Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny with his wife Yulia in Moscow, Russia, in September 2013. (AP/Evgeny Feldman)

Convicted: Aleksei Navalny

by Dr. David Sanders

Both criminals and saints are convicted and both may wind up in prison. The criminal is convicted for their anti-social or illegal behavior. The saint is convicted of their strongly held beliefs.


The dissident, Aleksei Navalny will be interred tomorrow. The funeral service is to be held in his hometown church under an icon that is entitled: “Assuage my sorrow.”


There is an ancient Jewish tradition that speaks of 36 hidden saints who through their courage and vulnerability sustain the spiritual world through love. Sometimes, due to the fates of synchronicity, these 36 meet up, connect and empower each other.


After Navalny’s death in the Gulag letters were published of a correspondence between Navalny and former dissident Natan Sharansky.


Navalny wrote to tell him that he would be on the lookout for a plaque which read: “Natan Sharansky was here” to which Sharansky quipped back that he was excited to receive Navalny’s letter from the location of his former Alma Mater.


The Gulag is brutal. It is designed to sap life. Sharansky did not protest his conditions, he demonstrated to his oppressors that they could not break him; not by extensive stays in solitary confinement or his own choice to go on an over a 100-day hunger strike. In the end, his defiance over more than nine years, and his wife Avital’s unflagging advocacy, secured his release. He was reunited with her in Israel.


Yulia, Navalny’s wife has been by his side throughout his courageous fight and vows to continue his protest. She will only welcome his body home. Her love for him, her sorrow for his struggle ending in death, will never be assuaged.


What did a hidden saint tell another hidden saint? Sharansky wrote to him: “By remaining a free person in prison, you, Aleksei, influence the souls of millions of people worldwide.”


In an interview last week Sharansky spoke about his pen(itentiary) pal:


“His legacy is not to be afraid. And his courage is next to nobody that I know…to live as a free person without fear. It’s not: “Wait until Putin will be overthrown, and then you’ll become free.” Be free now, and Putin’s energy will be destroyed. That’s Navalny’s heritage. Navalny was one of the most free, if not the freest person in Russia.”


How is it possible to be free in the Gulag? In solitary confinement? Stripped of hope and fearing for your survival?


Ideas and ideals that you are convicted for and convicted of are a powerful force to set you free. For these two men they shared another commonality. Love. Love for their wives and the hope to be reunited with them. Cell mates provide support and solace. Soul mates free us.


Learn more about Dr. David Sanders’s upcoming class on Democracy









Buz Bogage · February 29, 2024 at 1:22 pm

Hatzlachah….kol Hakavod….a fine and moving piece. Thank you. Been reading ‘The amen effect’ about Ikar in LA. You have it beat. Congrats.

Marty Morris · February 29, 2024 at 1:50 pm

Beautiful piece. How fitting that Navalny and Sharansky communicated. Add Mandela to their names as 3 of the most courageous heroes that have lived in our lifetimes.

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