Breaking news!!! Stop the presses! Boris “Will The Real Leader Of Russia Please Stand Up” Nemtsov has been arrested!! I’m not kidding, this is a big story!
Yawn. Okay, I’m kidding. Oh, Nemtsov did get arrested, with plenty of photos showing his chiseled torso to great advantage and sending a frisson of pure lust through the loins of Russophobic females everywhere. But it’s not a big story. Honest. Here’s the World News page of the New York Times for July 31st – see anything on Nemtsov? Me either. Well, let’s try the Washington Post , stories for the last week of July to today. Nothing there, either….hmmm. Oh, I’m sure some papers picked it up, but if it’s not in one of those, it’s not a big story. Not in America, anyway. More on what a big story Nemtsov is in Russia a bit later.
First, I’d invite you to take a look at something that is a stated and intentional goal of political activists everywhere: that’s right – getting arrested. Says Britain’s most-arrested (22 times) nuclear weapons activist Marcus Armstrong, “It gains a lot of publicity, and I would not have missed the opportunity”, arguing that incarceration is a powerful part of the protest process. Yes, it is, especially if you’re fronting a protest movement that is so feeble that you need to get arrested to get your picture in the papers. Getting arrested was exactly what Nemtsov hoped would happen.
That leads me to wonder if Prime Minister Putin (assuming he really does spend a lot of time thinking and worrying about the Nemtsov threat to the Medvedev government, which he may well not), rather than being the psychic, all-seeing Eye of Mordor the Russophobes would have you believe he is, might not be just a little slow. I mean, how much political savvy would it have taken to seed the gathering with hecklers, who would burst into laughter and jeering at everything Nemtsov said (which by some accounts wasn’t much; according to La Russophobe, he was arrested while signing an autograph), thus denying him any credibility, rather than arresting him, which was what he wanted. After all, that’s the way democracies do it. United Russia needs to have a Samovar Summit with the Tea Party.
Let’s try and make some sense of what happened, shall we? I mean, the press is hardly likely to get it right. We’ll have to look for clues. Okay, here’s a couple. The Moscow Times, which often likes nothing better than stirring the toilet bowl, reports that the Nemtsov protesters numbered about 200. And that those who weren’t arrested disappeared in the crowd that was on scene to see the car and motorcycle show. What can we glean from this? Well, it can’t be much of a protest movement. In a city that boasts a population of nearly 5 million, 200 people doesn’t sound like what you’d term a grass-roots groundswell. Still, I guess it’s pretty impressive when weighed against the 30 who demonstrated in Vladivostok and Kiev. Next, we can divine that the crowd gathered for the car and motorcycle show must have been considerably larger, since it’s difficult to disappear into a crowd that’s smaller than your group. Also, and bearing in mind that protesters’ assemblies are never approved and always get fobbed off with the excuse that some other group is using the venue, it’s fairly clear that there really was some other event going on at the time; the car and motorcycle show. Maybe the authorities responsible for granting permits often lie, but evidently they weren’t lying this time.
You may get the impression that I have some kind of major hate on for Nemtsov. I haven’t. The few times I’ve heard him speak, he’s come across as an intelligent, articulate man with a sense of humour and a talent for politics, although I’m not sure how much of a compliment that is. I see Boris Nemtsov more as a tragic clown who can’t seem to get it through his head that the people don’t want him. If they did, nothing could stop him from getting elected. You can’t tell me the same people who lived through a 900-day siege without breaking can be tricked by a rigged election in which the candidate everyone voted for didn’t get elected. Russians might not live in the democratic conditions westerners do, but they’re not stupid. Vladimir Putin is popular in Russia, and it’s not because he scares Russians shitless, while Nemtsov is not. That’s just a fact, and while you can make of it what you will, it’d be damned hard to run an opposition campaign on it.
Good luck with that, Mr. Nemtsov.