Subdued defiance as Navalny laid to rest

Subdued defiance as Navalny laid to rest

Thousands mourn ‘fearless’ critic of Putin despite warnings from security oficials

A large crowd makes its way towards the Borisovskoye cemetery during the funeral of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny in Moscow on Friday. (Strnger via Reuters)
A large crowd makes its way towards the Borisovskoye cemetery during the funeral of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny in Moscow on Friday. (Strnger via Reuters)

MOSCOW - Standing under grey skies holding red and white bouquets, Russians queued patiently along pavements leading towards opposition politician Alexei Navalny’s funeral on Friday, two weeks after his death in a Siberian penal colony.

By the time the coffin was being driven to a cemetery on the opposite bank of the Moskva River, thousands had gathered, chanting Navalny’s name. Some called President Vladimir Putin, who Navalny’s allies accuse of ordering his death, a murderer.

The Kremlin, which cast Navalny and his supporters as US-backed extremists out to foment revolution, denies any state involvement in his death.

The protest went little further. The Kremlin said any unsanctioned gatherings in support of Navalny would violate the law, and police had deployed hours before the funeral, erecting metal barriers.

Mourners were forced to mill around a short distance from the site of the funeral, the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God in the Moscow district of Maryino where Navalny used to live, and from the Borisovskoye cemetery where he was later taken and buried.

Among the mourners were foreign dignitaries including US Ambassador Lynne Tracy, who stood solemnly in black outside the church before the funeral carrying red roses.

No mourners would give reporters their full names.

But all expressed their admiration for Navalny’s fearlessness in the face of a government he believed would kill him one day, and said he had been a rare hope for change in a country whose veteran leader Putin is set to rule into at least the next decade.

“We came here to honour the memory of a man who also wasn’t afraid, who wasn’t afraid of anything,” said one young woman standing outside the church, giving her name only as Kamila.

Another young woman said the police presence made her nervous, but that turning up for the funeral was a way to remember Navalny.

“Navalny was a great man, he fought for the rights of us, Russians, so that we could live in a better world.”

“They wanted us to be afraid so they rounded up all these cars, all these police. … He wasn’t afraid. Well, maybe he was afraid, but he fought,” the woman said. (Story continues below)

Mourners attend the funeral service and farewell ceremony for Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny at the Soothe My Sorrows church in Moscow on Friday. (Photo: Stringer via Reuters)

‘Thank you for your son’

Inside the church, Navalny’s body laid in an open coffin dressed in a suit and tie and draped with bouquets of flowers. “A picture that should never have existed,” Navalny’s political ally Leonid Volkov said on a live YouTube stream following the funeral.

Navalny was a Christian who condemned Putin’s decision to send tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine as a "crazy enterprise built on lies".

In the run-up to his funeral, his allies accused the authorities of blocking their plans to hold a bigger civil memorial service.

The Kremlin has said it has nothing to do with Navalny’s funeral arrangements.

As Navalny’s body was transferred from the church to the cemetery in a black van with tinted windows, mourners hugged his mother and father and said: “Thank you for your son.”

Thousands followed the hearse across the bridge to the cemetery, where Navalny was buried in a grave decorated with green pine branches to Frank Sinatra’s song My Way and music from Terminator 2, one of his favourite films.

Pondering Russia’s future without Navalny, the most determined challenger to Putin’s rule, some supporters who attended the day’s events said they held onto hope, and others that his death had erased it.

“I don’t see anything good happening,” said one man queueing outside the funeral, asked what he thought would come next. “The abyss,” he answered.

Kirill, a 25-year-old mourner, said he worried for Russia but hoped Navalny’s struggle would continue.

“We won’t give up. We will believe in something better,” he said.

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