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Published in Stream:
Russia Update: April 7, 2015
Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Nemtsov's Fellow Opposition Leaders, Journalists Recount His Significance in TV Rain Telethon
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TV Rain held a telethon all day and evening to commemorate Boris Nemtsov, the former first deputy prime minister and opposition leader assassinated on February 27,2015.

Originally, the producers had hoped to hold a concert and readings but they were unable to find any venue to agree to rent space to them an event related to Nemtsov, so in the end, they broadcast musicians live from a factory building, and also held a program with some of the major opposition leaders and journalists who worked with Nemtsov including Alexey Venediktov, Sergei Parkhemenko, Alexey Navalny and others. Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Garri Kasparov were brought into the program by Skype because they are unable to travel to Russia.

The young TV Rain producers asked their guests, mainly people in their 40s-60s, how to understand the meaning of Nemtsov's life and death, and what to explain to their children in the next generation. Some speakers pointed out that there had been a wave of assassinations that began with TV producer Vladimir Listyev in 1995 and continued with figures such as Galina Starovoitova and Yury Shchikhochikin, members of parliament, but then there had been relative "stability" ( yet Natalya Estimirova, Stanislav Markelev and Anastasia Baburova were killed in 2009).

All the speakers recalled how charismatic Nemtsov was, and what a "doer" he was when others were "talkers." A number mentioned heated debates and even fights had with him for hours where they might even insult each other, yet they remain friends and colleagues. When Russian intelligence hacked his cell phone and released conversations via LifeNews, the purpose was to anger and divide the opposition, but it failed to affect people because Nemtsov was already open about what he thought so they didn't mind.

The murder of Nemtsov, who was once a governor and deputy premier in the Kremlin, seemed to cross the line for many, and they wondered if such reprisals would end there.

Writer Vladimir Voinovich commented (translation by The Interpreter):

"I'm afraid it won't end with that. When they say, by the way, a shot at Nemtsov is a shot at Russia, I think that's not an exaggeration. Because in fact all these shots are done so that an enormous number of people will become fearful and misinformed, therefore civil society is not possible here, there is no serious public opinion, there is only the two-headed eagle with the one wing which waves [the Russian state symbol--The Interpreter]. We have an opposition which is abundantly represented here but it cannot compete with the state in strength. And it should be, in society, these forces should be equal, the state and the opposition forces."

Yevgeniya Albats, editor of Novoye Vremya (New Times) commented:

He and I once met where he was living in a Moscow suburb and we must have gone 25 rounds bashing things and we discussed when would this regime begin to kill people, who will they start with, what will happen with Alyoshka [Alexey Navalny]. My last conversation with him was on the air on Ekho Moskvy, and after the show, I said, 'Bor' [Boris], you're getting carried away. Look what you're writing in Facebook. Surely you know Putin's entourage doesn't forgive personal attacks on Putin. You've become excessively sharp.'

I asked him, 'Here, explain it to me. Alyosha Navalny, soon, he'll just go out and take a piss and they'll arrest him for that.' It was endless. We saw what was happening to Navalny. 'So why do they put up with that from you?'

And he replied, 'You know, I was vice premier. So it was bad form, I seemingly belong to that new Russian nomenklatura. So it would be considered bad form to touch me. They won't kill me so as not to commit a precedent.

And then five days later, they created that precedent. There is no framework, there are no rules, there are no flags. I believe that of course, the murder of Boris is a kind of watershed. They crossed the line that before they tried not to cross because Boris belonged...don't forget he was first governor of Nizhny Novgorod, a successful region, until 1998, a potential successor to Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin, a minister of oil and gas, first deputy premier...

Others noted that Nemtsov had once said, "I was Putin's boss. I allocated apartments to FSB agents. I was part of the system So nothing can happen to me." He was part of the Soviet and Russian nomenklatura, or privileged government elite.

Ilya Yashin, Nemtsov's co-chairman in the RPR-Parnas party, said his experiences with Nemtsov was "an adventure." He recalled the time they went to the city of Sochi to campaign for a seat in the local legislature for Nemtsov.

It showed all the non-typical nature of Nemtsov. To go for two months to another city. Nothing was to be understood there. Some United Russia people, some police, incomprehensible, intelligence agents, Nashisty [Nashi, government-created youth movement--The Interpreter] splashed his face with ammonia, I couldn't understand how anything could come of this, with the total isolation which Kasparov mentioned.

He just went and shook several thousand people's hands, and people simply went and voted for him. He went to the market, he talked to people. He went to an Armenian wedding, he went to meetings with teachers, with janitors, with anybody. Nemtsov was prepared to talk to anyone who was prepared to listen to him. He was absolutely incomprehensible to those people in the Kremlin. He didn't travel with a body guard. He had a metro pass. He was a man who was absolutely open and sincere and incredibly brave. He had an absolute firm conviction that he wouldn't ever die.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, exiled Russian businessman and founder of Open Russia commented:

I hope we will all live to see the day when the history textbooks will speak the truth about such people as Nemtsov. And the truth will consist of the fact that he was a man who was difficult, complicated, a man of his time but with completely iron-clad convictions, insisting on the position that the country should be open, that there should be democracy in the country, that the government should be open.

And he was a man who, to the extent he was able, defended his convictions, and in the final analysis, tried to achieve from the government openness of the  processes going on in the country. And in the opposition, he paid for that openness, for his positions, with his own life. I agree with Yevgeniya Albats and Alexey Navalny that we see here a watershed, in what happened to Boris. And likely in the history textbooks it will be written that at this moment, the country passed the last line separating it from heavy civic opposition.

(Note: The Interpreter is a project of the Institute for Modern Russia funded by Pavel Khodorkovsky.)

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick