The truth is that I was thinking about initiating this column for months and I was sticking to this idea for a long time – to write the first article about one of the most influential Russian Presidents, who is Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. It sounds logical, right? Nevertheless, taking into account the latest events which took place, I decided that the first article should be NOT about the obvious, but about what remains in the shadow of the present reality. We will begin with one of the brightest Russian opposition leaders – Boris Nemtsov.
I am convinced that you have already heard the major news of the past week – Boris Nemtsov was assassinated on Friday, the 27th of February, right in the Red Square in Moscow. It shocked even those of us who thought we had lost the ability to be shocked by events in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. It was a moment of confusion, sadness and revelation at the same time for the majority of Russians.
Nemtsov was the most vocal political opposition leader in the past decade in the Russian Federation. Starting his career as a successful physicist with a PhD in Physics and Mathematics from the State University of Gorky and working as a research fellow at the Radiophysical Research Institute; he dropped out his potential in sciences and begun to be an active citizen and later, a courageous national political leader.
It is quite interesting how Physics has connected him to politics: in 1986, in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster, Nemtsov organized a protest movement in his hometown that effectively prevented the construction of a new nuclear power plant in the region. Protest after protest, Boris finally understood his passion for politics and three years later, he made his first step and ran for the Soviet Congress of People’s Deputies. In the Russian Federation, he was known as a reformer and true democrat. He believed in a Democratic political path for Russia and Russians. Besides, Nemtsov was also popular for his open critic remarks at Putin’s address. Moreover, he published reports, the so-called путинские доклады (Putin’s reports), with actual data and facts about corruption and money laundering in Kremlin and a series of hidden bank accounts inside Putin’s “political career”.
Slow but sure, Boris Nemtsov became a role model for other opposition leaders inside Russia. He was arrested many times, but never for longer than the Russian classical 15 days – пятнадцать суток. Do you know why? Because he knew the Russian Criminal Code and Legislation so well, that he literally knew how to play Kremlin and his marionettes.
NOTA BENE: I do not want to idolatrize or to make an idealistic political portrait of Boris Nemtsov. Of course, he is not an ideal political activist. Nobody is perfect. I am just trying to present to you the fact that there is a significant difference between Putin’s Russia, his political system and Russian Federation as a country, as a state itself. Please notice this well because in my column I will return to this idea. And not only once.
His critic statements made me wonder about Kremlin’s action regarding the rise of Nemtsov’s voice. Why did Putin let Nemtsov to criticize him so often and so openly? Why was Boris Nemtsov so brave and courageous? He was smart enough to take into account a possibility of murder, but why did he never take a measure regarding this? Why did he “play around” without any security?
After a little time of a “wonder ritual”, I think I have found the answer and I will try to explain this to you too. We all have to realize that Vladimir Putin was never afraid of Boris Nemtsov as an opposition leader. Vladimir Vladimirovich was afraid of him as a potential candidate at the next presidential elections. Even if Nemtsov’s cases on Kremlin’s corruption and money laundering represented a serious amount of top classified information, Putin knew that this is the strategy that is needed for maintaining the control over the situation. And here I would like to share with you my personal conclusion: see, in Russian Federation there is an illusion of opposition.
Boris Nemtsov’s story made me look deeper into the Russian opposition movement and finally, I would like to highlight the fact that today, inside the Russian internal political system there is no such thing as political opposition. Let’s see what does an opposition really mean?
A political opposition is a stable, solid and continuing process of debates and disagreements regarding internal politics. After all, political opposition is one of the fundamental bases for the development of democracy and this is the recognition of the rights for political and social actors to publicly criticize and challenge the government, its actions and policies. Now, if we are taking into account this statement, do we really speak about democracy in Russia? That is what I thought too.
My major observation is the following: in the Russian Federation there is no political opposition, there are only a few representatives of opposition. Political opposition, as a structure and the consequence of a democratic process, does not exist. We have there only a few representatives of those who disagree with Putin’s system. For those of you who are familiar with Soviet history, back then there were many political activists who were in disagreement with the Soviet government, but they were called dissidents – persons who opposed the Soviet political system and values and who were fighting for a democratic challenge for their country (-ies). If you want, modern representatives of opposition today in Russia could be compared to dissidents – they are fighting for a democratic path for Russia as well and they see Russia as a European country.
Here, I can use a parallel in order to better explain the essence of the non-existent opposition movement in Russia. One of my favorite modern journalists is Vladimir Pozner, a representative of that small group of Russians who put effort into questioning everything around them and, which is more important, really care about the future of this country. In one of his numerous interviews, he once said that in the Russian Federation we have no journalism, as a profession. We have only a few journalists who are great at their job, but journalism as a profession does not exist. Do you know why? Because Russian mass media is not a fourth power in the state, how it is supposed to be in every single democratic country. That is why.
In conclusion, it is hard to define which political system exists in Russia nowadays. We have so many factors, arguments, keys and questions that are making everything even harder… However, this is another story, for next time. As for today, this was my confession to you.