The Art of Political Murder in Russia
Murder in Russia...
Let us imagine a scene where the Russian President Vladimir Putin has been detained (something that is laughable, but even so, imagine we can; besides, there's nothing else we can do about it) for all his activities that range from corruption to political murder. It could remind one of the opening few dialogues that greet the audience (or the readers) of Dario Fo's play The Accidental Death of an Anarchist where Inspector Bertozzo accuses Maniac of being caught twelve times posing to be somebody else. “Correct. Arrested twelve times... But I must point out, Inspector, arrested, but never found guilty... My record is clean!” replies Maniac. Hereon, I can imagine Putin repeating the same answer. Accused about a dozen times, but never proven guilty, let alone charged. Putin's record, for all practical purposes- and quite unfortunately- remains clean. These sorry state of affairs, one must now assume, would continue, even after the cold-blooded murder of Boris Nemtsov.
There is no way that Boris Nemtsov wouldn't have known- or, at least, guessed and feared- that an attack was coming. On prodding, he probably would have also guessed the manner in which he would be plucked effectively out of the way of Putin and the Kremlin, for his murder, and the events that have come to follow in Moscow, are all too typical and known to those who have, for the past few years, followed Putin's long career as both a President to Russia as well as the man who gives the nods to trigger happy political assassins that he likes keeping under his belt.
The circumstances in which the Russian authorities found Nemtsov dead are shady at best, which, again, is nothing unusual when it comes to the scene of a political crime in Russia. There have been too many missing pieces that have remained so, and too many known pieces that have been proved otherwise- either legitimately or forcefully. It doesn't take much to conclude- or, at least deduce- that when a murder, especially a murder that has in its background this high a political voltage, takes place in Russia, the events that follow have a largely typical pattern that follows suit: condemnation, promises of solving the murder, perhaps a series of arrests, void. And then another pattern follows that has its roots firmly set within the Russian red tapism and political corruption.
In months before he was shot down, Nemtsov wrote an article that declared boldly the known fact that the invasion of Ukraine is, and will always be Vladimir Putin's war. “This is not our war,” wrote Nemtsov, “This is not your war, this is not the war of 20-year-old paratroopers sent out there. This is Vladimir Putin's war.” And this is the very war that Nemtsov was trying hard to downplay and criticize in any way he found suitable. A week before he was shot down in cold blood, Nemtsov was seen handling out pamphlets for an anti-war rally scheduled to take place on the first of March, protesting against Putin's adventurism in Ukraine. The rally, as has been remarked far too many times now, eventually turned into his memorial procession, with thousands in attendance. More than 7,000 turned up for the rally, apparently double of that if the social media is to be believed, and many of these carried posters and banners that announced, boldly, “They were afraid of you, Boris.” More daringly, some chanted “Russia without Putin!” Some expected the rally to result in an all out police confrontation or, worse, full-scale riots but, fortunately, nothing of that sort happened. But the liberals in Russia do not need a riot or a crackdown to know that not just their free speech but by this time the whole of their physical well-being lies threatened in the unusually contested political atmosphere in Russia, being instigated from within the corridors of the Kremlin. They seem not to know what is more intimidating- the fact that their rights are being constantly violated and abused, or whether it is their own state that is indulging in such balant apathy.
Mikhail Shishkin, the great Russian writer who lives in a self-imposed exile in Switzerland, writes, in his equally great essay, 'Poets and Czars,' that writers and intellectuals flowering out of Russia once enjoyed the kind of fame, respect and authority that even the czars themselves never did, or could. But the poets and writers of Russia, claims he, were nationalists to the core, perhaps because of the long, cold wars that they fought for their lands, but mostly because they genuinely felt that in their land lies the greatness that can surpass the towering talents of other nations, including those that surrounded the vast Russian kingdom. But here Pushkin, that towering figure of Russian literature (which is saying something), created a distinction or a “coup,” as Shishkin would have it. Pushkin, claims Shishkin, ended up creating an “alternative pyramid,” at the head of which stood the poet or, to generalize, the intellectual.
However, with the failed coup attempt by the Decembrists- of whose circles were apparently high on Pushkin's “The Dagger”- everything changed. When Nicholas 1, against whom the coup was attempted, asked Pushkin whose side he would have chosen, Pushkin, fortunately for the Russian literature, chose to answer honestly, that is, telling the czar that he would have sided with the Decembrists. But, Nicholas, says Shishkin, sensed that having Pushkin, the poet who held power, as an enemy would be disastrous, so he consequently named him as the First Poet.
Today's intellectuals, however, are not that lucky. No First Poet titles for them, except if they are nationalists and, to coin a term, “Putinists.” Valentin Rasputin, for example, who died only recently, and on whose demise Putin mourned and paid his “respects,” which speaks lengths about the writer's reach in Russian political spectrum, considering that Putin, after the infamously brave journalist Anna Politkovskaya's gunning down in 2006, commented that her assassination would do her enemies more harm than any of her articles ever could. That's a harsh comment to make, but not a new one with Putin, whose role has been that of an autocrat who wants nothing but his own self to take over the center stage. Anybody who comes in his way is enemy number one in Putin's list.
And Nemtsov's name was, quite obviously, included. A month into the killing and things are looking familiar already- Putin has condemned the attack; Putin sent flowers and support to the family and friends of Nemtsov's; Putin declared that he is going to head the investigation himself; authorities arrested five men, one of whom they suspect has pulled the trigger. What's more, Nemtsov was also writing a book in which he planned to reveal Putin and his dirty work off. Almost every box has been ticked, the only thing that remains is for the mastermind to go scot free, for the accused to wait for their trials and for the case to be eternally shrouded in mystery. Will Boris Nemtsov ever receive justice? The way things are going, I am not too sure about that. Turns out you were wrong, Boris, this isn't just Putin's war, after all.