Boris

Boris Nemtsov: Death of a Russian Liberal

I BOUGHT A COUPLE OF BOTTLES OF YARPIVO IN A CHINESE-OWNED DISCOUNT STORE AROUND THE CORNER HERE IN BROOKLYN, AND POURED ONE OUT FOR NEMTSOV, WHO ENDED HIS LIFE AS A YAROSLAVL CITY COUNCILMAN. I NEVER LIKED HIM MUCH, BUT HIS MURDER WAS BRUTAL, AND FRIGHTENING — AND THE DARK FEAR IT’S BROUGHT TO MOSCOW IS VERY REAL.

Nemtsov was a very different kind of liberal or “ultra-liberal” than what we think of as liberals. In the best sense, that means he was never a mealy-mouthed coward. But as one of the leaders of the 1990s liberalization catastrophe, Nemtsov was much more the problem than the solution to that problem. And even when he was in power in the late Yeltsin Era, serving as the half-dead boozer’s first deputy prime minister and heir-apparent, Nemtsov represented the very worst and shallowest in liberal Russia’s “virtual politics,” a kind of precursor to the manufactured PR-as-politics that was perfected under Nemtsov’s choice for Russia’s president in 2000: Vladimir Putin.

Boris Nemtsov first crossed my radar screen in early 1997, a few months after I launched The eXile in Moscow. He was hailed as the Second Coming of Liberal Jesus by the cream of Moscow’s foreign correspondent community, back when the American media still had the money to pack places like Moscow with full-staffed local bureaus. Not that all that staffing made their reporting any better—most of the reporting was regurgitated neoliberal pamphleteering and Peak Clinton jingoism; a case study in mass journalism malpractice. Every single western reporter was completely blindsided by the 1998 financial collapse, at the time the most catastrophic and complete financial collapse in modern history — all except our annoying satirical rag.

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