Live according to Navalny’s behest. Anna Rose – about the art of not being afraid

“I’m not afraid, and don’t be afraid,” is a photograph constantly before my eyes in which Alexey Navalny holds a sheet of paper with these words in front of the glass. His call sounds like a testament to all Russians during the years of the most terrible crime, which is being committed in our name. The war started by Putin with the support or tacit consent of the people makes everyone an accomplice in the actions of the criminal president.

However, where can you find the strength to stop being afraid? After all, the mind helpfully offers thousands of reasons to calm the conscience. “We can’t do anything because we are cogs in the system, we need to feed our children, we need to earn money, we need to think about the future.” But what kind of future can we talk about if we don’t change?

The murder of Navalny – even if it happened “by accident”, even if Putin did not aim at the back of his head – is on everyone’s conscience. The criminal war is on the conscience of Putin and each of us. Those who consider themselves part of society must take responsibility. Otherwise, as Hannah Arendt said, we must stop considering ourselves part of it and abandon this society.

Those living in Russia may also cease to be part of society. How to do this? Very simple. Do not participate in the functioning of his mechanisms, do not help him with daily work. This is too much of a demand, but such non-participation in crime is the only correct line of behavior.

Emigrants do their best to intimidate those who remain

What did Navalny mean by “don’t be afraid”? It’s not just scary to go out on the street with a poster. It’s not just scary to write something on social networks. It’s also scary to stop working in a familiar place, where everything seems to be the same as always: the same colleagues, the same salary, the same silence. It’s scary to talk about the main thing, the only important thing now, among your friends, colleagues and acquaintances.

Ironically, this fear is supported by Russians critical of Putin from abroad. The emigrants made it their duty to keep a scrupulous record of the regime’s crimes. Hundreds of media outlets opposed to him, which are distributed via the Internet (there has not been such a flourishing of dissident thought in Russia for a long time), daily publish information about fines and arrests, and these statistics fall upon Russians from thousands of telegram channels and posts on social networks.

Recently, my old journalism teacher, when asked why she always interrupts the conversation when I start talking about the war, although she is alone in the apartment, told me that phones are tapped. She read about this on social networks. When asked what she personally fears, the experienced journalist said that what is written about in opposition telegram channels: fines, detentions.

At congresses of Russian activists regularly held in Berlin, they also talk about terrible repressions, about the impossibility of fighting in Russia, about the fact that you can’t go out into the streets, write posts on social networks, or talk to people. Otherwise – what? Fines, prison. Introducing the emigrants, the German media write: “They had to leave Russia into exile.” At the same time, many of the “expelled” continue to travel to their homeland.

The emigrants do their best to intimidate those who remain. Instead of calling for resistance, they write about how dangerous it is, emphasizing the horror of possible punishment, rather than the need to fight.

I cannot understand why many compatriots are unable to hear the call of the fearless Navalny. Wittingly or unwittingly justifying their emigration, they become a tool in the hands of Putin. “If I were him, I would pay for it,” a German friend told me.

At one of the demonstrations for the release of Vladimir Kara-Murza and other political prisoners, organized last fall by Sitting Russia, there was a poster with the number 585. There were so many political prisoners in Russia at that time. Now there are already about 800 of them, according to OVD-Info. There are also several journalists among them.

After this demonstration, I convinced emigrants on Facebook that so far in Russia it is not as dangerous as they imagine. The Russian regime is far from being as repressive as Hitler’s, with which it is constantly compared, not as bloody as Stalin’s, with which we, Russians, should compare it, not as Iranian, and not even as Turkish. Mockery and indignation were my answer.

I think this is a consequence of the self-centeredness of Russian critics of the Putin regime and the war. There are about 20 thousand political prisoners in Iran. In 2023 alone, the Iranian regime executed 834 people. During just one of the demonstrations, more than a hundred participants were killed. About 88 million people live in Iran, about 140 million in Russia. In Turkey, after the failed coup in 2013, 54 thousand people were captured. Over the years, the Erdogan regime has built 269 new prisons. Dozens of journalists are behind bars. “I know the prison, I’m not afraid to go there,” one of them tells the Berlin newspaper Taz. Almost five thousand lawyers received various sentences in Turkey. For comparison: the German Foreign Ministry issued a little over a hundred humanitarian visas to Iranians, only seven to Turkish citizens, and 2,000 to Russian citizens.

It is in Putin’s interests to split those who criticize him, to make people numb with horror

In the German press, I did not see a stream of interviews with Iranian and Turkish oppositionists in which they talked about bloody repressions. I don’t know if this is due to another culture. Perhaps Russians are more inclined to feel sorry for themselves and highlight their suffering? Or is this due to an underlying desire to justify their emigration after February 22? An unpleasant aftertaste remained from the congress, at which compatriots called themselves “good Russians” and demanded that the European Union accept the “exiles.” The demand was heard in Germany. They always help oppressed and endangered critics of all kinds of regimes. Perhaps the Iranians and Turks did not shout enough, they did not demand so loudly. Apparently they don’t talk enough about the danger in their countries. Because, despite the massive scale of repression, demonstrations are still taking place in Turkey and Iran. There are numerous opposition media outlets in Turkey, whose journalists are constantly at risk of imprisonment. Iranian directors still make critical films in their homeland, risking losing not only their freedom, but also their lives.

Apparently, this is what Navalny had in mind when he called not to be afraid. However, fear is irrational and illogical. It will take a long time until Russians stop being afraid to write posts on social networks and express their opinions at university and at work. First, critics of the Putin regime need to stop intimidating their fellow citizens.

However, repeating Navalny’s call can also be scary, because the response will certainly be a contemptuous and arrogant proposal to go to Russia and go out on the streets there. This is evidence of the immorality that has reigned since Stalin’s times and the impossibility of consolidation in society. After all, in essence, those who are interested in changing the regime are fighting against each other. Moreover, those who silence those who call not to be afraid (their motives are not clear to me) also defend fear.

It is in Putin’s interests to split those who criticize him, to make people numb with horror. And Putin manages this much easier than his colleagues in Iran and Turkey. Both Russian critics of the regime who left and those who remained are largely doing the work that other autocrats and dictators had to do with greater effort and harsher measures. The call of the victim of the Putin regime, Alexei Navalny, remains unheard and ununderstood by the majority.

I am not surprised by the reaction of Ukrainians who refuse to cooperate with Russian emigrants or do not shake hands with them, ridiculing the phrase “good Russians.” Who, if not them, should know what courage is. Those who defend Russians who are afraid of losing their jobs apparently lack the imagination to understand what it is like to go to war to drive an aggressor from their land. Going to war means coming to terms with the possibility of death or injury. Giving up your previous job is only a loss of comfort and social security. Ukrainians understand why they have the right to despise Russians. And I understand Ukrainians.

Anna Rose – Berlin journalist, correspondent for Radio Liberty in Germany

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