bay. But the mile-long line of people, most of them young and many with a clutch of roses, inching across the colorless, slush-covered streets of the southeastern Maryino district, were the people Putin continues to fear.

They gathered in other Russian cities, too, though they knew they would be photographed; they knew that Putin in his fury would seek revenge against them. Yet they walked past the lines of police officers and piled their roses at the grave and nodded to Navalny’s parents, sitting stoically alongside, some whispering, “Thank you for your son.” It was the mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, who had demanded that Putin release her son for burial in Moscow, rather than in a hole at the remote Arctic labor camp where he died on Feb. 16.

When Mr. Navalny’s coffin was lowered into the ground, Frank Sinatra’s defiant version of “My Way” blared from loudspeakers. “I did what I had to do … I did it my way….” That was what people loved in Navalny, his refusal to bend. One Russian interviewed by an independent Russian online broadcaster said the long line of defiant mourners were evidence that “hope remains, that Russia has a chance for a future.”

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