Navalny: The 'virus of freedom' is far from being eradicated

After reading his book, Navalny corresponded with Sharansky about enduring in prison

News site publishes handwritten letters between the two dissidents, with former Prisoner of Zion urging now-deceased Russian opposition leader to ‘maintain your inner freedom’

Natan Sharansky (left) and Alexei Navalny. (Collage/AP)
Natan Sharansky (left) and Alexei Navalny. (Collage/AP)

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in a Russian prison last week in mysterious circumstances, had corresponded with former Prisoner of Zion Natan Sharansky in the past year.

The Free Press news site on Monday published several handwritten letters between the two after Navalny reached out to Sharansky last year.

A former politician living in Israel, Sharansky is among the world’s best-known political prisoners from the former Soviet Union. The now 76-year-old spent almost nine years in a Soviet forced labor camp on trumped-up treason and espionage charges over his efforts to immigrate to Israel, and later, for advocating human rights.

Russian authorities said that the cause of Navalny’s death Friday at age 47 is still unknown. He had been jailed since January 2021, when he returned to Moscow after recuperating in Germany from a poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin.

Navalny, who had become a cause celebre worldwide for opposing Putin, was serving three prison terms after his January 2021 arrest on a number of charges he rejected as politically motivated.

He first reached out to Sharansky last April, telling the Soviet dissident that he was inspired by Sharansky’s book “Fear No Evil,” and joked that not a lot has changed in the Russian penal system.

Prisoner of Zion Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky is escorted by US Ambassador Richard Burt after Sharansky crossed the border at Glienicker Bridge on Feb. 11, 1986, at the start of an East-West spy and prisoner exchange in Berlin. (AP Photo/Files)

“I want to thank you for this book as it has helped me a lot and continues to help. Yes, I am at SHIZO now, but when reading about your 400 days spent in the ‘punishment cell’ on decreased food rations, one understands that there are people who pay much higher prices for their convictions,” Navalny wrote.

“I understand that I am not the first, but I really want to become the last, or at least one of the last, of those who are forced to endure this.”

Drawing inspiration from Sharansky’s case, Navalny predicted the current Russian regime would collapse like the Soviet Union.

“The most important thing is to arrive at the correct conclusions, so that this state of lies and hypocrisy does not enter a new cycle,” Navalny said. “The ‘virus of freedom’ is far from being eradicated. It is no longer tens or hundreds as before, but tens and hundreds of thousands who are not scared to speak out for freedom and against the war, despite the threats. Hundreds of them are in prisons, but I am confident that they will not be broken and they will not give up.”

Sharansky wrote back a five-page letter, joking that receiving mail from the prison was like “receiving a letter from his ‘alma mater,’ the university where he spent many years of his youth.”

Demonstrators carry placards during a protest following the death in jail of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, outside the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv, on February 16, 2024. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Sharansky said he was a huge admirer of Navalny and that he had written his memoir while many of his friends were still imprisoned by the KGB.

“So I envisioned this book not only as a memoir but also a sort of textbook or manual for how to behave in a confrontation with the KGB,” he wrote.

“I wish to you — no matter how hard it may be physically — to maintain your inner freedom,” Sharansky added.

He also noted he was writing the letter a day before Passover, “the celebration of the liberation of the Jews from Egyptian slavery 3,500 years ago”

“On this day I am sitting at the celebratory meal wearing a kippah, which was made 40 years ago, out of my footcloth, by my cellmate — a Ukrainian inmate in the Chistopol prison,” Sharansky said. “That’s how twisted everything in this world is! I wish to you, Aleksei, and to all of Russia, an Exodus as soon as possible. “

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