Naval’niy: how long can he get away with it?

8 Jan

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Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters (click) Anton Belitski/Associated Press (click)

I keep rewatching the Times’ video because I find his balls almost unbelievable — not to mention the little brother, smirking and chewing gum as he gets a three-year jail sentence…  Just the thing to drive a Russian “justice” official crazy, and bring out his worst sadism.

“Эта власть не заслуживает существования.”  “This government doesn’t deserve to exist.”  I can think of Russians I know — even supporters of Naval’niy — slack-jawed, cringing, chilled to the base of their spines, at hearing someone scream this publicly in such an official context in front of the entire world’s press.  You have to have some experience of the place to sense the real terror of the act.  It was a moment of cleaning-the-money-lenders-out-of-the-Temple kind of rage…  Just hope he doesn’t end up crucified.

On the other hand, there is the Russian tradition of swallowing so much injustice that your soul just can’t take anymore and exploding — or imploding — with the end result being…not much…and a silent retreat back into inwardness and fear.  Naval’niy outside of the court talking about destroying a “power that doesn’t deserve to exist” reminds me a bit of Surikov’s painting “Boyarina Morozova” — and not in a hopeful way.*


A good run-down of the Naval’niy phenomenon from Euronews: Alexei Navalny, scourge of Russia’s corrupt elite

NAVALNY-superJumboAnton Belitski/Associated Press (click)

And getting reapprehended in front of the Ritz-Carlton on the Tver’skaya, once the formerly shabby Intourist Hotel, and now one of the most expensive hotels in the world, is a kind of poetic weirdness that only Russia can produce.



*A reader writes, rather testily, I’d say, but justifiably: “Sorry, but are we supposed to know who the Boyarina Morozova was?”  Yes.  I’m sorry.  :)

In the 17th century, the Russian Church under Patriarch Nikon tried to push some reforms in Russian liturgical practice to get them more back into line with Byzantine-Greek practices from which they had strayed over the centuries.  The most symbolically loaded one was that Russians over the centuries had started doing their crosses with two fingers instead of three.  Nikon’s reforms won over in the end, but there are still large communities of “Old Believers” “Raskol’niki” — “splitters-off” — adherents to the older ways, throughout Russia and especially Siberia.  The main character in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment is named Raskol’nikov, because he has spiritually “split himself off” from the rest of humanity, and the quasi-psycho Rogozhin in the Idiot was also from an Old Believer family.  Fyodor Mikhail’ich was not a fan of the sect.

Feodosia Prokopievna Morozovathe Boyarina (Lady) Morozova — was an aristocratic Muscovite who defied the Patriarch’s changes and was punished for it.  Surikov’s painting shows Morozova being arrested, defiant with her two-fingers in the air, as she is taken away to a convent where she was thrown into an earthen cellar and eventually left to starve to death.

It’s the kind of flamboyant — or even self-destructive — gesture of resistance to totalitarianism that Russians often have a fatal attraction for, and upon watching Naval’ny acting up on the street after the court’s ruling, the painting immediately popped into my mind.  But I think what Surikov caught most brilliantly about the Russian political psyche in this painting is the reaction of the crowds: some supporting and praying for her, some voyeuristically being entertained by it all, but the rest mostly looking down or only barely looking behind their back at the spectacle, as if terrified by such a display of brazen resistance.  Almost like it’s a disease that could be contagious.  And get them into big trouble too.

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