Controversial proposal for monument outside Russian embassy would honor political opposition leader Navalny

Eugene Dmitriev, who is a part of the Monument@91st Group and started the petition.
Photo by Eugene Dmitriev

Alexei Navalny was laid to rest in Moscow today, but a group of Russian-Americans are proposing to immortalize the Russian opposition leader through a public work of art in a controversial spot within the Big Apple.  

In a bold move that could potentially ruffle some Kremlin feathers, the Monument@91st Group wants to build a monument in Navalny’s honor right in front of the Russian Consulate on the Upper East Side.  Through a Change.org petition, the group is asking for city, state and private support to erect the statue that would “honor the memory and work of Alexei Navalny, who gave his life in the name of freedom and democracy.”

Eugene Dmitriev, who’s part of the group advocating for the statue, started the petition on Feb. 17, a day after the Russian prison where Navalny was detained reported that he had died. Navalny was a staunch critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, often working to expose the widespread corruption he said was taking place within the administration and speaking out against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

A statue at this location could prove unsettling for the consulate, but Dmitriev called it “a clear sign of defiance” and is prepared for any backlash

“If we can, we’d like to have it by the Russian Consulate, but we’re not sure about all the legalities and what is safer,” he said. “It would be preferable next to it, just to annoy them.” 

At press time, the petition collected 700 supporters, with no signs of slowing down. Dmitriev does not have a specific goal, but he is hoping to get around 1,000 signatures. 

A “Russian version” of Nelson Mandela

Although Dmitriev never met Navalny, he supported his political activism. He even referred to him as a “Russian version” of Nelson Mandela, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. 

“He came close to being in the same pantheon as they were,” Dmitriev said. “Because they were people who felt the need to create a movement.”

Although the statue would stand in New York, Dmitriev wants to raise more world-wide awareness about Navalny and his work. 

“Alexei Navalny must be remembered all around the world to remind everyone what freedom of action and speech is all about amidst oppression and devilry,” Dmitriev said. 

Support for the project

Dmitriev’s hope is that both private and public funds would pay for the statue. But right now, he is only asking anyone who supports the idea for a Navalny statue to sign the petition. 

“A monument creates a location of memory, of honoring,” Dmitriev said. “This would bring people together. A monument can create a feeling or energy of the person who was. Because Alexei Navalny has to be remembered. He has to be honored.” 

Comments on the petition, most of them written in English and some in Russian, show overwhelming support for the project.  

“He fought for freedom, one of the greatest people in the world,” Vladimir Spiridonov wrote. 

Maksim Filippov, another commenter, praised Navalny as a hero who fought for the world.

“Alexei Navalny was not only a hero for millions of Russian citizens, but also a shining example of an irreconcilable fighter against corruption and authoritarianism for the whole world,” Filippov wrote. 

The planning stages

The proposal is still in its early stages, so there is no official design yet. There is also likely to be a very lengthy approval process involving several government agencies. Dmitriev said when plans come to fruition, Navalny’s family would be the key stakeholders in the approval process.

“If we can get a lot of signatures, Yulia Navalny and her children would have to have a say on how they would like the statue to be,” Dmitriev said. “At the end of the day, it’s them. It’s their legacy, not just ours.”