Soviet Jewry

In prison, Navalny wrote Sharanksy


Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in prison last week, had been carrying on a correspondence with former prisoner of Zion Natan Sharansky, the Free Press reported on Monday.

After managing to get a copy of Sharansky’s memoir, “Fear No Evil,” through his lawyers, Navalny read it in the “Polar Wolf” arctic penal colony where he died under dubious circumstances on Friday, according to the report.

This fact is contained in two letters Navalny wrote to Sharansky, in March and April 2023. In the letters, Navalny discusses the memoir, and also quotes the Bible, writing that “what has been will be again” and adds that he “continues to believe that we will fix this and that one day in Russia there will be what has not been.”

Sharansky told Israel Hayom after the disclosure of the correspondence that “Alexei Navalny was dangerous to the Russian tyrant [Vladimir Putin] for two reasons: He did more than anyone else to expose the nature of the Russian dictatorship to the eyes of hundreds of millions of people, and he challenged the system. Navalny proved that it is possible to remain a free man until your last breath in prison.”

In the first letter, dated March 30, 2023, Navalny writes: “I am now in penal colony IK-6 ‘Melekhovo,’ but from the Vladimirskaya prison they are writing to me that a cell is being prepared for me there. So I will likely find myself in the same facility that you were in. Only now there will probably be a plaque saying ‘Natan Sharansky was held here.’

“Please forgive the intrusion and a letter from a stranger, but I believe it’s permissible in author-reader relations,” he continues. “I am writing as a reader. I have just read your book … while I was held in the PKT [solitary confinement]. And now I am writing from SHIZO [a punishment cell] — it will be 128 days in total. I was laughing when I was reading the passage where you wrote, ‘I was penalized with a series of 15 days at SHIZO, and then, as an offender who broke prison rules, they sent me to the PKT for 6 months.’ I was amused by the fact that neither the essence of the system nor the pattern of its acts has changed.”

The memoir “has helped me a lot” writes Navalny. “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. I look at the postcards sent to you by [your wife] Avital, all the words have been blacked out. Then I go to court where they try to convince me that burning the letters that were sent to me is legal. After all, there was a ‘code’ embedded in them.”

“The ‘virus of freedom’ is far from being eradicated,” Navalny wrote, “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 [Russia’s war against Ukraine], 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.

“And many of them draw strength and inspiration from your story and your legacy. I am definitely one of them.”

Navalny concludes the letter with the words, “Next year in Jerusalem,” written in Cyrillic letters.

In a five-page replay dated April 3, 2023, Sharansky wrote, “I respond to you not only as an ‘author to reader,’ but also as your admirer.”

Sharansky recounts that his book was published when the Soviet Union was already in the process of disintegration, and that therefore, with the passage of time, was increasingly read as a historical novel “about the Dark Middle Ages.”

“And now — ’the idiot’s dream has come true’!” he writes with bitter irony, referring to the Putin regime.

“My horror over your poisoning changed to amazement and exhilaration when you started your own independent investigation,” Sharansky wrote. [After recovering in Germany, Navalny and his team published a massive investigation into Putin’s secret palace, and also exposed the assassination squad].

“I was very angered by the question of a certain European correspondent the day after your return to Russia. ‘Why did he return? We all knew that he would be arrested in the airport — does he not understand such simple things?’ My answer was pretty rude: ‘You’re the one who doesn’t understand something. If you think that his goal is survival — then you are right. But his true concern is the fate of his people — and he is telling them: ‘I am not afraid and you should not be afraid either’.”

Sharansky concludes the letter (written just before Passover) by wishing him and all of Russia an “exodus from Egypt.”