Up to 70,000 people attended a mourning march commemorating slain politician and Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov. Many participants described his assassination on Feb. 27 as a personal tragedy; Russia’s opposition called it a point of no return. Pundits point out that without Nemtsov the opposition will find it even more difficult to unite.

Up to 70,000 people attend march to commemorate slain Kremlin critic. Source: RG

Tens of thousands of Russians have marched in central Moscow to commemorate prominent opposition figure and former first deputy prime minister of Russia Boris Nemtsov, who was shot dead in the shadow of the Kremlin by unknown assailants late at night on Feb. 28.

According to the Interior Ministry, the mourning march, held on Sunday, March 1, gathered some 16,500 participants, though organizers say it was attended by at least 70,000 people, and photographs of the march appear to support this claim.

The tragedy changed the opposition’s plans: They had originally planned a “Spring” anti-crisis march in Maryino (a Moscow suburb) but decided that this would be inappropriate in the light of Nemtsov’s killing, and agreed a new route with the city authorities.

‘Nemtsov’s tragedy is my tragedy’

Before the march started, there was a long line outside a flower shop near Smolenskaya Square, where people waited to buy flowers to take with them to the march. Although in the square itself there were numerous walk-through metal detectors and people’s bags were checked, there was hardly any visible police presence along the rest of the route of the march.

People walked along slowly in complete silence, carrying portraits of Nemtsov, Russian flags with black ribbons attached to them and placards that read: “Heroes do not die,” “He died for Russia’s future,” “They were afraid of you, Boris,” “Propaganda kills,” and “I am not afraid.”

“I am devastated by this death,” said pensioner Yevgeniya Ipatova. “Russia is losing its best sons. He could have been a great scientist [Nemtsov had over 60 scientific papers on physics published – RBTH]. Instead he decided to devote himself to the people, but the people did not understand him.”

“I want to live in a free country. I don’t like it when we are being shot, when we are being blown up. I want to be able to publicly say what I like and what I don’t like. That is why the tragedy of Boris Nemtsov is my tragedy too,” said Viktor Artamonov, who had worked with the murdered politician since 1992.

Death as consolidation?

As the silent march approached its end, there were a number of individual cries of “Russia without Putin!” from participants near the head of the column, where opposition activists headed by former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov were marching, though others warned that shouting would be seen as an act of provocation. The march ended with the column filing slowly onto Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge, where Nemtsov was gunned down.

The opposition’s view of the murder was presented by Ilya Yashin, a close friend and associate of Boris Nemtsov. He told journalists: “For Russian society and the opposition, it [Nemtsov’s death] is a watershed, a point of no return of sorts. <…> I very much want to believe that democrats will at last unite, that this death will bring together opposition leaders, some of whom are not even on speaking terms with each other.”


However, political analysts polled by RBTH are rather skeptical about the opposition’s ability to unite. According to the deputy head of the Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Research close to the Kremlin, Alexander Pozhalov, it was Nemtsov who “straightened out internal conflicts in the disparate protest movement and developed the opposition strategy.”

It was Nemtsov who in late 2014 urged the opposition to unite in a coalition called “For European Choice,” recalled Pozhalov. “Clearly, the role that Alexei Navalny and his close allies play in the opposition movement will now increase, they will start pulling the blanket toward them, which may create new internal problems inside the opposition,” said the pundit.

Meanwhile, Konstantin Kalachev, head of the independent Political Expert Group, lamented that the opposition “can consolidate only around such sad events as this.” “It is a serious problem: around who and what to consolidate.” In his opinion, from the organizational point of view and from the point of view of moral leadership, the opposition is rather weak.

“In this case one should not expect that the baby will be born a month after conception. A new opposition may emerge in Russia but only when the country is hit by a really serious economic crisis. It will be an opposition that will start building its program primarily on the socio-economic agenda,” said Kalachev.

The article is first published in Russia Beyond The Headlines.