Alexei Navalny, Russian opposition leader, recently deceased



Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who recently died in a Russian prison, had been carrying on a correspondence with Israeli politician and former prisoner of Zion Natan Sharansky, the Free Press has reported.

Free In Captivity

After managing to get a copy of Sharansky’s memoir, Fear No Evil, through his lawyers, Navalny read it in the “Polar Wolf” arctic penal colony where he died under dubious circumstances according to the report.

This fact is contained in two letters Navalny wrote to Sharansky, in March and April 2023. In the letters, Navalny discusses the memoir, and also quotes the Bible, writing that “what has been will be again” and adds that he “continues to believe that we will fix this and that one day in Russia there will be what has not been.”

Sharansky told Israel Hayom after the disclosure of the correspondence (both letters were printed in full by Free Press) that “Alexei Navalny was dangerous to the Russian tyrant [Vladimir Putin] for two reasons: He did more than anyone else to expose the nature of the Russian dictatorship to the eyes of hundreds of millions of people, and he challenged the system. Navalny proved that it is possible to remain a free man until your last breath in prison.”

Navalny Writes

In the first letter, dated March 30, 2023, Navalny writes: “I am now in penal colony IK-6 ‘Melekhovo,’ but from the Vladimirskaya prison they are writing to me that a cell is being prepared for me there. So I will likely find myself in the same facility that you were in. Only now there will probably be a plaque saying “Natan Sharansky was held here.”

“Please forgive the intrusion and a letter from a stranger, but I believe it’s permissible in author-reader relations,” he continues. “I am writing as a reader. I have just read your book … while I was held in the PKT [solitary confinement]. And now I am writing from SHIZO [a punishment cell]—it will be 128 days in total. I was laughing when I was reading the passage where you wrote, ‘I was penalized with a series of 15 days at SHIZO, and then, as an offender who broke prison rules, they sent me to the PKT for 6 months.’ I was amused by the fact that neither the essence of the system nor the pattern of its acts has changed.”

Modernized Authoritarianism

The memoir “has helped me a lot” writes Navalny. “Yes, I am at SHIZO now, but when reading about your 400 days spent in the ‘punishment cell’ on decreased food rations, one understands that there are people who pay much higher prices for their convictions. I look at the postcards sent to you by [your wife] Avital, all the words have been blacked out. Then I go to court where they try to convince me that burning the letters that were sent to me is legal. After all, there was a ‘code’ embedded in them.

The most important thing, he continues, “is to arrive at the correct conclusions, so that this state of lies and hypocrisy does not enter a new cycle. In the preface of the 1991 edition you write that dissidents in prisons have kept the ‘virus of freedom’ and it is important to prevent the KGB from inventing a vaccine against it. Alas, they have invented it. But in the current situation, it is not them who are to blame, but us, who naively thought that there was no going back to the old ways. And for the sake of good, it’s okay to rig elections a little bit here, or influence the courts a little bit there, and stifle the press a bit over here.

“These little things, and the belief that it is possible to modernize authoritarianism, are the ingredients of this vaccine.

“Nonetheless, the ‘virus of freedom’ is far from being eradicated. It is no longer tens or hundreds as before, but tens and hundreds of thousands who are not scared to speak out for freedom and against the war [Russia’s war against Ukraine], despite the threats. Hundreds of them are in prisons, but I am confident that they will not be broken and they will not give up.

“And many of them draw strength and inspiration from your story and your legacy.

“I am definitely one of them.

“My thanks to you.”

Navalny concludes the letter with the words “Next year in Jerusalem,” written in Cyrillic letters.

Sharansky Replies

Sharansky’s five-page reply, dated April 3, 2023, is also very moving.

“Dear esteemed Aleksei,

“I experienced a kind of shock receiving a letter from you. The thought itself that it came directly from SHIZO, where you have already spent 128 days, excites in a way that an old man would be excited, receiving a letter from his ‘alma mater,’ the university where he spent many years of his youth.

“I respond to you not only as an ‘author to reader,’ but also as your admirer.”

Sharansky recounts that his book was published when the Soviet Union was already in the process of disintegration, and that therefore, with the passage of time, was increasingly read as a historical novel “about the Dark Middle Ages.”

“And now—‘the idiot’s dream has come true!’” he writes with bitter irony, referring to the Putin regime.

“Aleksei, you are not just a dissident—you are a dissident “with a style”! Sharansky writes. “My horror over your poisoning changed to amazement and exhilaration when you started your own independent investigation. [After recovering in Germany, Navalny and his team published a massive investigation into Putin’s secret palace, and also exposed the assassination squad].

“I was very angered by the question of a certain European correspondent the day after your return to Russia. ‘Why did he return? We all knew that he would be arrested in the airport—does he not understand such simple things?’ My answer was pretty rude: ‘You’re the one who doesn’t understand something. If you think that his goal is survival—then you are right. But his true concern is the fate of his people—and he is telling them: ‘I am not afraid and you should not be afraid either.’

“I wish to you—no matter how hard it may be physically—to maintain your inner freedom.”

Sharansky concludes the letter (written just before Passover) by wishing him and all of Russia an “exodus from Egypt.”

Originally published by Israel Hayom.