The brazen murder of Boris Nemtzov has predictably triggered a flood of opportunistic and inflammatory innuendo. Even before the body started to cool, the Western mainstream media wasted no time transmorgifying the late liberal opposition leader into the tragic anti-corruption activist and people’s advocate that he never was. Deep in the trenches of the ongoing information war, romanticized narratives sprinkled with not-so-subtle accusations and associations are standard offensive procedures, efficiently deployed in a relentless blitz through a tightly managed news cycle.
A particularly dramatic op-ed by the New York Times’ Masha Gessen sanitized Nemtzov’s political career and reputation in Russia, describing him as a formerly prominent political figure whose star had faded with the passage of time. According to this rose-colored narrative, his passion for fighting and exposing corruption remained undimmed despite an apathetic Russian public. The Globe and Mail of Canada breathlessly describes Nemtzov as having “fearlessly exposed corruption at the highest levels of government.” Such assertions are particularly rich, considering the true nature of his legacy as the lead “young reformer” in the Yeltsin Administration.
Nemtzov had some dubious achievements to his credit as an anti-corruption lawmaker. He successfully pushed anti-corruption “reforms” with loopholes that preserved and exacerbated the cronyism it was supposed to eliminate. Shortly after this legislative “triumph”, he was caught negotiating a $90,000 bribe-as-book advance on tape, which exposed his hypocrisy and probable complicity in the rigged auction of Svyazinvest, a state telecommunications company. Finally in August 1998, Russia suffered a devastating economic collapse, which the furious public partially attributed to his failed policies and his own personal corruption.
Given these facts, it’s easy to see why the Russian people stopped listening to his lofty rhetoric. Who can be expected to believe a man who can’t even believe his own ideas? The troublesome aspects of his political career were neatly omitted from the mainstream media’s official hagiography, creating a soft-focus portrayal of the quixotic democracy advocate who died far too soon fighting the good fight. According to chess champion and fellow member of the liberal opposition Gary Kasparov, “Boris hoped, in vain as we understand, to see some form of peaceful transition into normal, civilized democratic government.” (Reuters)
Once the case is made for Nemtzov’s sainthood, brazen suggestions and veiled remarks about Vladimir Putin’s culpability are bandied about for maximum effect. A lack of evidence is no impediment in the rush to judgment:
“Mr. Putin controls everyone and everything in Russia. From the deranged sociopath who may have been driven to rage and murder by Mr. Putin’s incessant stream of truth-altering propaganda, to the disgruntled oligarch whose fortunes rise and fall at Mr. Putin’s whim, the President is necessarily close to every theory behind the murder.” Marcus Kolga, The Globe and Mail
“The message was clear: People will be killed in the name of the Kremlin, in plain view of the Kremlin, against the backdrop of the Kremlin, simply for daring to oppose the Kremlin.” Masha Gessen, The New York Times
“It’s a signal to everybody that’s engaged in opposition activities that all bets are off.” Gary Kasparov, Reuters
It couldn’t be more obvious what is being suggested: Putin killed Boris Nemtzov for daring to fight for freedom, and the rest of the world is next if we don’t stand up for democracy. Like a bad Hollywood sequel, the Soviet Empire of yesteryear is back from the dead, eager to dominate and destroy. The blatant Russophobia would be funny if it wasn’t so dangerous.
In the meantime, we can afford to laugh as the battle for our minds continue to rage—but it won’t be long before our bodies are made to follow.