I am grateful for the opportunity to speak with you here today. And after all the horror stories we heard at the ceremony about Russian atrocities in Ukraine, I am happy to be able to tell you, and to show you, that Putin and his gang are not the only Russia. There is another Russia, a Russia that wants to be free, to be democratic, and to be part of the civilized world, and I believe that is the future of my country.
On February 27 this year, a great champion of democracy was murdered in front of the Kremlin. The symbolism of the time and place of his assassination would not have been lost on my friend Boris Nemtsov, who understood as well as anyone the hateful and violent forces that have been unleashed in Vladimir Putin’s Russia in recent years. Nor was Boris surprised that this hatred and violence had again spilled over the Russian border. He was working on an in-depth report on Russian soldiers in Ukraine at the time of his murder.
In a way, Boris was a Russian soldier too, a patriotic hero who believed passionately in all of the things Putin has worked so hard to destroy. Boris was fighting a war to save democracy in Russia. Every war has its front lines, where only the bravest of the brave volunteer to fight. Boris was one of those rare knights of freedom who, knowing full well the dangers and the odds against him, battled every day as if he were invincible.
By so doing he inspired many more to believe in this fight and to have the courage to join him. The tens of thousands of marchers who filled the streets in Moscow to honor him and the flowers that the police still rush to sweep away from the bridge where he was killed are testimony to the power and truth of Boris’s leadership and vision.
A successful mayor in Nizhny-Novgorod and a capable cabinet member and parliamentarian, Boris Nemtsov could have led a comfortable life in the power vertical as a token liberal voice. But Boris was unqualified to work for the Putin regime, because he had principles and could not bear to watch our country descend back into the totalitarian depths. And so Boris launched his big body, big voice, and big heart into the uphill battle to keep democracy alive in Russia. He was devoted to documenting the crimes and corruption of Putin and his cronies, hoping they would one day face a justice that seemed further away all the time. He tackled the tyrant’s greatest crimes directly and was never content to nibble at the edges.
Boris and I began to argue after Putin returned as president in 2012. To me it signaled the end of any realistic hopes that there could be a peaceful political solution to regime change in Russia. But Boris was always optimistic. He would tell me I was too hasty, and he would say, “Garry, you have to live a long time to see change in Russia.” Boris will never see that change, but if we are to honor his memory and his ultimate sacrifice, we must fight as hard as he did to make sure that change does come.
Ronald Reagan said that freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. He did not mean it so literally, but it is also true that freedom can become extinct when a generation of freedom fighters like Boris Nemtsov are killed, jailed, and exiled. How can our fight find new blood when so much old blood is being openly spilled? Reagan said freedom is not inherited, it must always be fought for. With us here today we have one bright exception, Boris’s eldest daughter, Zhanna, who has clearly inherited much of her father’s courage and leadership in the face of this terrible tragedy.
In our darkest hour, Boris Nemtsov was our brightest light. Now he is gone, and we must carry on his work by keeping the torch of freedom ablaze. Each of us must contribute our voices, our actions, our truth, and our light, until the dark forces of dictatorship no longer have shadows in which to hide.
Garry Kasparov is the chairman of the chairman of the Human Rights Foundation, based in New York. His book, “Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped” comes out October 2015.
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