Lines snake through Moscow as thousands mourn Boris Nemtsov

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Marco Werman: In Russia, thousands gathered in Moscow today for the funeral of Boris Nemtsov. He was the opposition leader who was gunned down in the shadow of the Kremlin last friday night. There are still no leads in the murder investigation, which is being personally overseen by Russian President Vladimir Putin--lots of skepticism about that. Reporter Charles Maynes in Moscow witnessed Nemtsov’s funeral. He says mourners formed a long, long line through the Russian capital.

 

Charles Maynes: It snaked all the way from the Andrei Sakharov Center, this is named after the nobel laureate and well-known Russian physicist who spent very many years in the same town that Boris Nemtsov was from, and it snaked all the way around to the actual Ring Road. So, I would say certainly several thousand, and there certainly wasn’t enough time for all of the time to bid farewell to Boris Nemtsov.

 

Werman: Could you tell who was there? Were they activists or other civil society people, or just average Russians who felt the death of this man?

 

Maynes: It seemed like a bit of everything. I certainly talked to a lot of people there who had just appreciated his work over the years; certainly a lot of them spoke of this man that they thought was a very energetic, charismatic, larger than life figure who had the common touch. It was interesting that Boris Yeltsin’s widow showed up to pay her respects and spoke about how close this relationship between Boris Yeltsin, the first president of Russia, and Boris Nemtsov was. She mentioned the fact that she found that today’s politicians were so “boring,” in her words, by comparison. But most interestingly, there was very little presence by the Kremlin itself. They sent a few dignitaries, kind of mid-level I suppose you could say. Dmitry Medvedev, the prime minister, sent flowers--that was noted in the Russian press. But I think there was certainly a sense that the Kremlin was basically, more or less, ignoring this event.

 

Werman: The people who were there, what kind of things did they tell you about Nemtsov?

 

Maynes: They talked about this guy who had a real dedicated vision to democracy, that he really had this different vision for what Russia could be, and certainly different from the one that they see unfolding before them now. Other people talked about this guy who loved life, he was quick with a joke, always laughing. There was an awkward moment where his lawyer took the microphone and mentioned the fact that as a lawyer you could say that he always took care of his former wives, Nemtsov was kind of known to love the company of women. But generally speaking, I think you had the sense that this guy was unusual for the Russian political environment of his time and even now. He was just an unusual guy for the times.

 

Werman: Considering there were  a lot of people at Nemtsov’s funeral, did this funeral double up in an odd way as a pro-democracy demonstration?

 

Maynes: It did, in fact. As I mentioned earlier on, there were such long lines that of course not everybody could make their way past the casket today. What happened was when they finally brought Nemtsov’s body out, people started chanting “Boris” and “Heros never die” and “Russia without Putin” and “Russia will be free,” basically the same chants that Nemtsov has been saying for many years now since he’s been this opposition figure against the Kremlin. It was interesting, as they brought his body out to the hearse, OMON troops surrounded the cars that made its way out, blocking the view of many of the well wishers who had come to pay their respects, and so this kind of pandemonium broke out where, in a way, a lot of the well wishers felt very insulted by this but it seemed sort of appropriate for a guy who spent many of his last years fighting against the Kremlin to have these chants ringing out while he’s encircled by special forces.

 

Werman: Yesterday, when we spoke about Nemtsov and how he energized Russia’s opposition movement, you said it’s kind of hard to know what his murder will prompt next. But today was there any mood at the funeral that Nemtsov’s death is the start of something?

 

Maynes: I think everyone feels like they don’t know. Everyone sort of says it’s going to get worse before it gets better, but I’ve spoken with people who have said “Look, every time we think we’ve lost someone and we can’t go on, we find that someone new arrives and there’s new talents that show themselves,” and so I think there’s a sense that they have to carry the message forward. Whether that’s just the right thing to say on a sad day or if that’s really what’s going to happen, it’s tough to say.

 

Werman: Reporter Charles Maynes speaking with me from Moscow. Thank you.

 

Maynes: Thank you.