The Heroic Illusion of Alexei Navalny

Alexei Navalny was killed in the far north above the Arctic Circle, in the small town of Kharp, where the Ural Mountains are intersected by a railroad leading to the city of Labytnangi on the Ob River. This place of death, this scene of the crime, is not random. It puts a period to the argument with fate that Alexei Navalny led as a man and politician — even, one could say, to his argument with Russia and its history. The man who came up with The Beautiful Russia of the Future as image and slogan died in the horrible Russia of the past. Approximately fifty kilometers southeast of Kharp, beyond the Ob, is the city of Salekhard. The sadly famous Road 501, the Dead Road, leads east from there. It is one of the last projects born of Stalin’s megalomania, a railroad branch to the Enisei River that would traverse uninhabited places unsuitable  for construction across the permafrost and the swamps of western Siberia. All that remains of that pharaonic project are a few hundred kilometers of embankments, dilapidated camp barracks, and steam engines rusting in the tundra. And corpses. Corpses in nameless ravines and pits, without a cross or a marker, unknown, buried without funerals, the dead whose killers and torturers remain unpunished. This is the region of the Gulag, the wasteland of the murdered and the murderers. In these places, geography helps the work of the jailers, and the climate serves as a means of torture. Here, in this ideal geographic nothingness, a space beyond history, beyond evidence, the Soviet state cast out people doomed to annihilation. This is the place where Russia’s historical sin is preserved in material, sometimes even imperishable, form — permafrost, after all. Here lie Russia’s guilt and responsibility. Alexei Navalny’s political credo,

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