Tens of thousands of people marched Sunday in memory of former deputy prime minister and opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was killed by four bullets to the back Friday night just steps away from the Kremlin. The march seemed not just a farewell to the well-known politician, but also to the Moscow street opposition movement, which had stagnated after the Bolotnaya trials against protestors and the rise of war-time patriotism over Russia's role in the Ukraine crisis.
Independent monitor Golos said 50,000 people came to the march, which slowly wound through downtown Moscow to the place where Nemtsov was killed, marked by piles of flowers. The capital had not seen a march this large since 2012, when more than two dozen people were hit with criminal charges after clashes with police on Bolatnaya Square on the eve of Vladimir Putin's inauguration. But it wasn't an opposition protest like those that unnerved the Kremlin in 2011 and 2012, and it did not seem to be the start of a similar surge in street actions.
Instead of anger at the Kremlin and chants of “Russia without Putin,” the procession was mostly quiet, with more marchers carrying two roses—a sign of mourning—than banners and placards. Many carried Russian flags with black ribbons handed out and collected at the end by oligarch and Putin foe Mikhail Khodorkovsky's Open Russia organization. Of those placards that were to be seen, most read simply “I am Boris Nemtsov,” “I have no words,” or “Propaganda kills.”
The Russian opposition has widely blamed the killing on state-controlled media's frequent suggestions that Kremlin critics are working to undermine the country, assertions helped along by Putin's own reference to the thin line between opposition and a “fifth column.” This “machine of hatred,” opposition duma deputy Dmitry Gudkov told me, had likely inspired whoever carried out the killing. Even lawyer Genri Reznik, president of the Moscow bar, tied Nemtsov's death to the hateful rhetoric of Russia's state channels during a debate with parliamentarians on Channel One.
Well-known economist Pyotr Lanskov echoed the thoughts of many marchers when he told The Nation Putin is to blame: “It's not important if he gave the order, he created the atmosphere.”
“If you can kill a well-known person with impunity, because I'm sure no one who ordered it will be punished, then we're all just as vulnerable,” Lanskov said. “I go to all these actions and work as an electoral observer, so what now? Someone can kill me too?”
In a survey on GlobalVoices, three prominent patriotic bloggers rejected the theory that a patriotically minded loose cannon killed Nemtsov, instead accusing the opposition of hypocrisy and using the murder for political ends. All three brought up opposition leader Alexei Navalny's comment, yelled at a demonstration for fair elections, that “I'm an Internet hamster and I'll chew through the throats of those swine!” as an example that in fact it was the opposition inciting hatred.