Boris Nemtsov Speaks His Mind

His Union of Right Forces (SPS) party may still be trying to reach accommodation with the Kremlin, but one SPS founder, Boris Nemtsov, has not let the party’s increasing disillusionment cloud his mind. He speaks out in the English-language Moscow Times editorial. Excerpts:

It is disgusting to watch the “Vremya” nightly news on Channel One, which reminds me of the broadcasts during the Brezhnev era. It is appalling how all of the famous journalists who disagreed with the Kremlin were fired. It is disgusting that the St. Petersburg clan in the Kremlin controls billions of dollars in wealth. It is offensive that the level of corruption is now twice what it was under Boris Yeltsin, which has earned Russia shamefully low marks in international corruption ratings every year.

It is reprehensible that police beat people with truncheons, not because they are guilty of crimes, but because they have taken to the streets to demand justice. It is offensive that Putin’s portrait hangs in every public office. . . . It is offensive that Moscow is swimming in wealth while the rest of Russia lives like a poor colony.

It is offensive that under Putin the state has taken on the role of plunderer and racketeer, with an appetite that grows with each successive conquest. It began with the break-up and expropriation of Yukos, then the questionable purchase of a majority share in the Sakhalin-2 project and now Gazprom’s purchase of the Kovytka gas field in East Siberia. The country’s great size and wealth only means there will be much more for the Kremlin to grab. But the greatest calamity is that nobody is allowed to utter a word in protest regarding all of this. “Keep quiet,” the authorities seem to say, “or things will go worse for you. This is none of your business.”

It is truly disgusting that people’s opinions don’t mean anything. “You are welcome to elect whom you choose,” they tell us, “as long as it is one of the candidates we have put forward.” There used to be 100 million voters. Now there is only one. It is offensive that we have resigned ourselves to accepting as Putin’s successor whomever he happens to slap on the back. According to recent polls, fully 40 percent of Russians are prepared to vote for whomever Putin supports — no questions asked. . . .

Where do we now stand? If we analyze Putin’s presidency, it becomes clear that, year after year, he has taken away the rights of the people. We didn’t have many rights to begin with, but he managed to take away what few we had. But Putin could not have achieved this without firing all the dissenting journalists, instituting censorship of the mass media, annulling the direct popular election of governors, passing repressive electoral laws, eliminating the cumulative pension system and de-privatization, to name only a few.

We wonder what would happen to the publisher of such commentary in a Russian-language daily. Actually, we don’t have to wonder, since there are plenty of examples of the firings and harassment that occur when the truth accidentally slips into the papers.