Last week the Kirov-based trial of Russia’s most prominent opposition leader Alexei Navalny began to wind up.
Navalny, a lawyer who became famous for an anti-corruption blog and his role at anti-Putin protests, is charged with the embezzlement of $500,000 from a state timber company. Many believe the case is politically-motivated, and its importance seems likely eclipse that of last year’s Pussy Riot trial, making it the most important Russian trial since that of oligarch and Putin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky 10 years ago (Khodorkovsky was found guilty, and remains in prison to this day).
After the closing statement of the trial’s prosecutors, who are asked the judge for a six year prison sentence, Navalny took to the stands to offer his own statement. The full video of the statement is below:
The statement has caused a stir in Russia, leading even those sceptical of Navalny to express admiration for the tone and rhetoric of the speech, and to debate whether they truly lived in a “feudal order.”
Here’s a key passage translated by the Interpreter Magazine:
So, I state that I and my colleagues are doing everything so as to destroy that feudal order that is being made in Russia. To destroy the system of power under which 83 per cent of the national wealth belongs to a half per cent of the population. In that sense, I’m very glad that this trial is underway here in Kirov Region where it is very easy to leave the world of fantasies and fairy tales. Because when you’re in Kirov, or Kumyon or Omutninsk, you see there is no world of fantasies and fairy tales at all. There’s 15 years of an influx of an enormous amount of oil and gas money — but what has been invested for residents? Did any of us get the best access to health care? To educational infrastructure? To new housing? Why? What did we get, all of us? And those who are on this side of the defendants’ bench and those on the opposite side of the defendant’s bench? What did we get from all those people? Nothing.
We only got one thing. You know, there’s the only product that has become more accessible to the public since Soviet times. It’s vodka. For purchase ability, only vodka has become accessible. So all of us, the citizens of this country, are guaranteed only degradation and drunkenness. And those people who build this feudal system of theirs, on the fact they have seized power, all those FSB generals have got their children into the banks. All those United Russia deputies have sent their relatives to Switzerland somewhere. They’ve opened foreign bank accounts there. Entire villages in Marbella belong to United Russia members. We will destroy that feudal system which is robbing all of you here. Despite the fact that you’ve put me on the defendant’s bench, I and my colleagues will defend you in fact, you understand, from all of that. Living in Omutninsk, Kumyon, Kirov, Vladivostok and all the rest.
The most dramatic part of Navalny’s trial is still to come. His sentencing is on July 18th, and protests are being planned for that day. More dramatic still, Navalny is planning to run for mayor of Moscow, and early reports suggest he has cleared the municipal filter to be able to run. Even if he is found guilty, it is not clear if the sentence will come into affect before the election, and so it is unclear if he will be able to run.
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