Boris Nemtsov Plaza Unveiled in Washington, D.C. 

Feb 28 2018

The Boris Nemtsov Plaza was unveiled during a ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Feb. 27. A part of Wisconsin Avenue from Edmunds street to Davis street, directly in front of the Russian Embassy, has officially been renamed in honor of the prominent Russian opposition leader who was shot dead in 2015.

The ceremony was attended by Nemtsov’s friends and family, as well as members of the U.S. Congress, State Department, and DC Council.

Among others who gave speeches during the event were Vladimir Kara-Murza, chairman of Boris Nemtsov Foundation; Boris Nemtsov’s daughter Zhanna Nemtsova, and Senator Marco Rubio, who initially introduced legislation to name a street after Nemtsov a year ago.  

Senators Roger Wicker, Chris Coons, and Ron Johnson, who co-sponsored the legislation, spoke at the event. Also present were Assistant Secretary of State for the European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell, Congresswomen Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Eleanor Holmes Norton. D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and D.C. Council member Mary Cheh, who introduced a law renaming the street on the local level after the initiative stalled in Congress, spoke at the ceremony. The D.C. Council unanimously passed the law in January 2018.

In her opening statement, Natalia Arno, president of Free Russia Foundation, which organized the unveiling ceremony, said everyone present could agree “we wish we never had a reason for this memorial and that Boris Nemtsov would still be with us.” She thanked those gathered at the ceremony “in honor of the life of a man who many of us view as the soul of the Russian pro-democracy movement.”

Kara-Murza of the Nemtsov Foundation said the renamed street is the “first official commemoration of Boris Nemtsov anywhere in the world,” something not possible in Russia. 

Kara-Murza continued, “You have done something more to commemorate Boris Nemtsov,” referring to the recent concession by Moscow authorities to allow activists to put a plaque on the house where Boris Nemtsov lived. After blocking all initiatives to commemorate Nemtsov for three years, Moscow “probably realized how it looks when the U.S. commemorates a Russian statesman while Moscow refuses to do so,” he said.

Kara-Murza said Nemtsov “became the embodiment of a very different Russia” – a free, democratic country that “respects its citizens and lives at peace with the neighbors.” He said Nemtsov gave his life for this and that “the best possible tribute to him, to his legacy, is a free and democratic Russia, and that day will come.”

The former politician’s daughter, Nemtsova, said “two struggles have been unfolding” since the assassination of Nemtsov – a fair investigation of his death and an effort to commemorate him. She noted that unofficial memorials erected by volunteers at Moskvoretky bridge, where Nemtsov was killed, have been removed more than 70 times.  

Senator Rubio said that Nemtsov was “an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin and his regime’s  corruption, invasion of Ukraine and that ultimately led him to the tragic fate.  The street sign directly outside of the Russian Embassy serves as an enduring reminder to Vladimir Putin and to those who support him that they cannot use murder, violence, and intimidation to silence the voices of freedom and dissent.”

Rubio added, “We have to stand with thousands of Russians who peacefully protest against corruption and illegitimate elections. It is our hope that one-day Russian people will have leaders who protect the fundamental liberties and freedoms of all their citizens and leaders who will be very proud to have Boris Nemtsov’s name outside of the embassy here in Washington.”

Senator Coons said the legacy of Nemtsov, who helped open the Russian Embassy in Washington DC in 1994, is “a stark reminder of how different a path Russia has taken from that day.” 

D.C. Council member Mery Cheh said that Russian authorities may prevent commemorations of Nemtsov in Russia, but they cannot do it here.

“This commemoration will not be removed. This commemoration will stay here as a symbol to Boris Nemtsov,” Cheh said.

By Valeria Jegisman

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