1 March 2015
We honour Boris Nemtsov (1959 – 2015), a courageous democratic politician, murdered late at night in central Moscow on 27 February 2015. He was gunned down on the eve of a major 'anti-crisis', anti-war demonstration, of which he was one of the key organizers, in what has all the hallmarks of a politically-motivated killing. We join with Amnesty International and other Russian and international human rights and civil society organizations and figures in calling for a prompt, impartial and effective investigation of his killing.
The murder of Boris Nemtsov is the latest in a long line of killings of leading Russian civil society figures - journalists, lawyers, human rights defenders and politicians - that includes such names as Galina Starovoitova, Sergei Yushenkov, Anna Politkovskaya, Stanislav Markelov, Anastasia Baburova and Natalia Estemirova.
Throughout his life Boris Nemtsov maintained his adherence to democratic politics. He believed in civic participation, in free and fair elections, in freedom of speech, and in the politics of persuasion, not of force or fear. He stood up for the protection of human rights. Boris Nemtsov not only believed in these principles, he acted upon them and sought to put them into practice. As a practitioner of politics he sought to maintain a public space where people could express their opinions, debate the future of their country, and without fear or pressure choose their political leaders and representatives in free and fair elections. He believed in a Russia where there would be freedom under the rule of law, a real division of powers, where democratic institutions would not be merely decorative, where there would be an independent judiciary, where the Constitutional protection of fundamental rights would be a reality, where civil society organizations would be nurtured, not branded as ‘foreign agents’, and where free speech would be fostered, not radically curtailed by a vicious media campaign prosecuted against dissenting opinion. That public space, against the background of a war in Ukraine that has seen more than 5,000 people killed, is sorely under threat today.
Boris Nemtsov, a charismatic figure, was for many a symbol of this public space and of a free and open politics. One of the young stars of a new democratic politics in Russia in the 1990s, he came to fame as governor of Nizhny Novgorod in 1991 and served as a deputy in the State Duma and as a minister and deputy prime minister under President Yeltsin. At one time he appeared to be Boris Yeltsin's preferred candidate as his successor. He was a leader of political parties – Right Cause, Union of Right Forces, Solidarity, and RPR-PARNAS. In 2013 he was elected a deputy of Yaroslavl region legislative assembly. He was an active campaigner and polemicist, taking a leading role in many public demonstrations and publishing a large number of political pamphlets and articles, many of them devoted to exposing corruption.
At the dawn of the rebirth of democratic politics in Russia, in what became a catch-phrase of the time, conservative Communist Party functionaries taunted reformist Boris Yeltsin with the phrase: ‘Boris, you are not right!’ [‘Boris, ty ne prav!’ - first spoken by Egor Ligachev, interrupting a speech Yeltsin made demanding deeper reforms at the 19th Party Conference]. Today, on 1 March, as thousands of people demonstrate in Russian cities to mark the memory of Boris Nemtsov, at a time when democratic values are under threat as perhaps never before in post-Soviet Russia, it is of him we say: ‘Boris, you were right!’ You were right in your commitment to a free, open and public politics. You were right to hope and believe that Russia has a democratic future. It is not only your personal tragedy, but the tragedy of Russia, that a commitment of this kind should come at the cost of such enormous personal risk. We honour your example. We honour your courage. We salute you.
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