- Boris Nemtsov:A Tragedy of Resistance Introduction to the Special Section
In Russian politics Boris Nemtsov is definitely one of the most tragic figures, and not only because he was shot dead at the age of 56 in close vicinity to the Kremlin, the locus of Russia’s power. The “transparency of evil” in this specific case was shocking: Nemtsov’s murder was filmed by a surveillance camera, which confirms the explicitly demonstrative and insolent character of the assassination.
This political tragedy has other dimensions too. Nemtsov was one of the few Russian politicians who - having behind him a decade-long history of public service in the 1990s - intentionally refused to integrate with the ruling elite, as many of his formerly liberal colleagues did. Among them are Sergey Kirienko (currently the head of the Rosatom state corporation), Anatoly Chubais (the head of Rosnano), Nikita Belykh (the governor of Kirov Oblast), Irina Khakamada (a business coach and author), among others. Each of them has chosen to be part of the regime, presuming that their service can civilize and ennoble it. Unfortunately, even Nemtsov’s death failed to become a consolidating factor for those who constituted the first generation of democratic leaders in post-Soviet Russia. Their hopes for improving the regime largely failed. Yet so did Nemtsov’s campaigning against Kremlin-sponsored corruption and nepotism: most of his compatriots ultimately turned a blind eye to the well-recorded wrongdoings of the Kremlin only because it managed to annex Crimea, support insurgents in eastern Ukraine and intervene in Syria.
No less tragic was the likely origin of the deadly plot against Nemtsov - its roots are being traced in Chechnya where Russia waged two devastating wars that Nemtsov tried to stop. In 1996 he campaigned for the end of hostilities and managed to collect one million signatures for that. His contribution to the anti-war movement was essential, which makes the probable Chechen ties to his murder even more tragic.
Nemtsov’s death illuminated the political core of the current regime that tolerates, if not incites, extra-legal actions against those it arbitrarily [End Page 3] considers to be “foes,” “traitors,” or members of the “fifth column.”1 Yet this is a tragedy of the whole country, where clandestine groups can physically punish dissenters, castigate opponents and lynch “enemies.”2
This issue of Demokratizatsiya is unusual not only because it is meant to commemorate Boris Nemtsov one year after his murder. In addition to publishing academic papers, it also includes personal notes and reflections as well. We incorporated them intentionally in this issue since we thought it would be pointless to speak about Nemtsov only in scholarly terms. In the meantime, we tried to avoid politically biased appraisals of Nemtsov’s life and career. We wanted to present to the readers a palette of diverse assessments of Nemtsov’s personality by people for whom he was one of the leading figures in their research on Russia’s post-Soviet transformation. We also gave space to those who had personal experiences of either living or travelling to Nizhny Novgorod under his governorship. The plurality of opinions collected in this issue matches the diversity and multiplicity of Nemtsov’s political legacy that will always be duly remembered – so far with sorrow and mourning, but – eventually – with hope for the future as well. [End Page 4]
2. Aleksandr Baunov. “Ubiystvo Nemtsova: nevidimye proskriptsii i degradatsii rossiiskogo avtoritarizma,” Moscow Carnegie Center, 28 February 2015, available at http://carnegie.ru/2015/02/28/убийство-немцова-невидимые-проскрипции-и-деградация-российского-авторитаризма/i33b