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Russian Democracy Activist Says Nemtsov's Death A Major Turning Point


And now a voice of the Russian opposition reacting to the murder of the prominent Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov. He was gunned down near the Kremlin last Friday. Russian President Vladimir Putin called Nemtsov's murder a provocation and vowed to find those responsible, but there's a lot of skepticism about that. I spoke with Russian democracy activist Leonid Gozman and asked him who he thinks was behind the assassination of Boris Nemtsov. Gozman told me one explanation lies in the current atmosphere of hatred.

LEONID GOZMAN: Because we have very aggressive groups inside our society, which we think that they have a right or even obligation to repress other parts of society. Mr. Putin, in his speech to the Russian parliament, used words the fifth column.

BLOCK: Fifth column.

GOZMAN: The fifth column, so he says that there are people who betrayed Russia. They're inside Russia. They're enemies of Russia, and so on and so on. And after such words, the shooting is inevitable. But who made it? In my point of view, it's - the most probable - the Russian radical nationalists, but being supported by the people from the very top of our political system. And so I'm very anxious that this crime is not the last. I'm afraid that it's just the beginning of the long, long and bloody process.

BLOCK: Are you afraid for your own safety?

GOZMAN: You know, what means afraid? If you're normal person and not very stupid, you must understand reality. The next question is, if you understand that it's some danger, you know, will you change your style of behavior? I will not.

BLOCK: When President Putin called the murder of Boris Nemtsov a provocation, how did you interpret that and what does that mean to the Russian public?

GOZMAN: Those people who are positive about President Putin and who are negative about liberal opposition and who were negative about Boris, they think that it was made by Western intelligence, or by Ukrainian intelligence, or by liberals themselves and other stupid hypothesis. I think this was the idea of our government, our president, now. This crime was against the state. The goal was destabilization of the domestic situation in Russia. It might be, but I think that if I'm right, there are radical nationalists - Russian radical nationalists. So the real goal is not only to kill this very person whom they hated, but the real goal is to send a message to all Russian opposition that, look, guys, it's better to say nothing, it's better just to accept our leadership.

BLOCK: Do you see any hope for the opposition movement in Russia to really gain strength to bring about the Democratic change that you want?

GOZMAN: (Laughter) We have a joke - an anecdote - in Russia that what's the difference between pessimistic and optimist? Pessimists says that everything's so bad, so terrible, that it couldn't be worse. And optimist says, no, it could be worse.

BLOCK: (Laughter).

GOZMAN: It could be worse. So I'm afraid, in this case, I'm optimist. I think it could be worse. And frankly, I'm not very positive about our near future. You know, democratic institutions are destroyed. And we have no chances for change in the leadership of the country by the process of elections. So unfortunately, I do not see the peaceful solution of this situation. So in short, or even midterm, prospective, I'm afraid our future is not very sunny. But in the long-term prospective, you know, we are the country not only of dictators, like Stalin, or aggression, and so on.

We are the country of the great culture, a really great culture. So I'm sure that, sooner or later, we'll return back to normal development. And I think that one of the greatest tasks for Russian opposition now and for Russian intellectuals is moral resistance. We must show to our compatriots that not everybody poisoned by this propaganda, not everybody happy with this isolation of the country, and so on and so on.

BLOCK: There are those, though, Mr. Gozman, who say that with the murder of Boris Nemtsov that any hopes for Democratic change in Russia have been killed with him.

GOZMAN: No, no, no, no, no, no. They made the situation in the country much more dangerous for many, many people, and they made the probability of the disaster higher, it's true. But they didn't kill our hopes for democracy of Russia - of course not. They failed.

BLOCK: Leonid Gozman is an opposition politician and democracy activist. He spoke with us from Moscow. Mr. Gozman, thanks very much.

GOZMAN: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.