How to make sure the Krem­lin re­mem­bers Boris Nemtsov

The Baltic Times - - COMMENTARY - Vladimir V. Kara-murza

Last month, thou­sands of peo­ple held ral­lies and vigils in Moscow, St. Peters­burg and other cities across Rus­sia to mark the sec­ond an­niver­sary of the mur­der of Boris Nemtsov, the for­mer Deputy Prime Min­is­ter and leader of the coun­try’s pro-democ­racy op­po­si­tion, who was gunned down near the Krem­lin on Feb. 27, 2015. While the sus­pected per­pe­tra­tors — all of them linked to Vladimir Putin’s viceroy in Chech­nya, Ramzan Kady­rov — are cur­rently on trial in a Moscow mil­i­tary court, and in­ves­ti­ga­tors have not pur­sued those who or­dered and or­ga­nized the killing. The Rus­sian gov­ern­ment’s pri­or­ity seems to be try­ing to erase Nemtsov’s mem­ory. Sev­eral times a week, mu­nic­i­pal work­ers, with help from the po­lice, plun­der the makeshift me­mo­rial on the bridge where he was killed, and the au­thor­i­ties have re­peat­edly re­jected pe­ti­tions for a plaque to the slain politi­cian in Moscow. While his pop­u­lar mem­ory lives on, of­fi­cial com­mem­o­ra­tion of Nemtsov will have to wait for a change in gov­ern­ment.

But it doesn’t have to in other coun­tries.

This year, on the an­niver­sary of the shoot­ing, Sen. Marco Ru­bio (R-fla.) in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion that would des­ig­nate the stretch of Wis­con­sin Av­enue NW in front of the Rus­sian Em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton as Boris Nemtsov Plaza and change the mis­sion’s ad­dress to 1 Boris Nemtsov Plaza. The bill was co-spon­sored by Se­na­tors Ron Johnson (R-wis.) and John Mccain (R-ariz.), and re­ferred to the Home­land Se­cu­rity and Gov­ern­men­tal Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, which Johnson chairs. “The cre­ation of ‘Boris Nemtsov Plaza’ would per­ma­nently re­mind Putin’s regime and the Rus­sian peo­ple that these dis­si­dents’ voices live on, and that de­fend­ers of lib­erty will not be si­lenced,” Ru­bio said in a state­ment.“whether it is look­ing at a street sign, or thou­sands of pieces of cor­re­spon­dence ad­dressed 1 Boris Nemtsov Plaza, it will be abun­dantly clear to the Krem­lin that the in­tim­i­da­tion and mur­der of op­po­si­tion fig­ures does not go un­no­ticed.”

No­tably, the re­des­ig­na­tion of this par­tic­u­lar ad­dress would have more than a sym­bolic meaning. On Sept. 28, 1994, Nemtsov par­tic­i­pated in the of­fi­cial open­ing of the new Rus­sian Em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton. Then gov­er­nor of the Nizhny Nov­gorod re­gion, Nemtsov was part of a del­e­ga­tion led by Rus­sian President Boris Yeltsin. At a din­ner at the em­bassy that evening, Yeltsin in­tro­duced Nemtsov to President Bill Clin­ton, by in­di­cat­ing the fu­ture he had in mind for the young politi­cian. Strobe Tal­bott, then U.S. Deputy Sec­re­tary of State,

was stand­ing next to the two pres­i­dents. When I met re­cently with Tal­bott, he re­called Yeltsin’s words to Clin­ton about Nemtsov: “Let me in­tro­duce you to this guy, keep an eye on him. This young man is as good as me, and he is about as big as me, and he’ll be the president of Rus­sia.”

Nemtsov did not be­come president. But, for many peo­ple in my coun­try, he be­came the sym­bol of a dif­fer­ent Rus­sia — more demo­cratic, more hope­ful, more Euro­pean, one at peace with it­self and with its neigh­bors.

The re­nam­ing of diplo­matic ad­dresses has a prece­dent that was also set by Congress and that was also con­nected with Rus­sia. In 1984, an amend­ment to the D.C. ap­pro­pri­a­tions bill of­fered by Sen. Al­fonse M. D’amato (R-N.Y.) changed the ad­dress of the then-soviet Em­bassy on 16th Street NW to 1 An­drei Sakharov Plaza, in honor of the Rus­sian dis­si­dent and No­bel Peace Prize lau­re­ate, who was be­ing kept in in­ter­nal ex­ile in Gorky (the Soviet-era name for Nizhny Nov­gorod). Few could have thought then, that less than a decade later, Rus­sian diplo­mats would dis­play a bust of Sakharov in the em­bassy it­self.

There will come a day when Rus­sia takes pride in hav­ing Boris Nemtsov’s name on its em­bassy let­ter­head. It will also be grate­ful to those who, in dif­fi­cult times, did not al­low it to for­get.

Vladimir V. Kara-murza is vice chair­man of the Open Rus­sia move­ment and chair­man of the Boris Nemtsov Foun­da­tion for Free­dom. He is re­cov­er­ing from a sus­pected poi­son­ing that left him in a coma in Fe­bru­ary.

The com­men­tary first ap­peared in The Wash­ing­ton Post Opin­ions sec­tion

Vladimir V. Kara-murza is the na­tional co­or­di­na­tor of Open Rus­sia, a pro-democ­racy move­ment founded by mikhail Khodor­kovsky.

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