Kirov, Russia — The date of the first session of the trial against Alexey Navalny has been on people’s minds for a while. Both, the Russian opposition and pro-Kremlin groups see this trial as symbolic, although for very different reasons. The opposition view it as an attempt to lock up one of the most well-known and charismatic leaders of the opposition, while Kremlin fans will be thrilled to have the famous corruption fighter be sentenced for exactly that, corruption.
As we were getting on the train to travel to Kirov where the trial is taking place Alexey said to me: “You really are going. That’s so cool. Thank you.” He remains an extremely humble guy, not dazed by his fame and was genuinely touched that so many people were making a thirteen hour train ride on their own dime to support him on the fist day of his trial. On the train Navalny, activists and journalists all hung out together at the restaurant, chatting quietly, eating borsht and a strange version of Caesar salad.
When we arrived at the square by Kirov’s courthouse at 8 a.m. the following day, a few dozen local activists gathered there already. This was a sanctioned picket, but with no stage and there were meant to be no speeches. Instead, a microphone was being passed around and people, in so many different voices, were repeating one phrase: “The trial against Navalny is a trial against me.” The weather was cold and grim, yet, the mood of everyone on that square was resolute. In the center of the square a stand was placed with facts of corruption connected to the oil giant Gunvor group investigated by Alexey Navalny. The idea is to have a new corruption scandal displayed there for each upcoming court session in Navalny trial.
We could not get into the courthouse, as it was already overcrowded and journalists have been signing up to get in from 3 a.m. We stayed on the square trying to maintain the positive mood in the crowd and waiting for the first session to be over. In the meantime, a protest against Navalny was taking place on the other side on the square. About a dozen people were chanting: “The thief should sit in jail!” to which we were responding with “Putin is a thief!” It must have been quiet a scene for the onlookers.
When the session was postponed and Alexey came out of the courthouse surrounded by a massive crowd of journalists, he started walking over to the square as people kept chanting: “One for all and all for one!” Alexey, calm and upbeat, addressed his supporters before leaving to go to his makeshift office joking called “Navalny’s headquarters.”
For us, Alexey’s friends and allies, it is now very important to make people realize, that this farcical trial is yet another massive nail into the coffin of the Russian judicial system. To make people see that the charges against Navaly are trumped-up and Alexey is innocent. We spent the rest of the day walking around Kirov, giving out flyers that explained the details of the trial. We addressed people on the streets and at bus stations, asking for their understanding and support. Among our group was a local teacher, a musician, a student, and a couple with two kids. Some, like myself, travelled from other cities to be in Kirov that day.
Truly, one for all and all for one.