A Russian court has convicted activist and thorn in the regime’s side Alexei Navalny for embezzlement from a timber firm. The charge is a bogus one, but it doesn’t make much difference. Had it not been embezzlement, it was going to be something else. The Putin regime has Stalinist reflexes, but it is more subtle in its approach. Rather than jail dissenters for dissenting, the government jails them for criminal activity, whether guilty or not.
In many respects, the Moscow government is more dangerous than the old Soviet regime. First of all, it doesn’t insist that its people queue up for lousy consumer goods. It’s OK to be rich in Russia again, and for a great many people, material comfort is enough; why rock the boat? Secondly, dissent is permitted so long as one stays within the boundaries of the narrow national consensus. Voting for an opposition party doesn’t send one to the gulag, and opposition leaders aren’t seen as threats to the state. They are simply powerless. Third, the media are largely controlled by the regime, so the political agenda is what the government wants it to be. Only people like Mr. Navalny color outside the lines set down in the Kremlin.
In the case of Mr. Navalny, he simply wouldn’t shut up. For instance, he label the United Russia Party that is Mr. Putin’s political machine the “party of crooks and thieves,” and he has campaigned actively on line and in public against corruption, which is the basis of the post-communist political economy.
What finally sent the regime into apoplexy over him is best summed up by the BBC, which noted,”In the election years of 2011/12 his significance increased even more, as he became the unofficial leader of the protest movement that brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets. They were the biggest anti-government demonstrations of the Vladimir Putin years.”
So, the government revived a stale investigation into some work Mr. Navalny did briefly for the governor of the Kirov region as an unpaid advisor. The Investigative Committee, known as Sledkom, brought him to trial and the judge has given him five years.
Out of respect to Mr, Navalny, he shall have the last words here. In his closing statement at his trial, he said:
“We will destroy this feudal society that is robbing all of us. If somebody thought that on hearing the threat of six years in prison I was going to run away abroad or hide somewhere, they were mistaken. I cannot run away from who I am. I have nothing else but this, and I don’t want to do anything else but to help my country. To work for my fellow citizens. This can’t go on forever. A situation in which 140 million people in one of the biggest and richest countries in the world are subjugated by a handful of worthless monsters. They are not even oligarchs, who built up their wealth through shrewdness or wisdom. They are a bunch of former Komsomol activists, turned democrats, turned patriots, who grabbed everything into their own hands.”