Mourners defy threats to pay homage to Alexei Navalny amidst Kremlin’s silence

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2nd March 2024 – (Moscow) Scores of mourners lined the streets of Moscow in a somber tribute to the late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, whose funeral procession on Friday became a poignant display of defiance and grief. Navalny, a prominent critic of the Kremlin and President Vladimir Putin, was laid to rest at a cemetery on the outskirts of the capital, amidst chants for freedom and against the current administration.

The mourning for Navalny, 47, unfolded under the watchful eye of a heavy police presence. The authorities had issued stark warnings against unauthorised gatherings, yet thousands risked potential arrest to show their respect for the anti-corruption campaigner. The Kremlin has been quick to label the outpouring of emotion as “hysterical” and has denied any involvement in Navalny’s demise.

Navalny’s final journey began with a service in a church in Maryino, where his closed casket was surrounded by immediate family, including his parents. His wife, Yulia, chose not to return to Russia for the funeral, citing fears over the Kremlin’s repressive tactics. Through social media, she expressed her profound gratitude for the “26 years of absolute happiness” shared with her husband.

Notwithstanding the Kremlin’s warnings, the Borisovo cemetery saw a large turnout where mourners were heard shouting “We won’t forget you!” and “Forgive us!” as the coffin made its way to the gravesite. The rights monitoring group OVD-Info reported at least 128 arrests at memorials in 19 cities across Russia, signalling the administration’s intent to quash any dissent.

Western leaders have been vocal in their condemnation of Navalny’s prison death and the consequent suppression of memorial activities. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz commended the mourners’ bravery, and French President Emmanuel Macron acknowledged their courage. Diplomats from several Western nations were amongst those paying their respects.

In a symbolic gesture, music from “Terminator 2”, Navalny’s favourite film, filled the air as his final resting place was sealed, according to his spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh.

Despite the Kremlin’s silence over Navalny’s death and the stern message from spokesperson Dmitry Peskov about the illegality of unauthorised gatherings, the sentiment on the streets was one of mourning mixed with resistance. The lack of state television coverage led Navalny’s team, now operating in exile, to broadcast the funeral proceedings on YouTube, offering a platform for those unable to attend.