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To understand the stature of a figure like Alexei Navalny, you only need to look at what occurred within 24 hours of the announcement of his murder on Friday.

I use the word ‘murder’ for reasons which must be obvious to you if you are aware of the context. Like many of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s enemies, he died in a suspect, poorly-explained manner, with the Russian government claiming that Navalny fell and died suddenly while out on a prison yard walk in the Arctic penal colony Putin sent him to. His crime, of course, was daring to defy Putin. His body has not been released to his grieving family members yet, fueling widespread suspicion that Putin is covering his tracks.

The condemnation of the fact that another Kremlin critic has been executed on Putin’s orders was instant, widespread, and unshakeable in its conviction. No official denial from the Russian government will ever convince the world that Navalny just so happened to drop dead a month ahead of general elections in Russia.

Protests in major cities across the world erupted with great fury. Much like other imprisoned symbols of the free press like Julian Assange, who is currently waiting on a verdict on whether he’ll be allowed to appeal his extradition to the US, Navalny had become a source of inspiration not just for the thousands of Russian protesters who’ve hit the streets in mourning of their beloved anti-corruption blogger and symbol of political hope, but for free press activists across the globe.

By all accounts, he was relentless. The featured photo of this article is a photo of Navalny on his way back to Russia after he had just barely survived an assassination attempt (no prizes for guessing who was behind that, either). He pursued the targets of his stories with the kind of righteous disdain that is the stuff of legend.

No wonder, then, that his assassination at the hands of Moscow’s butcher-in-chief has shaken the world to its core.

How long must we passively watch as we lose our very best and brightest before we realise that once we run out of the best and brightest, all we’re going to be left with is just the assholes?

Because let’s face it: Navalny was not the first to be killed because he exposed individuals who committed crimes against their own people. Dozens of journalists have been killed in Russia. In Malta, we lost Daphne Caruana Galizia. In Slovakia, we lost Ján Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová. In the Netherlands, we lost Peter de Vries. In Georgia, we lost Alexander Lashkarava. In Greece, we lost Giorgos Karaivaz. In Ireland, we lost Lyra McKee.

The names in the list above are European journalists who were murdered in the last six years alone.

Then, of course, there are the ongoing atrocities being committed in active war zones: Palestine, Ukraine, Sudan, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Haiti. The threat of conflict looms large over the wider Middle East and possibly, even wider swathes of the world when one considers how tensions between China and the US are permanently flaring.

How many lives must be destroyed to satisfy the whims of autocratic bastards who can’t as much as stand a rose being placed in front of an image of a man they slaughtered for the sake of covering up their own crimes without ordering one of their loyalists to remove everything?

A screenshot of a post published by Repubblika president Robert Aquilina. The caption reads: ‘The photo and candle I placed in front of the Russian embassy two hours ago in respect of Alexei Navalny have been removed. Another member of Repubblika, Mario J Grech, noticed this and placed a new candle. I invite whoever is disgusted with Navalny’s assassination to place a candle in front of the Russian embassy in protest and in solidarity with Navalny’s family and the Russian people.’

I bet heritage minister (what a fall from grace from the justice ministry, eh?) Owen Bonnici must be very proud of being in such exalted company as his fellow monument-averse Russians. After all, who else can claim the dubious honour of having breached fundamental human rights twice while serving as a member of Cabinet and still having lived to tell the tale?

Once, it was for repeatedly ordering the clearing of the monument to Daphne Caruana Galizia, the same one which stands the test of time (and hordes of pissed off Labour party supporters) to this day. Bonnici refused to apologise. The other time, it was for implementing an unconstitutional ‘band club protection’ law that screwed property owners out of their lot simply because band clubs had the minister by the balls and refused to cough up market-rate rental payments.

And yet, there he still goes, wearing that smug grin, nary a care in the world.

Because that’s just it, isn’t it? It is the scum of the world like Bonnici who survive. They will sacrifice anything, even their spinal cord if necessary, to survive. It is those of us who are willing to risk everything to do the right thing who end up getting killed.

Of course, not ones to miss an opportunity to attempt to cling to the significance of Navalny’s death, our more relevant ministers were busy thinking of what to say to seem like they are governing a democracy and not a banana republic. On mangled-Twitter (I refuse to call it X), prime minister Robert Abela described Navalny as a “staunch champion of democracy” and the news of his death as “devastating”.

In comments to MaltaToday, foreign affairs minister Ian Borg expressed “serious” concern over Navalny’s death and called for an independent and transparent investigation into his death. Then he really lays it on thick: “our thoughts are with his family and all those who stand for the ideals of democracy and fundamental freedoms with such bravery and conviction”.

Judging from the non-existent empathy on Robert Abela’s face when he had come face to face with Isabelle Bonnici, someone with whom it should have been remarkably easy to empathise with given the severity of the circumstances, I highly doubt his “sincere” condolences to Navalny’s family, a family who he’s never met and lives in an entirely different context to his own, are being made with much sincerity at all.

As for Ian Borg’s sudden love and support for “all those who stand for the ideals of democracy and fundamental freedoms with such bravery and conviction”, I’d have been far more interested in what he has to say if the minister had displayed some of that sentiment when one of our very own was blown up with a car bomb in a conspiracy that goes up to the very top of the same government he represents.

If the choice is between scuttling about with my tail between my legs like Owen Bonnici or standing up for what is right no matter the cost, I’ll take the latter any time, any day.

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