In Russia, a First Official Tribute to Boris Nemtsov

NIZHNY NOVGOROD—Sometimes it is good to be wrong. For the friends of Russia’s slain opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov—certainly including the author of this blog—it was difficult to believe that he could be commemorated on an official level while the current regime remains in power. Indeed, several public initiatives calling for a memorial to him in Moscow have been bluntly rejected by the authorities, who also continue to allow the ravaging of the unofficial “people’s memorial” on the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge where the opposition leader was killed in February 2015. And while tens of thousands marched through the Russian capital in his memory, and while people continue to bring flowers and candles to the bridge, an official commemoration would surely have to wait for a change of government in Russia.

Apparently, not so—at least not in Nizhny Novgorod, a region on the Volga river where Nemtsov became governor on November 30, 1991—twenty-five years ago this Wednesday—and which he transformed, in a few short years, from Russia’s industrial backwater into a hub of free market reforms that lifted it into the top ten of the country’s most developed regions and that leaders from across the globe, including Margaret Thatcher, came to see with their own eyes and praise as a rare economic success story in the 1990s Russia. Here, people remember Boris Nemtsov for who he was—not the caricature image created by recent Kremlin propaganda.

Last week, Nizhny Novgorod’s city council, on the initiative of Mayor Ivan Karnilin, passed a resolution authorizing a commemorative plaque for the region’s first democratically elected governor. “While he was governor, Nemtsov realized many successful projects, as a result of which the world learnt about our city,” the mayor said. “This gave us an enormous impulse for development.” The plaque will be placed on the Soviet-era apartment bloc on Agronomicheskaya Street, where Nemtsov lived both before and during his governorship, and where his relatives still live today (unlike those currently in power, he never profited from the many high offices he had held.) The unveiling is planned for February 27, 2017, the second anniversary of his assassination. Meanwhile, a roundtable and film screening in memory of Boris Nemtsov in Nizhny Novgorod this week will be attended not only by his friends and former administration colleagues, but also by representatives of the current regional legislature and city hall. 

Outside of Nizhny Novgorod, official commemorations for Boris Nemtsov likely will have to wait for a change of government in Russia. No doubt, one day there will be a memorial to him in Moscow. Not that he would have cared much about one. Knowing him, a much more fitting tribute would be a Russia that he wanted to see and that he worked to bring about: democratic, prosperous, and at peace with its neighbors.

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