He was not willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, Boris Nemtsov said in one of his last interviews. “I am not willing to die.”
But this violent fate has now befallen him.
During the marches in Moscow on Sunday in memory of the killed opposition leader, people carried banners with the words “These bullets hit us all.” This statement is sad but true.
For years, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, has done everything possible to discredit opposition forces and, by rigging elections, to push opposition parties below the five percent threshold.
Vladimir Putin has created a repressive system that wants to control, that requires sheep-like obedience.
Demonstrators against Mr. Putin’s reelection to the highest post in the Kremlin have been sentenced to years of compulsory psychiatric treatment. Economists, philosophers and historians with different views have been forced to give up their jobs or move abroad.
Since the outbreak of the Ukraine conflict, a climate of hatred, aggression and hostility has been breeding. It is a climate that is hard for my generation to imagine, born twenty years after the end of World War II. But it’s a climate that Germany has known in its past.
What kind of country is this Russia, which claims to be the great opponent of alleged U.S. imperialism and alleged media censorship in the West?
Is it a country where people demonstrate with banners reading “I am not afraid?”
Is it a country where the real evidence of who ordered the murders of investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya in 2006 and of politicians such as Mr. Nemtsov never emerges? These people were killed because they had said they would publish the secret reasons behind the war in Chechnya, in Ms. Politkovskaya’s case, or in Ukraine, in Mr. Nemtsov’s case.
Those who knew these two people realized they were no longer willing to toe the state line. This is Russia’s flip side: despite the intimidation, political killings and denigration of opponents there are still brave people who have not been corrupted. These are people who did not want their country to fall back to the barbarism of the Czars or Soviets. They cared for the country that gave the world the works of author Alexander Pushkin, psychologist Ivan Pavlov and composer Sergei Prokofiev.
Boris Nemtsov was not perfect nor infallible, nor is anyone else from Russia’s opposition. Few people are unaffected by life in this country with its power structures that impose on people’s characters and lives so strongly.
Mr. Nemtsov has sacrificed his life because he no longer wanted to accept Russia’s system. His death is an urgent call to the West to not only look at Moscow’s war in Ukraine. It is also a sign of what Vladimir Putin has created: a repressive system which wants to control, which requires sheep-like obedience and which is becoming increasingly militaristic.
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