Photograph of Alexei Navalny in front of red flag at a demonstration on Russia's Unity Day, Novmeber 4, 2011. / Shutterstock

Alexei Navalny at a demonstration in Moscow on Russia’s Unity Day (2011) | / Shutterstock

The villainous, cowardly assassination of Alexei Navalny in Putin’s Russia must shake everyone for whom the political future of the world matters. The murder occurred on the eve of the dictator’s predictable “reelection.” Many were shocked that Navalny exchanged the safety of an honorable retirement abroad for an inevitable arrest, and, ultimately, murder at home. He was seized immediately upon his landing in Russia while still teetering toward recovery in the aftermath of a failed assassination attempt. His position defied logic, as if some media trickery for the public consumption was what he intended with his hand-heart gestures from behind the transparent partition of his trial cell. Only these were not the gestures to ingratiate viral spotlight. It was the tragic self-sacrifice of the solitary hero against state power—a form of protest that for centuries had been sustaining a sense of dignity in Russia. When his country invaded Ukraine, Navalny spoke from behind bars: “People, do not remain silent or indifferent!” When the stakes are life and death, conscience cannot be insured on an installment plan, nor will revolution accrue interest if placed in a safe deposit box. On the list of the martyrs of Putin’s terror, the name of Alexei Navalny must signify an unbreakable, indomitable resolve to stand in the defense of freedom. Remember Alexei, for he didn’t pity or shield himself.

We of the New School community stand with Ukraine and oppositional citizens of Russia against Vladimir Putin’s murderous aggression.

Злодейское, трусливое убийство Алексея Навального в застенках путинской России накануне предсказуемого “переизбрания” имярека диктатора, должно всколыхнуть всех тех, для кого небезразлично политическое будущее мира. О решении Навального вернуться, едва встав на ноги после предыдущего неудавшегося покушения, дабы подвергнуться немедленному аресту в момент приземления на родине, судили и рядили еще долго. Поступок не поддавался здравому смыслу, в воздушном росчерке ”люблю” за прозрачной перегородкой со скамьи подсудимых во время показного суда видилась медийная уловка любителя порисоваться перед камерой, подозревались пиарские подоплеки. Только не было никаких уловок. Это был все тот же героизм без примесей, трагический героизм самопожертвования, форма протеста, поддерживавшая чувство достоинства в России на протяжении веков, смелость бойца, вставшего в одиночку против государственной власти. После вторжения России в Украину, Навальный произнес из заключения: «Люди, не молчите, не будьте равнодушны!» Когда идет борьба не на жизнь, а на смерть, совесть не подстрахуешь, революция не нарастит процент, отлеживаясь на гарантированном счету. В списке жертв путинского террора имя Алексея Навального ознаменует ничем не сминаемую и неутолимую готовность выйти из-под прикрытия на защиту свободы. Помните Алексея, себя ведь не пожалел, не сберег, не защитил. 

Мы, представители сообщества университета Нью Скул, выражаем солидарность с Украиной и оппозиционными силами в России, сражающимися против путинской агрессии. 

A note on the collective statement: This letter was written by myself and signed by more than 88 faculty, staff, and students from all the colleges and several administrative offices across The New School. I wrote the Russian version first in the form of a traditionally homiletic tribute to a fallen hero immediately upon learning about Navalny’s death the day it happened, as a spontaneous response, then wrote the English translation. In the original Greek, the name “Alexei” means “a defender,” someone who shields and protects. It felt important to convey this meaning of a conscious self-sacrifice in defense of freedom.

The decision to turn this very personal response into a collective statement was made when several colleagues with whom it was shared endorsed not only its content but its emotionality, while also contributing helpful suggestions. As signatures started arriving from members of our university community, another decision was made: to publish it, as an attempt to draw the attention of the community to the connection not only between this murder and Vladimir Putin’s upcoming reelection, but also the second anniversary of Russia’s war in Ukraine, and Russia’s role in fomenting instability in the Middle East and across the world. But to publish with a proviso that the signatories’ names should not be exposed due to safety concerns since many signatories had family ties in Russia.

Now that Alexei Navalny’s body has been laid to rest at the centuries-old Borisovsky Cemetery on the southern outskirts of Moscow, a night does not go by in Russia without candles and flowers reappearing across its vast territories, despite the just as certain removal of these makeshift memorials by the state security forces and the police and the unebbing flow of arrests of apprehended mourners and protesters.

A question may arise: “If Navalny had the courage to not ‘pity or hide himself,’ why shouldn’t the signatories?” The answer that I should like to provide is that there must be a decisive difference between Navalny’s unequal and yet unequaled resistance against totalitarian dictatorship in the permafrost of its prisons and a leading North American university campus, where an expression of solidarity with a murdered dissident should not feel like playing with fire. Because at The New School, the word “solidarity” should mean what it signifies: a free expression of common aspirations, compassionate support of someone’s views or actions. Only if intimidated and bullied would such solidarity be imperiled to a degree that it would itself stand in need of being protected and shielded by anonymity, as a form of collective responsibility reduced to a collective vulnerability, too cautious to raise the amplitude of a barely audible voice. Or else fall silent altogether.

Being on sabbatical, I have been watching with concern how things are unfolding on our campus. I thought that this statement of solidarity in tribute to Navalny’s heroism would be one of those events that could reunite us around common values and rekindle a truly democratic dialogue.