[Baltimore Sun] Tom Zirpoli: In honor of Russian freedom fighter Alexei Navalny | COMMENTARY

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While MAGA Republicans like former Fox News host Tucker Carlson were paying homage to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his aggression against democracy in Ukraine, a brave young Russian freedom fighter, as former President Ronald Reagan would surely have called him, died fighting for his freedom and the freedom of fellow Russians.

Alexei Navalny was being held captive — a political prisoner — and likely put to death in a faraway Russian prison 40 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

He had already escaped one assassination attempt, likely ordered by Putin. Navalny was poisoned with a nerve agent while on an airplane in 2020.

After he survived and recovered in a German hospital, and returned to his homeland, Putin simply put him away, far away, in a Russian prison on false charges. Not satisfied with his imprisonment, however, Navalny was likely murdered a couple of weeks ago, at age 47. The murder was likely ordered.

Just a week before his death, Carlson was in Russia telling his Republican fans how nice it was in Russia compared to America. Their cities were better than American cities, he said. Their grocery stores were nicer, he said.

Of course, Carlson neglected to report that the people living in those “nice” Russian cities were not free. They have no freedom of speech, they are not free to assemble and they cannot question their government without being imprisoned, beaten or put to death. The people of Russia can be searched at any time by police and held in detainment without charges or on made-up charges. There are no independent courts in Russia. All the judges work for Putin.

If Russians do speak up about their lack of freedom or, as Navalny did, about Putin’s corruption, they end up in places where Navalny died. The people of Russia are not allowed to even honor Navalny’s death.

According to a report from Valerie Hopkins in Moscow, “A bishop who planned a public prayer for Navalny was detained as he left his house. Bishop Grigori Mikhnov-Vaitenko was mysteriously hospitalized after having a stroke while in police custody. Things like that happen to people who dare to challenge Putin and his government.

Hopkins reported that two men were arrested after a picture of Navalny was found inside one of the men’s backpacks. Another man who brought flowers to a Navalny memorial was beaten by police.

According to Hopkins, hundreds of Russian citizens across the country have been detained for trying to honor or recognize Navalny. One woman told Hopkins that the Russian government was “scared of Navalny in jail, scared of dead Navalny,” and now “they are scared of the people who bring flowers” to honor his death.

Navalny gave his life fighting for freedom for the people of Russia. Carlson gave up a week of nice weather to visit Russia and pay homage to his hero, Putin, without questioning his hold on the Russian people or even questioning why he had imprisoned American citizens still held hostage in Russia.

When Carlson was asked by Egyptian journalist Emad El Din Adeeb about Putin’s tendency to have his opponents, like Navalny, killed, Carlson responded, “Leadership requires killing people, sorry.”

Navalny is not the first person to allegedly be politically assassinated in Russia. Almost weekly one can read about another poisoning in Russia, another person “falling” out of a window, a female journalist murdered in her apartment’s elevator or another person “falling” down a flight of stairs after criticizing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It is amazing how clumsy Putin’s critics are. They seem to be dropping like flies.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump used Navalny’s death to try to remind us of his pain and suffering over his legal struggles. What happened to Navalny, said Trump, “made me more aware of what is happening in our country,” Trump tweeted on social media.

As stated by former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, “Donald Trump could have condemned Vladimir Putin for being a murderous thug. Trump could have praised Navalny’s courage.” Instead, said Haley, he denounced America and compared our country to Russia. Of course, Trump identifies more with Putin than Navalny.

No one was surprised that Trump failed to honor Navalny, a true freedom fighter. Nor was anyone surprised when he failed to condemn Putin. As stated by Jill Colvin writing for the Associated Press, “Trump has been criticized for nearly a decade now for his refusal to denounce” Putin and for “his frequent complimentary statements” about the dictator.

Curious minds wonder why Trump refuses to condemn Putin regardless of what he does. MAGA Republicans refuse to consider that they are voting for a Russian asset to be their presidential nominee.

The death of Navalny comes at an interesting time for Republicans in Congress who refuse to vote on a bill, already approved by the Senate, to secure funding for Ukraine’s war against an invading Russian army. MAGA Republicans in the House are refusing to bring the bill to a vote even though a majority of members support it. Trump has told them not to support Ukraine and his friend, Putin, has to be celebrating.

The war in Ukraine has not been going well for Putin. Lucky for him, however, Trump and his fellow Republicans in Congress are bailing him out as they turn their backs on Navalny, Ukraine and democracy.

Tom Zirpoli is the Laurence J. Adams Distinguished Chair in Special Education Emeritus at McDaniel College. He writes from Westminster. His column appears on Wednesdays. Email him at [email protected].

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