Alexei Navalny Yields Not to Temptation…Can It Inspire the World?

It was with a mixture of respect, awe, and incomprehension that I met the news of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny’s decision to return home in January 2021 to face near certain arrest and imprisonment at the hands of his nemesis, the dictator Vladimir Putin.

Navalny had been in Berlin, where he had endured a long hospital recovery after all evidence pointed to Putin’s security force having poisoned him the previous August with a chemical nerve agent.

Such attacks have been almost standard operating procedure for Putin, used repeatedly to eliminate or at the very least severely debilitate any antagonists whom he decides have drawn enough support from the Russian people to pose a threat to his rule.

If we applied (Jesus’s example) to Navalny’s martyrdom, we’d liken him to ‘paying’ for our own sins of indifference, ignorance, and cowardice in failing to work as hard and risk as much as he did. But this is to put the cart of atonement before the horse of pure inspiration.

With a large following both in Russia and around the world, Navalny could likely have remained a formidable outside agitator, calling attention to Putin’s many atrocities while raising funds and awareness to support in-country opposition.

He had previously been jailed multiple times on trumped up charges, fined, harassed, and subjected to two other chemical assaults with a green dye that left him nearly blind in one eye.

No one would have questioned his resolve or courage had he remained a loyal expatriate opposition.

But with both his family and his heart still in his homeland, Navalny made a dramatic and fateful decision to return.

Whereupon he was immediately arrested at the Moscow airport for “violating parole,” a Kafkaesque charge tied to his leaving the country for hospital treatment that the government had allowed (because the government had poisoned him).

He was promptly imprisoned, and in the subsequent three years tortured with sleep deprivation and solitary confinement, denied medical attention, and finally banished to a penal colony in the Arctic Circle, where it was nearly impossible for his family, attorneys and doctors to keep in adequate contact with him.

Three weeks ago, having had his prison sentences serially expanded from three and a half years to nine years to 19 years, the authorities permitted him a short video appearance before a judge, with whom Navalny joshed good-naturedly, asking him for financial assistance to help pay his many fines.

Both the bailiff and judge are shown laughing with him in the clip below.

Two days later, he was dead, undoubtedly at the orders of Putin, the authorities manufacturing a story for state-run media about him suddenly collapsing on a walk, though they refused to release his body or permit it to be examined by independent personnel for many days, all the better to obscure or wholly prevent a definitive cause of death.

Navalny was 47 years old. What will his legacy mean, if anything, as Putin further tightens his grip on Russia, putting all other dissidents on firm notice, with dictators and would-be dictators around the world taking careful notes?


Navalny looks to the sky on a march in memory of Russian physicist and anti-Putin dissident Boris Nemtsov, who was assassinated with four shots to his back on a Moscow bridge in 1998.


Now, I need be no over-educated theologian (though I’ve been known to impersonate one now and again) to glean from the trajectory of Navalny’s life and death the clear parallel to Jesus Christ.

A charismatic social activist and “non-violent revolutionary,” devoid of worldly riches and pretense, exposing a corrupt authoritarian regime to which he willingly submits himself, for a cause far greater than his own survival, with Imprisonment, torture and death a near certainty.

That checks all the boxes of martyrdom—including the fact, mostly unreported in western media—that his self-sacrifice became deeply informed by his conversion from atheism to Christianity after another failed attempt on his life in 2020.

Complicating the picture is that his martyrdom was not due to his overt religious expression that an atheistic government was trying to quash.

Absurd and evil as it obviously is, Putin himself claims to be upholding “traditional” Christianity in Mother Russia, tying it heavily into LGBTQI oppression and quashing of protest movements. That has led to his embrace by a plethora of American evangelicals—including many Republican Members of Congress and media figures such as Tucker Carlson—who now rationalize his invasion of Ukraine and decline to support any additional funding to sustain its resistance to Putin’s aggression.

We should not doubt, however, that Navalny drew further upon his deep wellsprings of courage once he immersed himself in the life and death of Jesus. He said as much in the closing statement at his 2021 trial for the “parole violation” owing to his hospital stay:

If you want, I’ll talk to you about God and salvation. I’ll turn up the volume of heartbreak to the maximum, so to speak. The fact is that I am a Christian, which usually rather sets me up as an example for constant ridicule in the Anti-Corruption Foundation, because mostly our people are atheists and I was once quite a militant atheist myself. But now I am a believer, and that helps me a lot in my activities, because everything becomes much, much easier. I think about things less. There are fewer dilemmas in my life, because there is a book in which, in general, it is more or less clearly written what action to take in every situation. It’s not always easy to follow this book, of course, but I am actually trying. And so, as I said, it’s easier for me, probably, than for many others, to engage in politics.”

Jesus is often (wrongly, in my view)) held up in certain forms of Christianity as “paying” for the sins and shortcomings of the human race. This concept of atonement posits his “Father” as some kind of ransom note holder, requiring a ritual sacrifice (of his very son!) to set the cosmic ledger aright.

If we applied that to Navalny’s martyrdom, we’d liken him to “paying” for our own sins of indifference, ignorance, and cowardice in failing to work as hard and risk as much as he did. But this is to put the cart of atonement before the horse of pure inspiration.

In his speeches through the years, Navalny unfailingly sought to remind and inspire his comrades and followers of the power they held in their hands. Yes, just as Jesus did.

In a 2021 documentary film by Canadian director Daniel Roher, Navalny stared straight into the camera and said:

“Listen, I’ve got something very obvious to tell you. You’re not allowed to give up. If they decide to kill me, it means that we are incredibly strong. We need to utilize this power, to not give up, to remember that we are a huge power, that is being repressed by these bad dudes. We don’t realize how strong we actually are. The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing. So don’t be inactive.”

All of which is to suggest Navalny—despite our admiration for his courage and our own self-questioning of what we would do in his place—was neither superhuman nor interested in “paying” so much as encouraging, imploring and inspiring. He wanted  others to realize he was no more powerful than them—at least insofar as they remain united and resolved.

That they yield not to the temptation to cower alone and afraid—or at someone else’s knee.

Will he have been effective in the end? Will he have given his life in vain?

We can speculate on those questions—and fear the answers—but the questions lose their edge when we consider this other quote from him that goes to the heart of the common ideal that most all people fancy for themselves but are fortunate enough not to have to put to the test in their lives: “Forgive me if this sounds pompous, but it’s better to die standing up than live on your knees.”

Would that more of our own contemporary politicians take note—especially those bowing to the lies and desires of Vladimir Putin and others who seek to crush the yearnings for freedom and self-determination around the world. The idea that he and his ilk will stop at their own borders is nonsensical, as it has always been for those hellbent on grabbing power and then holding onto it—by any means necessary.

Alexei Navalny knew this. Do we?


Reflecting a sardonic wit that is seemingly part of Russian dissidents’ DNA, photographer Michal Siergiejevicz titled this photo of a protest crackdown in support of Navalny: “A girl surrounded by male attention.”

His last video, two days before his death…


Film trailer…


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Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at top of page.

Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact:

Navalny shrine by Kris Lu, London, UK

Navalny marching and street protest by Michal Siergiejevicz, Moscow, Russia

Navalny after chemical attack from the public domain

4 comments to Alexei Navalny Yields Not to Temptation…Can It Inspire the World?

  • Robert Spencer  says:

    Vladimir Putin may not have murdered 1.5 million Russians as Josef Stalin did through his purges, but he does similarly fear any dissension and freedom of speech. In 1930, futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky’s “officially reported” suicide, one riddled with discrepancies, bore an eerie similarity to other NKVD (KGB’s predecessor) killings. In 1934, Sergie Kirov, a political rival to Stalin, was outright murdered. As World War 2 ended, Stalin refused to withdraw the Soviet army from Eastern European nations. Winston Churchill referred to their occupation as an “iron curtain”. In the 1950’s, Khrushchev continued Stalin’s policy of silencing opposition. Writers Yuli Daniel and Andrei Sinyavsky were imprisoned in Siberian gulags as was Nobel Prize winning Boris Pasternak’s wife for her role in getting “Doctor Zhivago” and other writings published. A Hungarian revolt was violently put down. These are only a few of the horrors committed by these two Soviet dictators. Today a third has emerged. A few weeks ago, Putin decided to employ a similar tactic and murdered Alexei Navalny. The only word from Donald Trump was a comparison of his prosecution to Navalny’s death. Not a word about Putin.

  • Jay Helman  says:

    Robert, your reminder of the Stalin and Krushcev suppression of free speech brings to mind the horror and revulsion of Russian authoritarianism that permeated our country for many decades. During that long stretch of twentieth century history political leaders were expected to be apallled by Russian leaders and admired for taking a strong stance against them (“tear down that wall, Mr. Gorbachev!”). It is deeply disturbing and quite frightening how much that opposition and concern has diminished–to the point that many Republican politicos have become apologists for Putin and stand against aid to Ukraine.

    Trump, to be sure, is the amplifier of this roll-over to authoritarian policies and action. It is not likely, however, that he is the root cause. The illiberal movement in the United States is puzzling and ought to be of great (as in alarming ) concern. Andrew, I believe you have made an important argument that the Navalny legacy is less about sacrificing for others than his heroic efforts to encourage and implore people to have courage and to speak out against evil in politics. His observation that “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing–So don’t be inactive.” is critical for all who witness the evils of those blinded by the lust for power to have and to exercise the courage to call them out.

    The upcoming national election in our country provides an opportunity that Navalny acknowledged; the opportunity to claim our individual power and to use it in a way that creates a collective power to stem the tide of the movement toward authoritarian rule. With that said, there remain far too many good people who knowingly or unknowingly support the misinformation and degeneration of values that undermine the bedrock of our freedom. We (I am one of them) choose not to flash a light on their blind following for fear of offending and ultimately destroying friendships and dividing families. We mostly all know that we cannot change minds, but we can certainly nurture and help to elevate the concerns of those who sense the danger but are not yet convinced of its magnitude.

  • Andrew Hidas  says:

    Robert, I admit my brain gets a little mushy when I behold figures that reach into the millions, whether we’re talking about dollars spent on hack political ads or human beings slaughtered by despots. So whether Stalin killed 1.5, 1.6, 1.7 million or up to 20 million, which some historians have estimated when taking into account those who died from his various “policies” (even though victims weren’t executed as such), in the end, these are monstrous figures, just as they are with Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, et al. It is a dismal accounting, and it goes on today in one guise or other around much of the world—including the siege of Ukraine.

    Jay, it is one of the ongoing riddles of this age how the once strongly anti-communist, pro-defense Republican Party can now roll over and play puppy dog to Putin’s dreams of restoring Russia as a dominant world force. I read that the six youngest GOP senators and 12 of the 14 youngest voted against the recent aid to Ukraine bill. Goes along, it seems, with the increasingly isolationist, nationalist approach ascendant in the party under Trump, and in terms of political stability around the world, arguably the most dangerous.

  • Jay Helman  says:

    It is, indeed, a puzzling riddle of our times. Rachel Maddow’s book, Prequel, has influenced my thinking on the topic. She writes that Hitler and facism had much support in the U.S. that has long been forgotten and/or ignored. The support came from some members of Congress as well as many others with influence across the country. My thought is that we have long assumed that democracy as defined and executed in our constitutional republic is what we all want (and wanted); making us the shining beacon on the hill on this planet. That, apparently, has not always been the case , and it is not the case now. We have a Republican Party that is undermining the foundational principles and freedoms upon which our republic stands, and that party’s base of support time and again demonstrates outrage at democratic fundamentals (the right to vote, equality of all, etc.). It appears that millions of people in our country desire to squash this great democratic experiment and move on to a “strong man” government. The Don came along and has inspired those heretofore quiet desires to proudly stand up and say “Hell Yes!” We are in great danger and, as Navalny pointed out, we cannot stand by and do nothing.

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