A Powerful Voice of Conscience Refuses to Be Silenced

From a Washington Post editorial headlined “A powerful voice of conscience refuses to be silenced”:

Alexei Navalny has spent more than 900 days behind bars — and nearly 200 in solitary confinement — for having the courage to speak critically of Russia’s despotic president, Vladimir Putin. Now, in addition to his current sentence of more than 11 years, prosecutors in a new trial have asked for an additional 20 years on ludicrous charges of “extremism.” And once again, Mr. Navalny refuses to be silenced.

Speaking at the conclusion of his closed trial in prison this month before 18 court officials — seven of whom wore black masks to hide their identity — Mr. Navalny showed he remains a powerful voice of conscience. And that is why we thought it worthwhile to share his words at length here.

“The question of how to act is the central question of humanity,” he said. “People have searched high and low for the formula of doing the right thing, for something to base the right decisions on.”

Mr. Navalny recalled the teaching of professor Yuri Lotman, who once told students, “A man always finds himself in an unforeseeable situation. And then he has two legs to rest on: conscience and intellect.”

“To rely only on one’s conscience is intuitively correct,” Mr. Navalny added. “But an abstract morality that does not take into account human nature and the real world will degenerate either into stupidity or atrocity, as it has happened more than once before. But the reliance on intellect without conscience is precisely what now lies at the core of the Russian state.”

Mr. Navalny recalled that Mr. Putin set out initially to use Russia’s energy and other resources to “build an unscrupulous but cunning, modern, rational, ruthless state.”

He summed up the rationale of those who rule Russia this way: “We will become richer than the czars of the past. We have so much oil that even the common folk will get something from it. By exploiting this world of contradictions and the vulnerability of democracy, we will become leaders, and everyone will respect us. And if not respect, then at least fear.

“And yet the same thing happens as everywhere else. The intellect, unconstrained by conscience, whispers: Snatch, steal. If you are stronger, your interests are always more important than the rights of others.”

Then came the invasion of Ukraine, in which Mr. Navalny said Russia under Mr. Putin had “slipped and collapsed with a crash, destroying everything around it. And now it is floundering in a pool of either mud or blood, with broken bones and the poor, robbed population, surrounded by the tens of thousands of victims of the most stupid and senseless war of the 21st century.

“Of course, sooner or later, it will rise again. And it is up to us to determine what it will rest on in the future.”

“It may seem to you now that I am crazy,” he told the court. “But in my opinion, it’s you who are crazy. You have one God-given life, and this is what you choose to spend it on? Putting robes on your shoulders and black masks on your heads to protect those who rob you? To help someone who already has 10 palaces to build an 11th?”

Mr. Navalny implored the court officials to join him in the fight for “a free and prosperous” Russia.

“When you’re tired of slipping under this regime, splitting your forehead and your future, when you finally realize that the rejection of conscience will eventually lead to the disappearance of intellect, then maybe you will stand on both of the legs on which every man should stand, and we will be able to bring the beautiful Russia of the future closer, together.”

These brave words, written from the cramped, miserable conditions of solitary confinement, are those of a man who possesses a vision for Russia and the high principles to lead it — unlike the brute who sits in the Kremlin.

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