Over the course of his career, Boris Nemtsov worked tirelessly to draw attention to the shortcomings of Russian President Vladimir Putin's regime. But in his tragic death, he has sparked a movement that, in many ways, seems to be a fitting tribute to a lifetime spent in search of truth and justice. On Sunday, tens of thousands of Russians marched to honor Boris Nemtsov's life, carrying portraits of the slain opposition leader along with signs that read, "I am not afraid." Other posters read, "He died for the future of Russia," and "They were afraid of you, Boris."
The rally was initially intended to be an opposition demonstration led by none other than Nemtsov himself, but following his death on Friday, the march has taken on a dual purpose — not only have Russians come together to express their dissatisfaction with President Putin and his regime, but they have also taken to the streets to mourn the loss of one of Russia's most outspoken and charismatic political figures. Nemtsov's murder has contributed an additional layer of complexity to the numerous conspiracy theories now swirling around Putin's involvement in several high-profile conflicts, most notably the crisis in Ukraine. But now, despite the Russian president's denouncement of Nemtsov's killing as a "vile" act and his supposed dedication to bring those involved to justice, some are not so sure that the Kremlin is not involved.
Still, in spite of the uncertainty surrounding the circumstances of Nemtsov's death, one thing remains certain — the ongoing rally is meant not only to honor his life, but also his cause for a better Russia. His supporters in Moscow intend to march to the spot where he was murdered, with many more in St. Petersburg similarly paying tribute to the fallen leader.
The march certainly has taken on a rather different air than that which was originally planned. Organizer Leonid Volkov told reporters, "The march in the Marino district which we had planned — a positive march with flags and balloons — does not fit this tragic moment and the magnitude of Nemtsov's persona, as well as the magnitude of the red line we have now crossed and which we have not yet recognized."
Nemtsov had previously noted that he was certainly at risk for being assassinated. Last month, he confirmed his own mother's fears by telling Russian newspaper Sobesednik that he was "a little bit" afraid that Putin might have him killed. But he also noted, "I'm not afraid of him that much. If I was afraid I wouldn't be heading an opposition party and do what I'm doing."
Nemtsov's murder and the ensuing backlash may very well be a harbinger of very real change in Russia, with opposition politician Gennady Gudkov telling Reuters, "If we can stop the campaign of hate that's being directed at the opposition, then we have a chance to change Russia. If not, then we face the prospect of mass civil conflict."