Navalny director ‘grateful’ for democracy champion’s final message

The director of the Oscar-winning documentary on Alexei Navalny has said he is grateful to the late Russian opposition leader for his final message to the world to “safeguard and install democracy”.

Navalny director Daniel Roher became close to his subject and his family when he interviewed the democracy champion before he was sent to prison in January 2021. Roher kept in contact until Navalny’s death in a Russian penal colony, reported on Friday.

The Canadian documentary filmmaker told the PA news agency that he was “delighted and not surprised” that Navalny’s wife Yulia Navalnaya had addressed world leaders in Germany, just hours after her husband’s death was announced.

Tributes to Navalny
Floral tributes outside the Russian Embassy in London (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

Roher said: “I don’t know how the political structure of the (opposition) organisation and Yulia will change in the next couple of weeks and months, but I know that the family is passionate and activated and now, perhaps, vengeful.”

He says he has refrained from reaching out to Navalnaya, who attended his wedding, as he wants to give her “respect and space”.

“When the time is right, I will send her a message and remind her how much I care about her and her family, how much gratitude I have for her, and how I will never forget, till the day I die… her husband and his vital message for us all, which is to not be inactive, to be active citizens, to participate in democracy and help safeguard it where it is fragile (and) to help install it where it is non-existent,” he added.

“I’m sad about how prophetic it’s become today,” the director added.

Navalny says in the 2022 film: “If they decided to kill me, it means we are incredibly strong. We need to utilise this power to not give up.”

Roher also said he has “no reason to be surprised” at the death of Navalny, but admitted he was “shocked” at hearing the news.

He called his reaction being more akin to cognitive dissonance, having “a fraction of disbelief” at the devastating news.

“That’s what I was experiencing in that moment, and part of it lingers, even with the clarity of time,” he added.

Roher says that it would have been “uncomfortable or taboo” to try and stop Navalny going home to Russia where he faced certain arrest after recuperating in Germany from nerve agent poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin.

The director added: “He understood the dangers. He was not a naive man, he did things with both eyes open, and I think it will be up to history to judge and debate the value and virtue of his decisions.

“But in spite of what happened yesterday, he will always be a figure of courage and heroism to millions.”

Roher also described him as “curious”, and someone who used their “obsession and interest and passion” as fuel for his political life.

He also criticised the Foreign Secretary after Lord David Cameron told broadcasters at the Munich Security Conference – attended by Navalny’s wife – that there will be “consequences” over the death of the 47-year-old.

Alexei Navalny death
A protest opposite the Russian Embassy in London (Jonathan Brady/PA)

“They don’t have the moral clarity that Navalny had, they don’t have the courage that Navalny had.

“These people don’t act, they talk, and I think that’s why a lot of people think politicians are full of shit.”

Lord Cameron confirmed during the conference that he would be “taking action”.

“What we do is we look at whether there are individual people that are responsible and whether there are individual measures and actions that we can take,” he said.

“We don’t announce them in advance, so I can’t say any more than that. But that is what we’ll be looking at.

“Of course, we’ve already summoned the ambassador, we’ve made clear our views about this dreadful event and the way this person was treated.

Alexei Navalny death
People take part in a protest opposite the Russian Embassy in London (Jonathan Brady/PA)

“I’m clear, we’ll be taking action, and I would urge others to do the same.”

Roher said that Navalny’s life teaches us that “we must have hope, we must not be afraid, we must not be inactive”.

He said Navalny intentionally designed the opposition organisation “for its continuity in the event of his possible death”.

However, the director said: “He didn’t want to die. The man loved life, he loved his family. He was a very bright figure.

“But he knew that his job was dangerous, and what has come to pass, this tragedy that has unfolded… It reminds me of that old adage that ‘the night is darkest before the dawn’.

“And I know that there’s a wealth of talents in the Russian opposition.”

Roher’s film, Navalny, won the Oscar for best documentary at the 2023 Academy Awards.

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