The voice of dissent

Published February 22, 2024

By Lib Campbell

Alexi Navalny’s death, sad as it is, is no surprise. As a primary voice of Russian opposition, he was more than thorn-in-the-side to Vladimir Putin. He was threat personified. 
Evil that holds power and a big stick can easily silence the voice of dissent. Navalny had been poisoned once before by a Russian nerve agent. He recovered in a German hospital before returning to Russia. Arrested as soon as he came home in January 2021, he has spent the last years in a Russian Penal Colony. Most recently he was in an Arctic Prison stowed away from any public view for days, until just before his suspicious death. 
At this writing, his body has not been returned to his family. That ought to be against some Geneva Convention principle. Russian authorities are doing autopsy. Wonder if they will cremate him before sending him home to his family? Cremation might render a toxicology assessment impossible. The never-knowing cause of death will add more pain to the loss of a husband, father, leader. Such is the way of the martyr.
Martyrs dot the history of civilization from the time of Jesus until now. Most of the disciples were killed for their religious belief. Steven was stoned. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged in Nazi Germany on April 9, 1945. Martin Luther King was shot on a hotel balcony. Martyrs have been skinned, crushed, stretched, drowned, tortured beyond comprehension. The end is always death, but the impact lives in history. The martyrs tell the story of what the voice of dissent costs. 
People who speak truth to power, people who seek justice and righteousness, people who tell an Emperor he has no clothes, assume risks that few of us are willing to take. Most of us find that life is smoother when we learn that going along to get along has less risk than being a pain in anybody’s neck. 
In my small world of writing, I have found out what dissent and criticism of MAGA ideology yields. This writer is called names unworthy of repeating. Even ordinary citizens, captured in a cult mentality, feel entitled to hurl insult toward anyone who does not agree with them. It is a sad day in America. 
The Washington Post headline reads, “Putin is riding high in the death of Navalny.” Putin has used his power to silence dissent and opposition. Mr. Trump is promising to do the same thing. His war against journalists, judges, and just about anybody who crosses him in any way, thus far has gone unchecked. But Donald Trump is no martyr. He is no victim. He is chief intimidator and smear master. 
Aligning himself with strongmen seems to boost his appeal among some. Wonder how they will fare under a dictator? If Russia is a teacher, most Russians seem afraid to speak their truth to ruthless power. Yet dissent rises among young Russians, nurtured in the vision of Navalny. 
It is the cowards who stay silent. Afraid of losing their own positions of power, they are reluctant to speak out even if they know wrongdoing is happening. Election Day 2024 will be a day of reckoning when a silent majority can either correct course or make its stripes known once and for all. 
The martyr casts a vision of a world where all people are heard and valued, where all creation is healed and whole. True power is held by the powerless whose resolve is unyielding, even in the face of the strongman. When the mouse roars, the foundations shake, and a great reversal will prevail. It happens over and over in history. Evil never has the last word. 
So we offer thanksgiving for the martyrs, whose strength inspires us, whose lives challenge us, and whose deaths remind us that all the roads toward justice, peace, harmony and good wind through wilderness and desert.  
The martyr is delivered from the “snare of the fowler” (Ps. 91) to history that records the struggles against evil and oppression in the ongoing story of a broken humanity always trying to find our way back to the garden. 
Perhaps this is the Lenten Journey, and the story that always ends in Resurrection.  
Lib Campbell is a retired Methodist pastor, retreat leader, columnist and host of the blogsite She can be contacted at