Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Russians March: To Replace 'Campaigns of Hate'

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Russians March: To Replace 'Campaigns of Hate'

Article excerpt

In unexpected numbers, about 50,000 Russians marched in Moscow on Sunday in memory of Boris Nemtsov, a prominent pro-democracy figure gunned down just two days before. Yet the purpose of the march was not only to memorialize what he stood for. As another dissident, Gennady Gudkov, told Reuters: "If we can stop the campaign of hate that's being directed at the opposition, then we have a chance to change Russia."

A state-run hate campaign has indeed escalated against domestic critics of the policies of President Vladimir Putin, especially since Russia took the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea last spring. Mr. Nemtsov, a former vice premier, was a critic of that land grab. He also was reportedly ready to expose information about Russian forces in Ukraine.

In a speech last March, Mr. Putin had warned of a "bunch of national traitors" bent on creating discord. And the images of Nemtsov and others had recently hung outside a Moscow bookstore that stated: "The fifth column: there are strangers among us."

The names or real motives of those who killed Nemtsov may never be exposed. His murder is the highest-profile political assassination during 15 years of Putin's rule. But few can disagree that an atmosphere of demonization now consumes Russia, perhaps having driven Nemtsov's killers to assume that personal attacks on him could justify his murder.

In a recent Facebook posting, Nemtsov wrote: "I can't remember such a level of general hatred as the one in Moscow today." And after his killing, another prominent dissident, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, wrote, "Now everyone from the blogger at his apartment desk to President Putin himself is searching for enemies, accusing one another of provocation. What is wrong with us?"

Nemtsov was not above personal attacks on Putin, even as he was subject to official attacks. And therein lies a larger problem not only in Russia but in how leaders in Europe and the United States have also demonized Putin rather than sticking to the high ground of criticizing his actions. At times, both President Obama and German leader Angela Merkel have described Putin in disparaging personal terms. …

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