Remembering Boris Nemtsov


Keith Gessen in the LRB:

It would be hard to imagine a less likely political martyr than Boris Nemtsov. He was loud, brash, boastful, vain and a tireless womaniser. My favourite story about him came from a Moscow journalist who once shared a cab with Nemtsov and a photographer whom he’d been wooing to no avail. It was late at night and he fell asleep. The photographer was the first to be dropped off, and Nemtsov suddenly woke up. ‘So what do you say?’ he asked. Receiving another no, he went back to sleep.

Nemtsov was a young physicist in Nizhny Novgorod when perestroika began. He got involved in protest politics and was elected to the first democratic Supreme Soviet in 1990, associating himself with the anti-Soviet, ‘democratic’ wing. He caught Boris Yeltsin’s eye and was appointed governor of Nizhny Novgorod. After six years with mixed results, he was called back to the Kremlin to join the cabinet of ‘young reformers’ who, it was claimed, would renew economic progress for Yeltsin’s second term. Nemtsov was the most handsome among them, and a physicist, and Jewish! Looking at photos of him with Yeltsin, who sometimes presented Nemtsov as his successor, one couldn’t help but be filled with hope. Then Nemtsov opened his mouth. The first time I saw him on TV was during a celebration of the ageing pop singer Alla Pugacheva; he reminded her that she’d once said she liked sleeping with her husband because he reminded her of Nemtsov. It was a strange performance for the future hope of Russian democracy.

I spent a week with Nemtsov many years later, in 2009, when he was running for mayor of Sochi. He was still amazing. It was early spring in Russia and yet Nemtsov had a full tan. Everywhere we went he wore blue jeans, a black jacket and a white shirt with the top three buttons undone. He addressed everyone he met with the familiar ty,which was rude, and he hit on all the women journalists. But he was totally committed to what he was doing, and bizarrely, bull-headedly, fearless.

More here.