Alexei Navalny as a type

2 min readFeb 20, 2024


I’m obsessed with man-on-the-Russian-street YouTube channels, the interviewer asking questions and letting Russians speak. The Navalny questions triggered a recognition I hadn’t had before — one that links cultures, not divides them.

So many on these channels love and support Navalny, if only quietly. Who knows what proportion of Russia that truly is? No doubt, it is substantial, even if certainly not a majority.

But many express a kind of fury — that he did what he did, knowing full well what would happen. Obviously, returning to Russia was the beginning of his end. Why would he choose this, for himself, for his family? (My favorite of these are people who paint in full brilliance both sides of the story, thereby justifying their doing nothing. But that’s for another post.)

These furious souls made me recognize Navalny as a type: There are activists who ask simply, what’s right? Calculation about personal gain doesn’t enter the equation, at least at the stage of deciding what to do. No doubt, grim odds are understood by all. But the odds are not the question: right and wrong is the question. Navalny had an overwhelming fury about the corruption and kleptocracy that Russia is, especially after having glimpsed the potential for something different after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. Fighting that corruption was all there was — with everything he had or could muster.

Very few view fights like this. Very few view the fight in Russia as even a fight. There is resignation, acceptance, even maturity. One should recognize the possible, and act as if you understand how the possible constrains. One can no more topple Putin than one can travel faster than the speed of light.

I understand the realists. I understand they’re probably right. Yet in the vast sweep of history, there is just this truth: Navalny-types rarely trigger revolutions. Realists never do.

I can’t describe the sadness in reading of his death. None of us should forget its lesson.