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Viewpoint: Why I loved Nemtsov

Boris Nemtsov Image copyright Getty Images

Despite the crowds who turned out to mourn Boris Nemtsov in Moscow on Sunday, it's 20 years since Russians have voted for liberal politicians in any numbers. These are dark days for Russians who espouse liberal values and a peaceful foreign policy - a mood captured in a tribute to Nemtsov by 88-year-old historian Prof Georgy Mirsky.

Here is a translation of his blog post on the website of the Ekho Moskvy radio station.

It was on the second day after Nemtsov's death, that I suddenly realised Nemtsov was the only politician I loved.

Words like "love" are frankly not suited to politics. It's a different sphere of human relations. But this is an exception, for me, at least. I was not personally acquainted with Nemtsov, I never saw him close-up. It doesn't matter. I understood his weaknesses, his shortcomings. It doesn't matter. No other political figure of ours (and over the decades plenty of them have passed in front of me) of any orientation summoned from me such warm feelings.

For 20 years I followed this man's progress, worried about him and cheered for him. And now he's gone. Fifty-five years old - a child compared with me. A completely different generation, a different experience of life, what could we have in common?

But there was something… More than belonging to one political cohort, which it is now customary to call "liberal". People have begun to use this word to signify everything hateful and inimical, without pausing to think about what it means, the root of the idea.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A pun on the name Boris means "fight on"

My childhood comes back to me: who is the enemy? It was the White Army, then the fascists. But there was something real about that. And now? Some people have simply gone crazy with this word, and the phrase "liberal fascism" has come along, and the devil knows what. Whatever, if Nemtsov was a liberal, I am proud to name myself a liberal too.

There is no point attempting to work out who, precisely, organised the murder. The main thing is - why? It's because he was a liberal. A dissident. A fighter for freedom of thought and speech, for human rights. A fighter against an authoritarian system, dominated by the police and KGB gendarmes, which is taking on totalitarian features in front of our eyes.

You murdered him, you orators on television, whipping up popular hatred. You windbags and toadies, members of parliament, generals and professors. It's thanks to your efforts that a culture of hatred is spreading in Russia, a culture of intolerance, bitterness, national arrogance, and malicious smears against everything that seems foreign to you.

You, false patriots, crying at every step about the power of enemies and traitors, Russophobes and a fifth column. You, who are murdering [captured Ukrainian pilot] Nadezhda Savchenko - you killed Nemtsov too. It was him - and only him - that you had a need to kill.

It's not important whether or not he posed a real danger to the authorities or whether his murder gives the Kremlin more minuses than pluses. The symbol, the spirit - that's what it was necessary to kill. The symbol and spirit of freedom - that is what Nemtsov was.

You are leading Russia not only towards disgrace - you got there long ago - but to degradation and ruin. And the murder of Nemtsov is just a landmark on this shameful journey.


Georgy Mirsky

Image copyright Kommersant Photo/Pavel Smertin
  • Prof Georgy Mirsky worked at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations in Moscow and also at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations
  • His books include On Ruins of Empire: Ethnicity and Nationalism in the Former Soviet Union, and Life in Three Epochs which discusses Stalinism, Brezhnev and modern-day Russia

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