Who was Boris Nemtsov?

“When the past dies, we mourn for the dead. When the future dies, we mourn for ourselves.”

Gloria Steinem

Boris Nemtsov
Former deputy prime minister and Union of Right Forces (SPS) presidential candidate Boris Nemtsov (Photo Natalia Novozhilova)

Boris Nemtsov, the charismatic Russian opposition leader once groomed to be his nation’s second president, was brutally murdered six hundred feet away from the Moscow Kremlin on February 27, 2015.

What made this man so hated by the ruling elite while he was alive and so feared even now that he is dead? Why do millions of people around the world continue to see his violent death as an irreparable loss? Has all hope for a democratic Russia died with him?

If there had not been a John Kennedy, Nemtsov could have invented one. Young, strikingly handsome, and a ladies’ man to the core, the promising physicist gave up a brilliant scientific career for the whirlwind of public life at a critical juncture in Russian history.

And what a roller coaster ride it turned out to be! From, at age 32, becoming governor of Nizhny Novgorod (Russia’s third largest city) to being the youngest-ever deputy prime minister to serving as the parliamentary spokesman for the forces of democracy to street protester to political pariah.

You either loved or hated him, depending which side of the fence you were on. He was either a hero or a buffoon, a reformer or an empty suit, a great communicator or a swindler, a beacon of hope or enemy of the state.

To his friends, Nemtsov was an honest freedom fighter who could not be bought or bludgeoned, a man who shattered the public’s perception of politicians and whose attitude toward the government, whether supportive or critical, was always direct and uncompromising.

Each of us must decide for ourselves if we are willing to take the risks or not. I can only speak for myself. I am happy that I can speak the truth and not crawl about on my knees before the pathetic and crooked powers-that-be. Freedom has a high price..

Boris Nemtsov

To his enemies, he was “full of hot air” and “running like a chicken with its head cut off”, driven by ambition and pandering to the masses.

In truth, he was an independent spirit in a land where conformity had always been the norm. Independent enough to leave the Kremlin’s inner circle on his own and become the harshest critic of his onetime peers and colleagues. Independent enough to risk – and endure – imprisonment for speaking out. Independent enough to keep up the struggle and hope for the better.

As the political situation became increasingly suffocating, many prominent opposition figures went on to build new lives abroad. Not so Nemtsov, though he certainly was aware his life was in danger.

He was keenly aware that the price of freedom can mean death, which he may have to pay.

He was about to embark upon an investigation of Russia’s illegitimate invasion of Ukraine. Threats against him were coming with ever greater frequency. But the pleas of his friends to emigrate had no effect. Boris Nemtsov made his choice to stay put… and paid the ultimate price of freedom.

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