DANIIL MARTIKAINEN-JARLUKOVSKI Navalny has become a martyr. This gives the opposition new opportunities

Daniil Martikainen-Jarlukovski
, University of Tartu student
Photo: Ragnar Peets
  • This Tuesday, Alexei Navalny would have turned 48.
  • The Russian government erred in imposing the death penalty and failed in achieving its goal.

Alexei Navalny managed to do contradictory and questionable things, but after he was killed, no one pays attention to them. His popularity has increased since his death and he has become a martyr who is not criticized, writes Daniil Martikainen-Jarlukovski, a student at the University of Tartu.

Tuesday would have been the birthday of Alexei Navalny. He would have turned 48, but Vladimir Putin had him killed in prison. While Navalny had been the best-known leader of the Russian opposition also before, after his death his reputation began to rise a lot. In the aftermath, the West's support for the actions of the opposition in general increased.

For example, Joe Biden met with Navalny's family, which is an unprecedented level for the entire Russian opposition. Recently, Yulia Navalnaya met with Emmanuel Macron, and after the flawed presidential election, the European Union ceased to recognize Putin as a legitimate president. The international community is now paying much more attention to the activities of the Russian opposition, something they did not do while Navalny was alive.

Criticism of Yeltsin

One possible reason why the European Union previously didn't bother to support Navalny's movement and activities on such a high level is his controversial background. As unpleasant as it may be, it must be acknowledged that he did things that cannot be easily overlooked. For example, in 2014, he questioned the necessity of returning the annexed Crimean peninsula to Ukraine and only adopted a new stance after the beginning of the Russian invasion.

While in prison, Navalny began to sharply criticize Boris Yeltsin's government and the 1990s more broadly, which alienated some opposition-minded people. The nineties and the Yeltsin period, in addition to all their drawbacks, often symbolize for oppositionists freedoms that are now non-existent, and friendship with the free world. Besides, it is incomprehensible why, in a time of war, one needs to be angry at people who are long dead instead of at real problems – perhaps one could do something more constructive.

Among his other achievements, Yeltsin recognized Estonia's independence and signed the agreement on the withdrawal of Russian troops from Estonian territory. Therefore, the hatred of Yeltsin characteristic of both Putinists and Navalny likely remains unclear to Estonian readers, just as it remained unclear to members of the Russian opposition.

When the news of his death broke, even those who previously joked about him, doubted his potential or were disappointed with his actions expressed their condolences.

Furthermore, one could talk at length about Navalny's past connections with Russian nationalists, also mention the long-standing suspicions of collaboration with the Kremlin, and much more, but it would be pointless. The Latin phrase, De mortuis nil nisi bonum, which roughly translates as «speak well of the dead or not at all,» is widely used in Russian. The whole world chose to speak well. Already during his lifetime, Navalny did enough in the fight against the authoritarian regime for the old accusations to be set aside, although many still held a negative opinion of him.

After his killing, no one wants to talk about these old controversial things or reproach him and his supporters for past actions. New opportunities opened up for the opposition, and although it may not be popular at home at the moment, international support, which is also worth a lot -- in the Russian context, maybe even more than popular support -- increased visibly.

Shocking and unifying event

When the news of his death broke, even those who previously joked about him, doubted his potential or were disappointed with his actions expressed their condolences. No one anticipated it, no one wanted it, even if they disagreed with him. It was a shocking and unifying event, which made it clear that the Russian government stops at nothing and that a joint effort must be made to combat it. In a strange way, we are now closer to creating a free Russia than we have ever been during the Putin era.

There was undoubtedly a specific intention behind Navalny's killing: to silence, intimidate, and divide. The opposite happened – worldwide, his successors are supported more than ever before, and his fight continues under the leadership of his wife. The opposition-minded public forgave Navalny all his past mistakes and everything possible is being done in his honor, from organizing concerts to naming streets after him.

He became a secular martyr, praised and followed by many. Thus, the Russian government erred in imposing the death penalty and failed in achieving its goal. I didn't talk much about Navalny's achievements here because there are plenty, and they are well known.

In conclusion, I can confidently say: «Wish you a happy birth anniversary, Alexei!»