Inaugural Nemtsov Prize Awarded to Lev Shlosberg
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On June 12—Russia’s national day that has its origins in a 1990 parliamentary declaration that asserted Russia’s sovereignty over the Soviet government and promised its citizens political rights and liberties—the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom held its inaugural ceremony to award the Nemtsov Prize. The event took place in Bonn, Germany, where the foundation is based and where its founder, Zhanna Nemtsova, resides after fleeing Russia last year following her father’s assassination on the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge, in plain sight of the Kremlin.

The prize, named for Russia’s slain opposition leader, is awarded annually “for courage in defending democratic values in Russia.” It is fitting that this award is presented for courage, as that quality defined Boris Nemtsov’s entire political life—when he stood next to Boris Yeltsin in front of the tanks by the Moscow White House twenty-five years ago; when, as a serving regional governor, he collected and handed Yeltsin one million signatures against the war in Chechnya twenty years ago; or when, two years ago, he led tens of thousands of people though the streets of Moscow in a march of protest against Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.

By the decision of the foundation’s board of trustees (disclosure: the author of this blog is the board’s chairman,) the first Boris Nemtsov Prize for courage was awarded to Lev Shlosberg, a Russian journalist and politician based in Pskov. Shlosberg and Nemtsov did not know each other personally; they never met; they were members of different political parties. Yet they often acted in a similar vein. Like Nemtsov, Shlosberg spoke out against “Herod’s Law” that banned US adoptions of Russian orphans in revenge for US sanctions on Kremlin-connected human rights abusers. Like Nemtsov, Shlosberg opposed Putin’s war in Ukraine. It was his newspaper, Pskovskaya Guberniya, that published information about the secret burials of Russian paratroopers illegally sent and killed in that war. Like Nemtsov, Shlosberg showed that even one opposition lawmaker can make his voice heard. In return, he was brutally beaten and stripped of his parliamentary seat. But he has not given up and continues his fight for a Russia where the rule of law and the rights and freedoms of citizens are respected.

“[There] is a gulf in our country between the government and the people. Boris Nemtsov tried to breach that gulf. He was not able to walk that bridge to the end. We must do it,” Shlosberg said in his acceptance speech. “We will not stop. We will continue walking on that bridge. From the very spot where barbarians and cowards stopped Boris Nemtsov. Freedom is stronger than the absence of freedom… I believe that one day, the Nemtsov Prize will be awarded in Russia, because Russia will be free.”
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