Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Boris Nemtsov, 1959-2015 the Rise and Fall of a Provincial Democrat

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Boris Nemtsov, 1959-2015 the Rise and Fall of a Provincial Democrat

Article excerpt

Boris Nemtsov's political career stretched from the early 1990s until his death in 2015. Among Russian liberals, Nemtsov was the most outspoken protagonist of market reforms. In his region Nizhny Novgorod he immediately launched a comprehensive program of privatizations for which he obtained foreign technical and financial aid to combat industrial decline and poverty. When visiting Nizhny Novgorod, President Boris Yeltsin and several Western politicians were enticed by Nemtsov's dynamism and successful economic reforms. His informal behavior and boyish good looks contrasted sharply with the behaviour of the former Soviet bureaucrats. In addition, he also liked windsurfing and playing tennis, not hunting or fishing, which were the preferred hobbies of the former nomenklatura. However, the Western journalists would soon discover another side of his personality. Nemtsov was also "loud, brash, boastful, vain and a tireless womanizer." 1

His reputation as a handsome politician and intelligent administrator was nonetheless growing. Yeltsin, who now needed a crown prince to help him shore up his presidential power and to speed up stagnating economic reforms, appointed Nemtsov and Anatoly Chubais as first deputy prime ministers in March 1997. In the West, these appointments were hailed as a victory for the anti-corruption "young reformers" promising Russia a Western form of capitalism and democracy.

Nemtsov immediately launched several reforms in order to combat Russia's "cowboy capitalism" in which corrupt bureaucrats and criminal gangs seemed to rule unchecked. From this time on, government tenders had to be open and transparent. Russia's natural monopolies had to be broken up and fair, free-market competition had to be introduced. Taxes were to be collected in time. Hence, Nemtsov's auction of the telecommunication firm Svyazinvest, which went to George Soros and Oneximbank, was presented as the cleanest state sale ever held. But it nonetheless became a subject of debate when it was discovered that Oneximbank had distributed bribes to several "young reformers," including Chubais. Though Yeltsin kept Nemtsov and Chubais in government, Nemtsov's reputation had suffered a severe blow: he had lost his political innocence.

In August 1998 the devastating financial crisis swept the "young reformers" away. Divided and out of power, these liberals passively witnessed the nascence of Vladimir Putin's state-controlled capitalism and authoritarian rule. In the beginning, Nemtsov's opposition to Putin's rise to power was rather flimsy. Because of the latter's support for a free-market economy, the liberals in the State Duma thought they would be back soon. But in 2003 the liberals lost their seats in the State Duma. Then Nemtsov tried to reorganise the divided opposition around himself, but without any tangible result. From then on Nemtsov's driving goal was his relentless opposition to Putin's adventurous foreign policy and authoritarian rule.

Democracy in One Region

In Nizhny Novgorod, where democratic grass-roots movements were mushrooming in 1986 after Mikhail Gorbachev called for reforms, young activists started contesting authoritarian rule. Among these activists was a young physicist named Boris Nemtsov. Like many of his fellow activists, Nemtsov was born into a family of intellectuals. Together with his mother, a pediatrician, he had successfully campaigned against the building of a nuclear power plant in Nizhny Novgorod. This initial success inspired him to join the local democratic movement. Like most of the yound democrats, Nemtsov was a member of the local Komsomol. As a defender of free speech and property rights, he tried to compete in the 1989 elections for the Soviet Congress of People's Deputies, but the selection commission did not endorse his candidacy. Then, in 1990, he easily won a seat in the RSFSR Supreme Soviet, where he joined Yeltsin's faction. Democratic Russia (DemRossiya) captured some 40 percent of the seats. …

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