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Russia’s Democrats Unite, in Memory of Boris Nemtsov

MOSCOW — It seems to always take a tragedy for Russia’s pro-democracy forces to unite.

In November 1998, at the funeral of the murdered liberal lawmaker Galina Starovoitova, the leaders of the country’s fragmented democratic parties made a pledge to get their act together. The resulting coalition (initially known as Just Cause, later as the Union of Rightist Forces) won six million votes and three-dozen seats in Parliament in the 1999 election and, under the leadership of Boris Nemtsov, was the principal opposition voice in the Russian Duma for the next four years.

In the last months of his life—until he was murdered a hundred yards away form the Kremlin on February 27th—Nemtsov worked to put together a pro-democracy coalition that would contest the 2016 parliamentary election as a unified force. He did not live to see it. But his goal came to life.

“At this difficult time we want to call on… all those who care about their future and the future of their children to unite,” read last week’s joint statement by former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, the sole remaining co-chairman of the People’s Freedom Party, and anticorruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, who leads the Progress Party. “We are certain that it is possible to create a free society in Russia, based on the values of democracy, human rights, honest free labor and entrepreneurship, social justice, and the rule of law. We are ready to present a new program of development to Russian citizens.”

As of today, the coalition includes members of seven political groups, from liberals and social democrats to centrists and democratic conservatives. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former political prisoner and founder of the Open Russia movement, has voiced support for the initiative. “Our new structure… will help to achieve political representation for millions of normal citizens, who now watch in horror at the madhouse that is called ‘Russia’s legislative branch’ and that is filled with crooks, freaks, and clowns who do not represent anyone but their Kremlin bosses,” observed Navalny.

Since formal electoral blocs are banned under Russian law, coalition members will contest this September’s regional elections and next year’s parliamentary poll on the lists of the People’s Freedom Party—the party of Boris Nemtsov. Thanks to the legislative seat in Yaroslavl that Nemtsov won in 2013, the party has automatic ballot access and is not requited to collect signatures, which are often used by the authorities as a pretext to bar opponents.

“Our goal is not to become members of Parliament,” Kasyanov emphasized. “Our goal is to begin changing our country.” If this goal is achieved, it the will be the best possible tribute to the memory of Boris Nemtsov.

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