Thousands of latent opposition members came out of the woodwork on Saturday (27 February 2016) to honour the memory of slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. The well-known opposition figure, a former prime minister during the early years of Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union, was a frequent critic of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
It was the first anniversary of Nemtsov’s murder and Moscow police estimated the number of marchers at 7,500. Various various media sources, including the Kremlin operated Russia Today television, estimated the crowds at closer to 30,000. Critics frequently accuse Moscow police officials of miscounting opposition numbers.
Marchers included other leaders from the Russian opposition who came to honour the slain leader, and to remind authorities that the government has failed to name the person(s) responsible for his senseless murder when he was gunned down from behind, just steps from the Kremlin while crossing a bridge over the Moscow River.
Police were out in full riot gear and made certain that marchers followed the government approved protest march route. It was the largest gathering of the Russian opposition since exactly one year ago when citizens gathered to protest Nemtsov’s killing.
Nemtsov was 55-years-old when slain. He was walking home from a restaurant with his girlfriend late on 27 February 2015, just days before he planned to release a book detailing Russian military involvement in Eastern Ukraine. Authorities searched his residence the day following his murder and Nemtsov’s materials were confiscated.
A group of Chechen men have been charged with his murder but Nemtsov’s supporters claim that the men are nothing more than hired killers and that the government seems uninterested in naming whoever was responsible for his murder. Chechen leader Roman Kadyrov denies a role in the killing, but has frequently said that the suspects are “true patriots of Russia”.
Although not official, the name of the bridge where Nemtsov was murdered is often called “Nemtsov Most” which translates as Nemtsov bridge. Citizens have petitioned the city to erect a commemorative plaque at the spot, but the government denied the request saying that such a memorial would be too negative.
Times have been rough for the opposition. They have been hounded and pressured to go underground again, just like as in Soviet times. In 2015 authorities barred opposition candidates from running in most local elections and at present there is no coherent structure or leadership among those willing to risk opposing those currently in power.
(Photo credits: Ilya Varlamov and George Malets.)