The memory of the “wild” 90s, characterized by an absence of political prisoners, can only be wistfully reminisced upon today. The Kremlin and its supporters resent this era not because it lacked political prisoners, but because they lacked the opportunity to exert political influence during that time. They've been diligently working towards steering Russia away from the path of democracy, and unfortunately, they've achieved their goal. Presently, they hold positions of power, and once again, political prisoners exist in the country. Such a development is an inevitable consequence of any oppressive regime.
As Alexei Navalny turns 47 on June 4, he finds himself commemorating his birthday within the confines of a prison cell. The judges, under the influence of those who govern them, have imposed a nine-year sentence on Navalny, with indications of further punishment to come. Many people question the plausibility of these lengthy sentences, considering the current regime's limited resources for sustaining such imprisonment over an extended period. While perceiving this as an optimistic outlook on Russia's situation and the destiny of one of its most famous political detainees, it is crucial to remain realistic and accurately evaluate the associated risks.
For Alexei Navalny, they are unusually high compared to the majority of other Russian prisoners, including those who are classified as political prisoners. He remains a prominent target within the repressive apparatus controlled by the presidential administration. It is crucial to maintain realistic expectations regarding the outcome of this attention. The machinery in question operates devoid of compassion or leniency, disregarding both legal and moral principles. It is prepared to carry out any act, regardless of its criminal nature, upon receiving orders from the authorities.
What do the authorities want from Navalny? Since, by some fluke (lucky for us, fatal for the regime), they failed to assassinate him, their options for seeking revenge on the opposition figure are limited. While the Kremlin may secretly harbor a wish to repeat the assassination plot, the numerous scandals and exposés surrounding the case have likely dissuaded them from wanting to appear as mere assassins in the eyes of the global community. Consequently, their apparent solution is to break the spirit of the political prisoner and force him to capitulate.
In this regard, they draw upon several decades of Soviet punitive practices. Following Stalin's demise, when capital punishment for political offenses became less prevalent, the repressive apparatus controlled by the Kremlin sought alternative methods to suppress dissenters. The executioner's expertise was refined within political camps and specialized psychiatric institutions. The objective has consistently remained unchanged: to crush the will of political prisoners, compelling them to feign remorse or, ideally, to coerce them into complete cooperation.
The objective has consistently remained unchanged: to crush the will of political prisoners, compelling them to feign remorse or, ideally, to coerce them into complete cooperation
The most severe environment was found within psychiatric institutions, where, under the orders of the Chekists, doctors and attendants subjected political prisoners to torment and physical abuse through the use of neuroleptic drugs. They cruelly exploited their morbid imagination to inflict torture and humiliation. Prisons and labor camps were plagued by hunger and harsh cold, relentless periods of solitary confinement, restrictions on visits from loved ones, and prohibitions on reading and writing. If a political prisoner fell ill, they would receive superficial treatment for appearance's sake or, in some cases, no treatment at all. The sole demands placed upon them were to relinquish their autonomy completely and submit to the authority of the prison system, followed by admitting guilt and providing a repentant interview for televised broadcast. Similarly, within mental institutions, people were coerced into acknowledging their supposed illness and affirming the correctness of their treatment.
Today, Alexei Navalny is being treated according to a familiar pattern that has been repeatedly employed by the KGB and the Gulag system. The authorities consistently subject him to punitive detentions, often for seemingly insignificant reasons. For instance, his punishment might stem from trivial issues like failing to fasten the top button on his shirt, improperly introducing himself to superiors, or washing his face at the wrong time. A punishment order even explicitly stated, “Convict Navalny is unresponsive to educational measures and fails to draw the appropriate conclusions for himself.” These simple words, likely written by a warrant officer or an on-duty officer, encapsulate the essence of prison oppression: the prisoner is expected to draw conclusions and submit to “education.” This implies that they must forsake their rights, human dignity, and unconditionally comply with the demands of those in authority, regardless of their legitimacy.
Navalny possesses an indomitable spirit that cannot be shattered. His resilience stems from his fortitude, ironic perspective, and unwavering faith in a higher justice that remains beyond the reach of both powerful figures in the Kremlin and petty prison authorities. Eventually, driven by the overwhelming sense of futility in their endeavors, the tormentors will relinquish their hold on their victim. However, the challenge lies in surviving until that day arrives, which is by no means an easy feat.
It was the same in Soviet times. I can tell it from my own experience. It was a marathon-like struggle: the adversaries relentlessly pursued various means to bring about your demise, while your goal was to survive until the point where the executioners lost their fervor and stopped making efforts. Sadly, not everyone manages to reach that finish line, as death often lurks in those realms.
Living in Russia can be perilous, but existing within a Russian prison intensifies the dangers twofold. Alexei Navalny, specifically targeted as a personal enemy by the Russian government, faces an even more arduous path. I extend my wishes for his well-being and good luck as he navigates the dark, treacherous, and unpredictable roads of prison.