Alexei Navalny is what we need – but no longer have – in the United States: A political hero.
We have politicians, some better than others. But each one of them, from the lowliest member of the school board trying to shove critical race theory down our throats, to the president pale in comparison to this Russian dissident.
For years, Navalny has led a one-man crusade to expose corruption in Russia. He ran for office, losing in what were universally considered rigged elections. He’s been targeted for death. Nonetheless, this patriot who was living safely outside of his native country returned to Moscow earlier this month, and was promptly arrested. He is now in jail, for what was officially described as a 30-day term, but what might end up being a death sentence.
Navalny’s archenemy, President Vladimir Putin, has some experience with silencing dissidents. Putin is suspected in the murders of vocal critics over the years, including journalists who stepped too close to the flame.
And then there were the poisonings of political rivals, including former KGB agent Alexander Litivenenko, who died in one of the first documented cases of polonium poisoning. Litivenenko was a frightening example of Putin’s reach, since he was living in the U.K. at the time of his murder.
Navalny was also the target of a Putin assassination attempt. Last August, he became sick during a flight to Moscow. Evacuated to Berlin and hospitalized, he was diagnosed with a nerve agent in his system, irrefutable evidence of poisoning.
So what has Navalny done from behind prison walls? Has he kept silent in the hopes that he will be released and allowed to rejoin the resistance abroad?
The day after his arrest, Navalny’s network released the results of a mammoth investigation into Putin’s wealth, exposing a massive web of corruption.
Some call this political courage foolish. What purpose, they asked, could his martyrdom serve?
Last month, we celebrated the birthday of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. In life, he was a force of nature and a reckoning for the citizens of two separate Americas who could not reconcile their differences without fury and blood. And then, as a victim of that fury and in the crucible of that blood, he became a myth that resonates to this day.
That is what will happen to Alexei Navalny, if he does not leave that Moscow jail. His voice, powerful as it was even across the oceans, will become a constant crashing cymbal to those who want to listen, who care to pay attention and who cherish freedom. It motivated thousand and thousands all over the world to march with his name on their lips, demanding his freedom.
After the riots on Jan. 6, Democrats, politicians snapped into action. They sent out letters, they promised impeachment, they acted like protagonists of their own private Alamos with their claims of courage under fire. And they called for retribution, truth and “reconciliation.”
They pointed fingers at people who did not celebrate the election of Joe Biden. Conservatives, even those who had been critical of Donald Trump, were in the glare of some pitiless klieg lights. They were outed, shamed, shunned and in some cases slandered.
The most powerful Democrat and third-most important person in the U.S. government, Nancy Pelosi, accused members of the GOP of being the “enemy within,” poised to terrorize their Democratic colleagues in the House. The speaker did this with the support of many in her caucus and other progressives, like the petulant Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, who all but accused Ted Cruz of trying to murder her.
It is extremely troubling that very few people on the left have stood up to criticize this dangerous rhetoric, and rail against the silencing of dissenting voices.
One who did stand up was Alexei Navalny, who opposed the social media ban on Trump and tweeted out, “In my opinion, the decision to ban Trump was based on emotions and political preferences. Don’t tell me he was banned for violating Twitter rules. I get death threats here every day for many years, and Twitter doesn’t ban anyone (not that I ask for it).”
That is a profile in political courage, knowing that words are not bullets. It is therefore not surprising that the man who shamed Americans for being intimidated by words is using them, fiercely, in defense of his own people.
And he is doing it from the depths of a prison cell. To me, Navalny is actually free, and my cowed and cowardly fellow citizens are the ones in invisible, philosophical chains.
Political heroes, past present and future, would surely agree.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Delaware County Daily Times in Philadelphia and can be reached at email@example.com.