The Death of Alexei Navalny:

 Flowers, Candles, Posters and Solidarity on Dam Square

By Yury Babinyan | News | April 9, 2024

Cover Illustration: Memorial for Navalny in Dam Square, Feb. 18, 2024. Sinela Gong / The Amsterdammer. 

Reporter Yury Babinyan reports reactions to Alexei Navalny’s death in the Russian diaspora community in the Netherlands

For two  days after Feb. 16, 2024, Dam Square and the Russian Embassy of the Netherlands in the Hague experienced quite an unusual flow of people with flowers, candles, posters and, of course, solidarity to share. Those people had the united aim of paying tribute to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most well-known foe and political opponent: Alexei Navalny.

Navalny was one of the most prominent and famous Russian oppositionist figures who exposed corruption and illegal activities of Russian politicians and openly went against the existing political regime, for which he was constantly targeted. Examples of suppression against him include poisoning with a chemical weapon called “Novichok” and constant threats of physical harm to him and his political team, among others. Alexei stood for democracy in Russia and, during his presidential campaign in 2018, announced various economic, healthcare and political reforms. He was both praised and criticized by Russians: though his supporters classified him as a “true patriot,” there were also masses that thought of him as a “CIA puppet” and an extremist. Outside of Russia his image was also controversial while some Western politicians like the European Council president ,Charles Michel, claim that “Alexei Navalny fought for the values of freedom and democracy” others like Jade McGlynn a researcher specializing in Russian politics at King’s College London claim that Navalny was “not a Western democrat” due to his political stance on Georgia and views on migrants from Caucasus and Central Asia. 

Navalny was reported dead on Feb. 16 at 2:19 domestic time, according to Russian federal sources. The cause of death, as reported by the Arctic Circle jail where Navalny was supposed to be serving 19 years, is the ‘sudden death’ syndrome. This could have been falsified, however, since the full autopsy results are still unknown to the general public as of March 12, which is controversial as the burial of the politician took place on March 1 in the Borisov cemetery in Moscow. On Feb. 22,  before the body was given to his family,  Navalny’s mother posted a video (also available on Navalny’s official YouTube page) saying that she had seen the body of her son with all of the documentation ready, yet the investigators told her that the body will be given to her only in case that she accepts to bury the body “secretly, without a farewell.” Alexei’s mother declined their offer, as she wants people “for whom his death was a personal tragedy to have an opportunity to say goodbye to him.” Only two days after the video, on Feb. 24, the body was given to his family. What changed the Russian authorities’ minds is still unknown as of March 12. 

Meanwhile, in response to these events, several protests and gatherings were organized in Amsterdam to commemorate Navalny’s death. The most popular gatherings were conducted by the FreeRussiaNL NGO and its community. On Feb. 16 and 17, FreeRussiaNL organized gatherings at Dam Square in Amsterdam and in The Hague, near the Russian Embassy. Speakers at the gatherings demanded justice for Navalny and asked everyone to put their fears and doubts aside, as according to them it is time for the Russian opposition to unite and fight for the country in which they aspire to live. 

A picture from the March 16, 2024 FreeRussiaNL gathering. From FreeRussiaNL Telegram channel

The Amsterdammer had the chance to interview a Russian couple who came to put flowers on Navalny’s memorial at Dam Square on Feb. 18. The man, with tears in his eyes, claimed: “Navalny was an important symbol of hope in my life, and a symbol of a possibility that something can change in Russia, but now this symbol is killed.This feels like an enormous loss for the country and for me personally.” His wife added: “You feel empty and hopeless inside about the future of the country in which you grew up, and the only thing that makes you happy is the fact that your kids fortunately won’t grow up in the country that starts wars with Ukraine and conducts political murders.” The couple agreed that they may never return to Russia. Acknowledging the difficulty of never returning to your motherland, the woman quoted the words of renowned Soviet writer and activist, Maxim Gorky: “longing for Russia is like longing for childhood,” which means that the Russia they grew up in does not exist now. The couple asked to emphasize the importance of the fact that Amsterdammers and people living in European countries can peacefully bring flowers to Alexei’s memorials without the fear of being imprisoned. In their view, this is a true ‘‘privilege,” as hundreds of thousands of Russians do not have the opportunity to do so. 

Lastly, the Russian couple talked about their experience migrating to the Netherlands several years ago. They said “The Netherlands is the best place to live” and that they have never faced any sort of discrimination as a migrant here. They also expressed gratitude for the opportunities provided to them in the Netherlands. As of March 12, the demand for justice for Alexei Navalny’s death in the Netherlands is not over. Over 66,000 people signed a petition to rename the street on which the Embassy of the Russian Federation in The Netherlands is located to Alexei Navalny’s street. Amsterdammers are still bringing their flowers, candles, posters and solidarity to Alexei’s memorial on Dam Square, no matter rain, mud or snow.

Yury Babinyan is a university student in Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer. 

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