by Sydney Linholm
“I have deeply offended him by surviving the assassination attempt that he ordered”. This is what Alexei Navalny said of Vladimir Putin from the glass cage inside the courtroom where he was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison on February 2. Navalny was arrested for violating parole terms from his 2014 suspended sentence for embezzlement, and the period in which he was said to have been violating these terms was when he was seeking treatment in Berlin following his August 2020 poisoning. But why is Navalny’s outspokenness so important to the future of Russian society?
While many of us are appalled and horrified at the injustice surrounding this situation, Navalny’s push back against the Kremlin sparks an ideological conversation about the corruption that has defined Russia’s government since the beginning of the Putin years. Putin’s 21-year rule has seen corruption, fraud, unlawful arrests, convictions, and deaths of those who openly disagree with their policies and practices. An example of this is the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, whose death is detailed in Bill Browder’s 2015 book Red Notice and is the driving force behind the Magnitsky legislation. Implemented by Canada, the U.S., Britain, the EU, and others, the legislation imposed sanctions on foreign individuals involved in human rights violations. Mr. Magnitsky’s death is just one of many brutal deaths of those who chose to openly disagree with the Kremlin’s practices.
Increasingly, the Kremlin’s regime is being described as a fascist one, and that might just hit the mark. A fascist regime is a far-right, authoritarian dictatorial regime that can be characterized by forcible uniformity of society and the economy, and by the continued repression of opposition—which is what we have seen in recent events surrounding Alexei Navalny. This is not unlike the strict authoritarianism seen under Stalin’s rule in the Soviet Union, although ideologically, they opposed fascism. In fact, a better historical parallel for Russia’s current situation could be Fascist Italy: under Mussolini, Italy saw censorship laws, forcible suppression of opponents, and the implementation of the Acerbo Law that would rig elections in favour of the Fascists—all a part of Italy’s former fascist political dictatorship that is beginning to bear more and more affinities with Putin’s Russia. Effectively, Russia has done a 180 in their ideological leanings—in moving away from the Soviet Union’s communism, they found themselves entangled in a corrupt, fascist system that is exactly what Stalin opposed during the USSR.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the beginning of the Putin years, Putin and his gang of oligarchs have proved they’ll stop at nothing to ensure they remain in power, like any good fascist would. The Kremlin’s brutal and never-ending drive to remain in power and strict control over society and the economy is exactly what has allowed Russia to be categorized as being run by a fascist regime, and if the recent protests by Russian citizens were any indication, people are tired of it. But how does Alexei Navalny fit into this status quo?
The Russian opposition leader’s outspoken criticism of Putin has thrown a wrench into the Kremlin’s staunch control of the country in the form of hope. The mass protests that immediately followed Navalny’s arrest are fuelled by anger towards Putin’s suppression of the opposing voice. Navalny presents hope for a future that moves towards an ethical and non-corrupt democratic government, rather than one where citizens continue to be oppressed and silenced. He was called the “Anti-Putin” by CBC news, because of his goal to break Russia away from its fascist regime under Putin and instead, along with his Russia of the Future party, decentralize power, end censorship and repression, and battle corruption. Having been described as having David versus Goliath bravery, Navalny represents for the citizens of Russia someone who is willing to challenge the looming authority and fight for democracy in Russia. His power struggle against the Kremlin is a phenomenally important one, and because he does not fear speaking out against Putin, he presents a challenge for the future of the regime. Navalny is pushing hard for a future without fascism for Russia and being that he is one of the few brave enough to do so, he presents a ray of hope for those that have had enough of corruption.