Alexey Navalny, the opposition politician sentenced on August 4 to an extra 19 years in prison for 'extremism', has released his first extended essay since the trial, expressing a deep disappointment with the past two decades of democratic politics in Russia. The full English text first appeared on his website. It is a scathing attack on the Russian liberals of the Yeltsin era, who in his eyes paved the way for Putin's dictatorship and the war in Ukraine. From prison he demands an answer.
In a prison court behind closed doors Alexey Navalny was sentenced to another 19 years in jail (picture SOTA)
by Alexey Navalny
I wanted to write about this for a long time. Well, let it be the first post after the new sentence. It’s like a confession. I need to get over this loathing and fear, maybe you can help me with this.
Loathing. People ask me a lot about it, and I started receiving letters again: do you hate the judge? Do you hate Putin even more? I have said many times before that hate is the main thing that must be overcome in prison. There are so many reasons for it, and your powerlessness is a strong catalyst for the process. So if you let it go, it will eat and end you up.
I’ll be honest, I have a hatred and I’ve got a lot of it. Old-users of the Internet will remember that meme: I fiercely, wildly hate it. Something like this. Most often I have it after 'trials'. The last one, by the way, where I got 19 years, was not one of those. There, on the contrary, we all competed in showering each other with pleasantries. During the whole process, no one raised their voice once. This is the most dangerous kind of judge: they give you 19 years in prison, and will also make you sympathize with them.
I get furious after the sessions of the local district court. There are simple cases, there is no space for legal tricks, and the judges simply and frankly say about the black: 'Oh this is white, look, the reference says white' and make demonstratively illegal decisions.
Sometimes I can’t stand it and yell at some 'judge' Samoilov, but it’s not him I hate with my great hatred. Not the cops, not the outlaw thieves from the colony. Not the FSB officers who command them. You’ll be surprised, but not even Putin. At times like this, I hate people I previously loved. For whom I stood up, for whom I argued to the hilt. I also hate myself that once I loved them.
Look. I am sitting in my SHIZO [isolation cell in the colony - ed.] and reading a book by Natan Sharansky, Fear No Evil (I recommend it). Sharansky was jailed in the USSR for nine years, and in 1986 he was exchanged. He went to Israel, created a party, achieved great succes. In general, he’s a cool guy. By the way, he spent 400 days in punishment cells and SHIZO. I really can’t imagine how he survived.
So, Sharansky describes the arrest and the investigation. 1977. I was one year old at the time. The book was published in the USSR in 1991. I was 15 years old at the time. Now I am 47, and while reading his book, I sometimes shake my head to get rid of the feeling that I am reading my personal file. For example the SHIZO/PKT building — is a separate barrack behind the barbed wire. [PKT is a 'cell-type confinement', a prison within a prison, meant for persistent rule-breakers and serves as a marginally less harsh version of SHIZO for up to six months - ed]. The maximum term in the SHIZO is 15 days. I was not surprised when after several '15 days' in a row I was transferred as a persistent offender to a PKT for six months. It was exactly the same.
In the introduction (I remind you, the year is 1991), Sharansky writes that it is in prisons that the virus of free-thinking persists, and he hopes that the KGB will not find 'an antidote to this virus'. Sharansky was wrong. The antidote was found. The antidote that now, in 2023, Russia seems to have more political prisoners than in the Brezhnev-Andropov times.
What has the KGB got to do with it? There was no creeping or overt coup in our country led by people from the special services. They did not come to power by pushing the democrat reformers out of power. They did it themselves. They called them themselves. They invited them themselves. They taught them how to fake elections. How to steal property from entire industries. How to lie to the media. How to change laws to suit themselves. How to suppress opposition by force. Even how to organize idiotic, stupid, talentless wars.
There was no creeping coup in our country by the special services. They did not come to power by pushing the democrat reformers out of power. They [the reformers] did it themselves.
That is why I can’t help it and I fiercely hate those who sold, drank, and wasted the historical chance that our country had in the early 90s. I hate Yeltsin and 'Tanya and Valya' [Yeltin's daughter Tatyana and his son in law Valentin Yumashev in the late Yeltsin years became very influential in the Kremlin - ed.] , Chubais [Anatoly Chubais was Yeltsin's privatisation king - ed.], and the rest of the corrupt family who put Putin in power.
I hate the swindlers, whom we used to call reformers for some reason. Now it is very clear that they did nothing but intrigue and take care of their own wealth. Is there any other country where so many Ministers of the 'Government of Reforms' became millionaires and billionaires? I hate the authors of the most stupid authoritarian constitution [in 1993 Yeltsin changed Russia from a parliamentary to a presidential republic - ed.], which they sold to us idiots as democratic, even then giving the president the power of a full-fledged monarch.
Living conditions in a punishment cell. Illustration Anastasia Krainiuk, Mediazona
No judicial reforms
I especially hate everyone for the fact that there was not even a serious attempt to remove the basis of lawlessness — to carry out judicial reform, without which all other reforms are doomed to failure. I am studying this a lot now. In 1991, the RSFSR [Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic - the official name of the biggest of the Soviet Republics of the USSR - ed.] adopted a good concept of judicial reform, but already in 1993, counter-reforms aimed at building a judicial vertical began.
At that time, all political forces wanted honest courts. There was a complete consensus in society. If an independent judiciary had been established, a new usurpation of power would have been impossible or very difficult. So make no mistake: the thing that is now dashingly handing out 8–15–20 year sentences to innocent people started to be built long before Putin. Now it is clear: no one in the Kremlin and the government of the 90s wanted an independent court. That’s because such a court would have been a barrier to corruption, election fraud, and the transformation of governors and mayors into irremovable princes.
During a constitutional crisis Boris Yeltsin in January 1993 ordered the shelling of the White House, the Russian parliament
I hate the 'independent media' and the 'democratic society' that provided full support for one of the most dramatic turning points in our new history — the fraudulent presidential election of 1996. Again, I was an active supporter of all this at the time. Not election fraud, of course — I wouldn’t have liked it even then, but I did my best to ignore it, and the general unfairness of the election didn’t embarrass me even for a bit. Now we are paying for the fact that in 1996 we thought that election fraud was not always a bad thing. The end justified the means.
Now it is clear: no one in the Kremlin and the government of the 90s wanted an independent court
I hate oligarch Gusinsky (even if he is no longer an oligarch) because he blatantly hired Bobkov, the deputy head of the KGB, who was responsible for persecuting dissidents. [Filip Bobkov was in charge of the 5th Main Directorate responsible for the repression of Soviet dissidents - ed.] They thought it was a joke at the time: ha-ha, he put innocent people in jail, and now he works for me. Kind of like a bear in a livery. So not only was there no lustration, there was the encouragement of villains. Now, literally, those people who worked for Bobkov as young employees are putting [opposition politician Ilya Yashin - ed.] Yashin, [opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza - ed.] Kara-Murza, and me in jail.
Navalny behind bars (picture twitter)
Putsch and shooting of parliament
We often hear that the Yeltsin government could not do anything because they were opposed by the Communists in the parliament. Nevertheless, this did not prevent the mortgage auctions of 1996, but for some reason it prevented judicial reform and reform of the security services.
I hate the entire leadership of Russia, which in 1991 (after the putsch) and in 1993 (after the shooting of the parliament) had absolute power and did not even try to make obvious democratic reforms. For example, what was done in the Czech Republic (where there is now a democracy and an average salary of 1,760 euros), Poland (democracy and average salary of 1,680 euros), Estonia (democracy and an average salary of 1,810 euros), Lithuania (democracy and an average salary of 1,959 euros) and other Eastern European countries. Of course, different people were in power then. Good people, honest and sincere too. However, this tiny minority, whose desperate and unsuccessful struggle only shows us even better the corruption and shamelessness of the power elite back then.
It was not with Putin in 2011 but with Yeltsin, Chubais, oligarchs, and the entire Komsomol-party gang that called themselves 'democrats' that we went not to Europe, but to Central Asia in 1994. We exchanged our European future for the villas of 'Tanya and Valya' on the 'millionaires island' of St. Barth. When Putin’s KGB/FSB officers got free access to political posts, they didn’t have to do anything. They just looked around and exclaimed in amazement: Wait, was that allowed? If the rules of the game are like this, so that it is possible to steal, lie, falsify, censor, and all courts are under our control, then we will have a pretty good turnaround here.
The goat in the warehouse
We let the goat in the cabbage warehouse, and then we wonder why it ate all the cabbage. It is a goat, its mission and goal is to eat cabbage, it can’t think of anything else. It is useless to agitate him. Similarly, Putin’s FSB official can’t think of anything else but to build a huge house and imprison those they don’t like. I can’t stand the goat, but I hate those who let it in the cabbage warehouse.
[Like his predecessors] Putin’s FSB official can’t think of anything else but to build a huge house and imprison those they don’t like
Though, of course, I realize that it’s better to not hate anyone at all, but to think about how not to do it again. Here comes my greatest fear. I don’t just believe, I know that Russia will still have a chance. This is a historical process. We will again be at a crossroads.
In horror and cold sweat, I jump up in my bunk at night, when I think that we had a chance again, but we again went the same way as in the 90s. Following the 'ends justify the means' sign. Where it is written in small letters: 'faking elections is not always a bad thing', 'look at these people, what kind of juries are they?', 'it doesn’t matter that he is a thief, but he is a technocrat and stands up for bicycle lanes', 'give these people a free hand, they will choose anything they want', 'the government is still the only European in Russia', and other wisdom of enlightened authoritarianism.
What I have written about the 90s is not a historical exercise, reflection or meaningless complaining. It is the most important and most urgent issue of political strategy for all supporters of the European path and democratic development. I was impressed by the large collection of different opinions about our investigation of Alexey Venediktov [ex-editor-in-chief of opposition radiostation Ekho Moskvy - ed.] and Ksenia Sobchak [daughter of Leningrad mayor Anatoly Sobchak, teacher and employer of the young Putin - ed.]. They received tens and hundreds of millions of rubles [the ruble exchange rate currently is 100 rubles for $1 - ed.] from the budget fund, which served as a common fund for the United Russia party. Venediktov received 550 million right at the time when he was in charge of the observation headquarters and directly organized the theft of votes. He was the face, the agitator, and the monitor of electronic voting, the purpose of which is to take your vote and put it in the stack of the United Russia party’s candidate.
Yeltsin regains power after the failed coup against Gorbachev of August 1991
The falsifications of the early electronic voting system have been thoroughly proven and are beyond any doubt. So, I was amazed to find a significant number of people for whom neither the elements of the scheme 'money from the common fund and election fraud' nor their combination 'money from common fund during election fraud' are either defamatory or significant. Come on, that’s bullshit. Yes, something was going on there, but there is no proof that he was paid to falsify the elections — just paid and just falsified. This was all back in the mammoth times. It started as far back as 2019. No one remembers anymore. None of that matters, the important thing is that he is now 'against the war'. As one of the tweets clearly says, 'What’s the big deal?' — as a national idea.
This is just an exclusive example, but it, like the situation with Murzagulov, like Khodorkovsky’s calls to take up arms and join Prigozhin’s troops, shows perfectly well that even now, in the year of 2023, during the repressions, imprisonments, and war, loyalty to principles is still questioned in our country and is seen by many as naive, romantic, and generally as a 'white coat'. Personal loyalty, corporate affiliation, and old friendships are seen by many as more important.
Even during the repressions, imprisonments and war loyalty to principles is seen as naive and romantic. Personal loyalty, corporate affiliation, and old friendships are more important
I am not suggesting in any way that Alexey Venediktov should be shot, hanged, or carefully trimmed. There is no need for any brutality. However, it is possible to NOT APPROVE what he has done (and does by keep telling us that the early electronic voting was not falsified), and not consider him a political ally. Because, excuse me, if our political ally is someone who sells our votes to the United Russia party, then who are we anyway, what are we here for?
Let’s all join United Russia then. We’ll create a fraction of hardcore Sobyaninists (that’s what I call them) [Sergey Sobyanin, mayor of Moscow, is a powerful Kremlin-loyalist - ed.], the basis is already there. Every hero of the ACF investigations will be immediately justified by the Dream Team: Ksenia Sobchak (one), Alexey Venediktov, Maxim Katz and Kirill Martynov, a former Nashi activist and now head of Novaya Gazeta for some reason. Everything will be fine. There will be plenty of money. We, solid Sobyaninists, demand: immediately take the bad Putin away from us and give us the good Sobyanin and [prime minister - ed.] Mishustin, Shuvalov, and Liksutov.
Sergey Sobyanin, mayor of Moscow since 2010, with Vladimir Putin at the opening of a new metro line (picture Mos.ru)
Window of opportunity
So don’t doubt it. Tomorrow we will have a new chance — that window of opportunity, and tomorrow we will have to deal with those who think that elections should be canceled or falsified ('God forbid extremists will be elected'). It is okay to bribe journalists ('we don’t pay anyone, we just asked an oligarch we know to buy this TV channel'), courts should be kept on the hook ('or they will bribe judges and juries'), the personnel base of the government should not be changed ('they are professionals, we should not recruit people from the street'), and so on. Up to the point that the contract for the construction of that bridge over there should be given not to a tender, but to a 'reliable contractor' with whom we have been working for a long time. Those with such ideas will not be Putinists or Communists at all — they will once again call themselves democrats and liberals.
Real life is complicated, hard and full of compromises with unpleasant people. However, at least we ourselves should not become unpleasant people and welcome corruption and cynical fraud even before circumstances require compromise.
I am very afraid that the battle for principles may be lost again under the slogans of 'realpolitik'. Please advise me on how to get rid of this hatred and fear. I would be very interested in reading some of your thoughts on this. I’ll ask for feedback to be sent to me, if there is any. For now, it seems to me, there is nothing better to do than to stay true to yourself and tirelessly explain to people with numerous examples (I highly recommend the book Spin Dictators by Guriev and Treisman) that democratic principles — pragmatism, independent judiciary, fair elections and equality of all before the law — are the best mechanisms of harsh real life on the way to prosperity.
Only when the vast majority of the Russian opposition consists of those who under no circumstances accept fake elections, improper judicial proceedings, and corruption, then we will be able to make the right use of the chance that will surely come again. So that no one in 2055 will be reading Sharansky’s book in the SHIZO, thinking: Wow, it’s just like me.