This evening, 21 April, crowds will gather in Russian cities in support of Aleksei Navalny, who is gravely ill and on hunger strike in a prison colony in Moscow Region. They face practical obstacles, police violence, arrest, prison, and the (understandably) averted gaze of many fellow-citizens.
I echo their call that Navalny be allowed his legal right to proper medical treatment and access to an independent doctor.
I admire the courage of Navalny and of all those Russians who speak up in his defence. They embody historic Russian virtues: sincerity, conscience, justice, community.
In one month’s time, on 22-23 May, independent members of municipal and regional parliaments plan to hold a ‘Congress of the Land’ in Novgorod. The phrase and the location deliberately recall medieval and early modern assemblies, which are a glimmer of democracy in the historical record.
Another preoccupation of Russian history — the radiant future — animates the slogans of Navalny’s lieutenants in the Fund to Combat Corruption (FBK): Russia will be free, Russia will be happy. Even so, the FBK has been declared an extremist organization and its local offices broken up.
Despite the risks and uncertainty of current events, a useable Russian history is still embedded in Russian life. It has nothing to do with wars, invasions or diplomatic brinkmanship. Instead, all of the people I mention in this post are a true connection between Russia’s past, present and future.