Vladimir Kara Murza
On December 6, the Council of the District of Columbia held a pubic hearing on Bill 22-539, the “Boris Nemtsov Plaza Designation Act of 2017.” The full video of the hearing is available on the Council's website: http://dc.granicus.com/MediaPl...
Below is the text of my opening statement:
Chairman Mendelson, Members of the Council, thank you for holding this important hearing and for the opportunity to testify before you.
On September 28, 1994, on his visit to Washington D.C., Russian President Boris Yeltsin hosted President Clinton for a reception and dinner to mark the official opening of the new Russian Embassy on Wisconsin Avenue N.W. As the evening went underway, the Russian leader introduced members of his delegation, including a 34-year-old regional governor by the name of Boris Nemtsov. “Keep an eye on this young man,” Yeltsin said to Clinton. “One day, he will be president of Russia.”
A member of Russia’s first freely elected Parliament; governor of the Nizhny Novgorod Region, which he transformed from a post-Soviet industrial backwater into a powerhouse of market reforms; deputy prime minister who challenged the corrupt influence of the “oligarchs”, Nemtsov in many ways personified the hopes for democracy in Russia. When Vladimir Putin came to power and began to change Russia from the imperfect democracy of his predecessor to the perfect autocracy it is today, many chose to accept the new rules. Not Boris Nemtsov. From the early years of Putin’s regime, he emerged as a leading voice in opposition to its authoritarianism, aggressiveness, and corruption. He publicized abuses by officials; led protest marches against election fraud and against the war in Ukraine; campaigned successfully around the world—including here in the U.S.—for international accountability in the form of targeted sanctions on human rights abusers. Against all odds, he won election to a regional legislature, and was preparing a return to Parliament. He was considering a challenge against Putin in 2018.
All this time, he was smeared by state media as a “traitor”; physically attacked by pro-Kremlin gangs; repeatedly arrested and jailed for peaceful demonstrations. But he did not relent. He was silenced the only way he could be: by an assassin’s bullet. Boris Nemtsov was killed on February 27, 2015 on Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge, two-hundred yards from the Kremlin wall. An officer of the Russian Interior Ministry was convicted of pulling the trigger. No organizers or masterminds were identified or prosecuted.
It was the greatest honor of my life to work with Boris Nemtsov for fifteen years. He taught me, with his own example, that you must stand up for your principles, however difficult, inconvenient, or dangerous; and that politics can—and should—be honest.
Every year in February, around the date of his assassination, thousands of people walk through the streets of Moscow in a march of remembrance. Every day, more than two and half years on, Russians continue to bring flowers and light candles on the bridge where he was killed in what has become an unofficial memorial.
The official story is very different. The Russian authorities are fighting Boris Nemtsov even after his death. They are now fighting his memory. The Moscow city government has rejected all public initiatives for a commemoration. We have streets in Moscow named after the Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez and the Chechen strongman Akhmad Kadyrov, who once called on his followers to “kill as many Russians as possible”—but the Russian opposition leader is off-limits. In Moscow and Yaroslavl, the signs installed by the residents on the apartment blocs where Nemtsov lived have been taken down. In Nizhny Novgorod, the decision by the city council to put up a plaque on his house remains unimplemented. Several times a month, always in the middle of the night, the Moscow municipal services pillage the memorial on the bridge; grown men in uniforms stealing flowers under the cover of darkness.
It appears that we are not allowed to honor a Russian statesman in Russia. We are deeply grateful to citizens and elected representatives in free countries who are stepping in to do what we cannot. Earlier this year, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Sen. Christopher Coons (D-DE) proposed to give Boris Nemtsov’s name to a plaza in front of the Russian Embassy in Washington; the embassy he once helped to unveil. The idea was supported by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D–D.C.), whom I had the honor of meeting a few weeks ago. I want to thank Members of the D.C. Council for taking the lead with this initiative. I want to thank Chairman Phil Mendelson and Councilmember Mary Cheh for introducing Bill 22-539, the “Boris Nemtsov Plaza designation Act of 2017.”
I am here today to strongly support passage of this Bill. I cannot begin to tell you how much it means. It is a tribute to a man who lived his life—and gave his life—for the freedom of his country. It is also a message and a reminder. To Russian democrats—that our fight is not ignored or forgotten. To Americans—that Russia is not only about Putin’s autocracy, and that there are honorable Russians, like Boris Nemtsov, who are standing up for dignity and justice.
I have no doubt that there will come a day when the Russian state is proud to have its embassy in Washington standing on Boris Nemtsov Plaza.
“Boris Nemtsov Plaza Designation Act of 2017.”