On our first night in Moscow we decided to have a walk and ended up, perhaps inevitably, on Red Square. It is my first time in the city so it is always a great surprise and pleasure to find oneself in at one of the great landmarks of the world. Make no mistake: just as with Tokyo, Paris, London and New York, Moscow is one of the world's great cities.
On the way back, I suggested that we vary the route a little, which ended up with us walking along the other side of the bridge across the Moskva River. It is there that we came across the memorial to the murdered politician, Boris Nemtsov, a liberal who was critical of the Putin regime. He was murdered here on 15th of February, 2015. I was surprised on several levels: the first being how big the memorial was. It must have stretched for a good ten-fifteen metres along the pavement, maybe more, and it consisted of many bunches of flowers, posters (all in Russian), numerous portraits and a single large Russian flag, all illuminated by small tea candles in red glass holders. The site was obviously well-tended.
As the time I was tired, it was nearly midnight and I was suffering from a seven-hour jet lag. Besides, I didn't have any camera with me. "Not to worry," I thought. "I'll get a picture tomorrow."
Tomorrow came but here is the picture.
As you can see: small in size. No portraits. Just a few flowers. What had happened?
My second reaction was just how close to the centre of power the assassination took place. That is the Kremlin the the background. It was as if a senior British politician had been murdered on Westminster Bridge, just opposite the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. I hesitate to draw the direct comparison any further because, frankly, in British politics one has to be nowhere near as brave as Nemtsov obviously was.
The answer to the question came in this small poster, obviously hastily drawn up.
The memorial had been attacked at three o'clock in the morning and had been removed by force. While I was in Red Square about eleven o'clock, four hours earlier, there were still many tourists around since the night was so warm. Doubtless our numbers would have been very low by three, and it was still before dawn.
When I passed by for the third time in the afternoon, this is the sight:
Still small, but regrowing after the night's work by the unknown assailants.
This time there was a poster in English.
One could write many moralising statements about the state of Russian politics and society. I think the lessons are obvious and I do not need to belabour them here.
I will say though that in order to take part in politics in Britain, one doesn't have to risk one's life. The threats to our fundamental freedoms are, in their own way, just as potent.
The murderers of Boris Nemtsov are at this time still at liberty.