Nemtsov Plaza Unveiled in Washington, DC as Colleagues in Moscow Still Struggle for Remembrance

March 1, 2018
At the end of the unveiling of Boris Nemtsov Plaza in Washington on Feb. 27, 2018, a portrait of the slain activist was left behind with a floral tribute.(Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

Update: A plaza in honor of slain Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was unveiled in Washington, DC. Meanwhile, Nemtsov’s colleagues in Moscow struggle to keep his memory visible.

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Nemtsov Plaza Unveiled in Washington, DC as Colleagues in Moscow Still Struggle for Remembrance

Signs designating Boris Nemtsov Plaza were unveiled in front of the Russian Embassy in Washington on Feb. 27, 2018. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

Three years after opposition politician Boris Nemtsov was
murdered on the night of Feb. 27 on a bridge by the Kremlin, the Free Russia
Foundation, a non-government group founded by Russian emigres, and the District
of Columbia city government unveiled
Boris Nemtsov Plaza, renaming a section of Wisconsin Avenue in front of the
Russian Embassy.

The re-naming of streets for various heroes, prompted by activist groups, sometimes controversial, is a common
practice in U.S. cities, and often accompanied by controversies.

The last time human rights activists managed to get a street named for a hero of their cause in Russia was in the Soviet era. Supporters and family members of the Nobel Peace prize laureate Dr. Andrei Sakharov and his wife, Yelena Bonner were able to get a corner re-named in their honor near the then-Soviet mission where they had spent many hours demonstrating . 

Under New York Police Department rules, protesters near UN missions must assemble some distance from the entrance to the building and not block traffic.

In 1984, at a ceremony by then-mayor Edward
Koch, the southwest intersection of E. 67th St. and Third Avenue in New York City was renamed
“Sakharov-Bonner Corner” and remains with that name today.

Nemtsov’s colleagues now have a whole plaza — but it took some effort, as sympathetic Congress people were unable to get traction for the measure, the Washington Post reported. They then went to the District of Columbia City Council where the motion passed unanimously.

Zhanna Nemtsov, the daughter of Boris, spoke at the ceremony
in Washington, as did Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).

Journalist and opposition organizer Vladimir Kara-Murza, a friend of Nemtsov’s who has worked for Open Russia, founded by exiled tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, said Nemtsov would not himself have wanted a plaque.

“The best possible tribute to him and to his legacy will be a free and democratic Russia, and that day will come,” said Kara-Murza.

Kara-Murza, who chairs a foundation in Nemtsov’s name, has twice been poisoned under suspicious circumstances in Russia, believed to be in retaliation for his opposition work. 

4FreeRussia Foundation, founded in 2013, has gathered prominent Russian emigres critical of human rights violations and corruption under President Vladimir Putin to advocate liberal democracy in their homeland. 

Meanwhile, the effort to memorialize Nemtsov in Russia has faced serious obstacles. 

Asked about the plans for the Nemtsov Plaza Jan. 10, Kremlin
spokesman Dmitry Peskov indicated that the mayor’s office might make “a
symmetrical response.”

“… This [naming of streets] is the
prerogative of city authorities, with the context that the state of
bilateral relations between our two countries remains a lot to be desired, to
put it mildly,” Gazeta cited him as saying.

Leonid Slutsky, head of the State Duma Committee on
International Affairs said
the re-naming was a “crude and harsh decision, made to pique us, although
it’s the business of American authorities, but they thought they would offend us
with that.”

One conservative MP Mikhail Degtyaryov, from ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s ill-named Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, who currently chairs the lower house Committee for Sports, Tourism and Youth, has proposed
re-naming the street in front of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow “North American
Dead End. He has been told by the Mayor’s Office that his request is under
review, reported.

Degtyarev is the same MP who wants to get parts of California and Alaska back for Russia. 

Nemtsov supporters in Moscow wanted
to renamed Bolshoi Moskovoretsky Bridge, adjacent to the Kremlin walls where he was murdered, in his honor, but
Moscow officials refused, according to the business news site Vedomosti.

Mayor Anatoly Sobyanin did announce
that a plaque would be allowed in Nemtsov’s honor at his home, at No. 3 Malaya Ordynka 3, but set a caveat: only if the building residents approve it. 

Memorial Society, the human rights and historical organization that has attempted to place such plaques for Stalin’s victims on some buildings has had many successes, but they do sometimes get static. It is not certain how a more modern victim of the Stalinist practices that continue may be received by ordinary Russians in Nemtsov’s residence. 

and pro-Kremlin
have repeatedly removed plaques placed by Nemtsov’s supporters.

To be sure, the Moscow Mayor’s Office allowed
a march in his memory last week — but police keep removing any flowers or poems or tributes in his honor. An informal watch made up of friends and supporters continue to put them back.

 See: Remembering Boris Nemtsov, Insider and Outsider

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

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