Tribute to Navalny in the European “Far” West

Raquel I. (Lisbon, Portugal) – On February 16th, 2024, the world awoke to the tragic – yet unsurprising – news of the death of Aleksey Navalny, known worldwide as the main opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Although the official causes of his death are still unknown, a great majority of people, including world leaders, are convinced that the Kremlin is behind such an event. Since that day, people have raised their voices and even protested to bring Putin’s government and its supporters to justice.

IR101 photos: Lisbon, 17th February 2023 (Raquel I.)

According to several news outlets, at least four hundred people have been detained across Russia, as police continually crash protests and vigils in honour of Vladimir Putin’s number one national enemy. Beyond Russia’s borders, however, hundreds – if not thousands – of people have shown their support and solidarity to the citizens and dissidents who share the same revolt and thirst for democracy as Navalny, regardless of his rather controversial remarks and ideas in the past.

Last Saturday, February 17th, members of the Russian diaspora gathered in front of the Russian Federation Embassy in Lisbon, Portugal, chanting anti-Putin slogans and demanding freedom for their homeland. Organised by the Free Russians Association (ADRL – Associação de Russos Livres), the event featured several speakers, encouraging their compatriots not to give up on their fight against pro-war propaganda and misinformation, and to keep supporting the local Ukrainian community in any possible manner. Many Ukrainian immigrants and refugees were also present at the vigil, mourning alongside their neighbours the infamous death of the man who dared to face and expose the Kremlin’s ruling oligarchy.

Amongst tears, heavy sighs, tight embraces, and prayers, I had the opportunity to talk briefly with some people in the crowd. In a mix of Portuguese, English, and Russian, I came up with two solid conclusions: firstly, in general, the young families from both Russian and Ukrainian diasporas refuse to feed hatred against each other, allowing their children to experience the same bond and brotherhood they had while growing up with their relatives in both countries, decades before the 24th of February 2022; secondly, and most important, the ADRL will persist in its effort to raise awareness of the crimes committed by Putin’s regime within and outside Russia. They shall not stop until the victims of war and political persecution, as well as their families, are served justice, even if – according to the thoughts of a few participants in the vigil – it does not happen during our lifetime.

At a time when law enforcement bodies in Russia harden their stance towards any sign of opposition, and the bombings on Ukrainian soil claim more lives, these demonstrations of unity and solidarity from the communities of both nations are essential. Despite these brutal events, they teach the world that we must take heed of the words of the Kremlin’s number one enemy and “don’t give up”!