A Great Farewell.
What Putin will Never Get
March 5, 2024
  • Oleg Kashin

    Oleg Kashin, journalist and writer, runs his own channels on YouTube and Telegram (here and here)
Journalist Oleg Kashin reflects on Alexei Navalny’s public farewell, which hardly gives his supporters and other opponents of the regime any reason for hope. But the regime has nothing to look forward to, either.
The original text in Russian was published on the Telegram channel Kashin Plus and is being republished here with the author's permission.
Flowers on Alexei Navalny's grave in a Moscow cemetery. Navalny was buried on March 1. Tens of thousands waited in long lines to lay flowers and say farewell to Vladimir Putin's nemesis. Source: VK
Alexei Navalny was buried humanly.

Indeed: Alexei Navalny was buried superhumanly. All the comparisons made in recent days are embarrassingly off the mark.

Academician Andrei Sakharov? A people's deputy and leader of a legal, large faction, an academician whose titles and awards were restored, a figure whose magnitude was not disputed by anyone in power at the time of his death.

Vladimir Vysotsky? A leading artist of the most popular theater and a movie star, a writer of songs, some of which were even published on official records, not crowned with titles (though at the public memorial service Nikita Mikhalkov would call him a real artist of the people), but not a dissident or an underground activist – the state had no issues with him.

Vladislav Listyev? Not only a famous journalist, but also the general director of what is now Channel One; President Yeltsin would come to pay his respects; is there any comparison here?

Tens of thousands of people went to say goodbye to a convict who died in prison – who for the state was not just a nobody, but a marked enemy, “included in the register of terrorists and extremists” and all the rest – and until nightfall on the day of his burial, the day after and the day after that, people kept coming and coming, covering the grave with flowers – this has never happened before with politicians, artists or poets. National history is being written in real time despite the state – not just without its involvement – overcoming its reluctance to see those people, that grave and those flowers.

If we are to compare this with anything, it is only the episodes of collective experience when society was left alone with a great misfortune, while the state, accustomed to showing off as the eternal master of the situation, suddenly slunk off, lost, having neither words nor a plan of action.

This was the case when the Kursk submarine sank in the north; this was the case when terrorists seized the Dubrovka Theater in Moscow and the school in Beslan, Ossetia. Each time society, for the first time in a long time, looked tragedy in the face directly, without the state being in the middle, and then, when the regime finally gathered itself, there was room for debate for years to come about whether everything was done correctly and how much of the tragedy was the state’s fault.
It will not be like that now; now – as if for the first time – the state’s guilt is indisputable and absolute, and people who have experienced the tragedy know this; they are not looking to the state for anything and will not forgive it, nor do they expect to be forgiven by it.
There are no illusions, no hope, the most peaceful feeling possible now being fatigue, because, really, how much more can people take.

On this cemetery plot, besides the storyline of Alexei Navalny himself, all the lines etched across Russia in recent years converged – military, repressive, social, cultural. The queue stretching to the cemetery seems a direct continuation of all the crowds of protesters, starting at least from 2011 – yes, of course, not just protesters, and it’s a pity that there is no one other than a Center E official with a camera to conduct research into that.

In fact, it is obvious that these people met in their lives not only at protests and in Moscow police departments, but also on Nikolskaya in 2018, at concerts of artists whom five years ago no one would have thought to call oppositionists, and just on the streets of that same Moscow where billboards with the faces of heroes from the special operation now hang above the benches and bike paths.

That creeping suffocation of the 2010s against which they wanted to protest seems like unattainable freedom compared to what there is now. And no matter how dubious this juxtaposition may be (clearly, everything happening today grew out of that suffocation), it is what shapes today’s Russia. Inside Russia, Vladimir Putin is waging a war against these people too, and perhaps against them first and foremost, since in the war with Ukraine it is unclear how and on what terms everything will end, whereas the total subjugation of Russia is perhaps a matter of survival.

Yet when the colossal work has been done, when order has been established, when all the goals of the special operation have been achieved inside Russia, and it’s as if you could hear a pin drop, and when the grave in particular should testify that all this is forever – the order breaks down, and it becomes clear that there can be no total subjugation, despite everything that has been done in these two years.

All the possible loopholes seem to have been sealed, but somehow the wind of history still gets through, blowing in Putin’s face as mercilessly as in the old times about which he would like to forget and a repeat of which he would like to avoid at all costs.

They will not be repeated, of course, and all the hopes that I wanted to formulate in recent days still seem doubtful – if people were brought together by death, then what is there to do, wait for another death? And if so, who has to die for more people to come out than for Navalny? There is no one like that, and seemingly there never will be. Waiting for Putin to die to go out not to cry, but to rejoice is too humiliating to hope. Are we to hope for another successor? That’s silly. So, what else? It seems like there is nothing to hope for.
But this is not really a conversation about hope. There is none, but in days like these it becomes clear that Putin does not have any either. He must know that he will not go down in history as a positive hero.
That his plans will not come true. That the system he built is unstable and unlikely to keep its current form without him. That the war he is waging does not entail any outcome that is acceptable to Russia, much less victory. Finally, that when he dies, all the flowers that will be placed on his grave will be collected based on a spreadsheet, and there will be no such (not only in terms of numbers, of course) queue to say goodbye to him – there cannot be. Nobody needs him even now, at the peak of his power, and he – unlike everyone who went to Navalny’s grave these days – has nowhere to hide, nowhere to go, either in Russia or abroad.

For many years, the authorities have consciously and purposefully worked to generate total frustration and hopelessness among people, without realizing that if they were hopeless, then the authorities have nothing to look forward to, either. Navalny died as a prisoner, and this seems the worst possible fate – but look at the man who was once the main target of Navalny’s attacks: Dmitri Medvedev has been appearing in public a lot in recent days – would you dare call him a winner; does he look like a happy person; does he have a future even compared with Navalny, who is dead?

This is probably the secret. Tens of thousands at Navalny’s grave in such a big country – sure, not so many people, agreed. But that “not so many” is infinity times more than the zero that the authorities have. The hope that flashed last weekend against the most tragic backdrop possible is a very weak hope, but even that is unattainable for the authorities – they have nothing to hope for among themselves at all.
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