Panaji, April 20 | Colloquially dubbed as a mini-Russia within Goa for more than a decade now, the warm sands of Arambol beach will now root for incarcerated Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Wednesday evening.
As the sun sets over the seas off Arambol, a beach village in North Goa, Russians, many of them long-staying Goaphiles, have come together to stage a meet in solidarity with Navalny, whose fate hangs in balance in a Russian prison, with his doctor even suggesting that the key Putin critic may not have long to live.
This is the first such solidarity meet organised in Goa by Russian expats with a political flavour.
One of the organisers of the protest meet, Roman Naumov, a Russian living in Goa for several years now, said that the objective is to “attract the world’s attention towards total lawlessness in Russia against real opposition”, especially at a time when other political parties in Parliament speak in one voice, in praise of president Vladimir Putin.
On Monday, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan had warned of “consequences” if Navalny, who is currently on hunger-strike, dies.
The protest in Goa on Wednesday evening is part of a united effort by the Russian diaspora to express solidarity with Navalny, who has emerged as a rallying point for Putin’s detractors.
Since the late 2000s, Russians have edged out Britishers as the top contingent of foreign tourists to Goa, especially during the tropical state’s mild winter season from October to March.
In 2018, over three lakh Russians visited Goa, followed by 1.3 lakh tourists from the UK. The numbers dropped in 2019 after some leading global charter flight operators hit financial trouble. The 2020-21 season was also derailed due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Over the years, beach villages like Arambol, Morjim and Ashwem have emerged as the favoured hubs for Russian tourists. Tell tales signs like Russian signages, Russian language classes and even menus in Cyrillic make the visitors feel at home in sunny Goa.
No wonder then that the solidarity meet in favour of Navalny is scheduled to be held in Arambol, where Russian longstayers can be spotted regularly.
According to another lead organiser, Alina, also a Russian national, the protest in Goa would involve a prayer-cum-meditation meet, along with a procession with a portrait of the Russian opposition leader, against the backdrop of the setting sun.
“I am doing this because I want to save Alexei from death. He is in a very critical condition. People are very worried. All I can do here is go to the beach with his portrait as a sign of support,” Alina said.
Naumov said that the protest meet would observe all the Covid-19 SOPs put in place by the state government, as well as follow the spirit of Section 144 CrPC — a prohibitive law which debars assembly of people.
“We will ensure that all the laws and guidelines of the land are followed during the solidarity meet,” Naumov said.
When asked if as an organiser of the event in Goa, he is worried about any retributive action by the Russian government, Naumov said: “I am not doing anything illegal, but I am not scared to express my opinion. We just want to attract the world’s attention towards the issue. It might put some pressure on the Russian government.”