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A lesson for America from a brave Russian dissident: Character prevails

We are inspired by the example of Alexei Navalny, a profile in courage.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny
AP photo

We lack political courage in this country.

Certainly, the Republican Party does, having rolled over like a puppy before a joke of a former president. But can we feel sure Democrats would be any more principled if the shoe were on the other foot — if, in their calculation, political survival required abandoning all character?

With that in mind, we were inspired this week by the courageous example of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, who was imprisoned again on fabricated charges for the real act of speaking out against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Navalny was supposed to be dead by now. Russian operatives, doing Putin’s bidding, almost certainly were responsible last summer for putting a lethal, military-grade nerve agent in Navalny’s underwear. He was barely saved by doctors in Berlin.

But then Navalny flew right back to Russia on Jan. 17, knowing the risks, and instantly was arrested for bogus parole violations. You might think he would have learned to cower and wheedle, like a typical Republican member of Congress in our own country. But standing in a courtroom, knowing his fate was prison or worse, he said this about Putin:

“The reason why it all happened is one man’s hatred and fear . . . I mortally offended him by surviving an attempt at my life . . . And then I committed an even more serious offense: I didn’t go into hiding.”

And this:

“Murder is the only way he [Putin] knows how to fight . . . We all remember Alexander the Liberator and Yaroslav the Wise. Well, now we’ll have Vladimir the Poisoner of Underpants. That’s how he will go down in history.”

And this:

“The main thing in this whole trial isn’t what happens to me. Locking me up isn’t difficult. What matters most is why this is happening. This is happening to intimidate large numbers of people. This is how it works: Imprison one person to frighten millions.”

The Biden administration and European governments have condemned Navalny’s imprisonment. Sanctions, for what they’re worth, may follow. But what’s got Putin really worried, as thousands of Russians fill the streets to protest, is the courage of one man.

Character doesn’t always work its power in a straight line, but it prevails.

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