Political journalist Mikhail Fishman wrote an ideal textbook on the recent history of Russia - the book “Successor. The story of Boris Nemtsov and the country in which he did not become president” (M .: AST Publishing House: CORPUS. 2022).
As a textbook, the book is ideal for two reasons: firstly, it is written in a fascinating and understandable way, and secondly, it does not ignore a single significant political event of those years that make up the latest Russian history - from Perestroika to the death of Boris Nemtsov at the walls of the Kremlin. That is, any reader who, due to his youth, did not know or, out of forgetfulness, forgot (and both together make up the majority of the population of Russia), what happened, for example, in 1994 in the Russian regions, will open Fishman's book and read:
“Nemtsov himself continued to live in the dacha allocated to him, and in the summer of 1994 the regional parliament decided to give him an apartment. Nemtsov answered the deputies as follows:
“Dear deputies of the regional legislative assembly! I am grateful for the decision you took on 21 June 1994 proposing that measures be taken to improve my living conditions. You are probably right, and a two-room apartment on the 10th floor is not the best housing for the regional governor and his family. I know that many residents of Nizhny Novgorod do not believe that I live in such an apartment, they believe that cottages and summer cottages are being built for me in different parts of the region. You know that this is not so, and, apparently, your desire to allocate me a good comfortable apartment is dictated by this. I am extremely grateful to you, but I cannot accept your offer. Unfortunately, in our country, a two-room apartment for a family of three is an unattainable dream for many people. And while this is so, I believe that the governor and deputy of the Federation Council, elected by the people, should live the same way as his voters. This is especially important now, when many apartments are sold at auctions and people who stand in line for 15-20 years and are in dire need of better living conditions have practically no opportunity to get an apartment for free. As for me, I didn’t stand in line for an apartment and I consider it unethical to get it for free”.
Of course, this story, which took place in the Nizhny Novgorod region with the apartment of its governor, was not the rule, but the exception, and in other regions everything was different. And yet it is a kind of magnifying glass that allows you to see those years as clearly as Boris Nemtsov himself - as a phenomenon - allows you to see modern Russia as a whole. Fishman found in his hero an ideal point of observation, and such a choice, of course, is not accidental:
“The history of Nemtsov is the history of Russia, and I do not separate one from the other. This is not a classic biography. This is a political biography in a broad context, not so much a story about Nemtsov as a story in which he is the main character. <…> This book has two optics. One is Nemtsov himself. His views are close to me, his actions and emotions are often clear to me, and it was relatively easy for me to look at the events through his eyes. The second lens is my own, and I wanted to show the circumstances in which both Nemtsov and other participants in political life acted and made decisions. Looking at the history of the country through the eyes of Nemtsov, I lived it together with him anew, in the present tense. As a journalist, I knew where to look and who to ask questions, because I already knew what happened next and how it all ended.
Despite the fact that this book is written extremely lively both in style and in the dynamics of action, its author is extremely meticulous. On more than six hundred pages, the events are presented consistently, in detail and in detail. Moreover, when people become “details”, there is no doubt: it is those who have been selected that give the most vivid idea of the spirit of the times.
Here Boris Vidyaev, director of the Gorky Automobile Plant, appears on its pages, because “in a nightmare he could not have dreamed that a 32-year-old sucker from a scientific institute would become the head of the region where he was a king and a god” - and Fishman tells with convincing facts, how the Nizhny Novgorod region was transformed under the popularly elected governor Nemtsov.
But Dmitry Medvedev throws into the public field “an idea that will take root over the years in the corridors of power:
“It is unlikely that anyone has any doubts about who won the 1996 presidential election. It was not Boris Nikolaevich Yeltsin,” and Fishman objected to him calmly and convincingly: “This is a myth. Yeltsin won thanks to the manipulation of public opinion, thanks, in the words of the sociologist Lev Gudkov, to the readiness of society to succumb to the “impact of political technologies”, thanks to the obvious support of the state, thanks to his own energy and willpower, finally, but not as a result of falsifications.
The most important question that the author asks himself and which determines the structure of his book: “In the years that have passed since the fall of Soviet power, Russia has again lost its newfound freedom. How did it happen? The search for the cherished point, at which the arrow of Russian history was switched to a dead end route, habitually revolves around specific episodes, but there are no simple answers to these questions - surname, date, place. And so, in the course of the plot, from time to time I left my hero in order to restore the background of political intrigues and historical processes, in the center of which he was destined to be.
One of these cherished or, rather, painful points is October 1993, the shelling of the parliament from tank guns.
“When the smoke cleared from the building of the Supreme Council, it turned out that Russia was already a different country. “From a jelly-like dual power, we ended up de facto in an authoritarian regime,” Gaidar later wrote, “which a considerable part of the people, tired of this dual power, of the growth of crime and dreaming of restoring normal order, will support or at least not actively oppose it” . “Reluctance to compromise in the name of a calm, peaceful development of events is also one of the lessons of those bloody events”, - Nemtsov later said.
Fishman draws an obvious conclusion from this: “It was not only Yeltsin who won, but also the notion that violence is the main argument in political disputes, and the stakes in political confrontation are exceptionally high. If you lose, you lose everything: position in society, freedom, even life.
The consequences of this event were as predictable and as unexpected as Nemtsov's political fate:
“The victory over the Supreme Council was too expensive for the reformers and led to completely different results than they expected. The results of the first elections to the new Russian parliament in December 1993 came as a shock to Yeltsin. “Russia, come to your senses, you’ve gone crazy” - uttered on the night of the summing up of the election results, these words of Yuri Karyakin, one of the democrats of the first wave, forever remained in history: no one expected that Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the arrogant and eccentric populist of the right sense, promising "every woman a man, every man a cheap bottle of vodka." Yegor Gaidar resigned again (his second coming to the government turned out to be fleeting), the reformist camp crumbled, and the leaders of the democratic revolution of the early 1990s left the political scene. And the more obvious the defeat of the reformist course seemed, the brighter Nemtsov's star burned. His popularity grew, and his political career turned into a national phenomenon before our eyes. While the country was experiencing disappointment in the changes initiated by Yeltsin, the transformations in Nizhny Novgorod proved that the hopes for a European path for Russia were not crossed out.
There were still huge events ahead - the final Yeltsin "successor" and the whole history of Russian resistance, which in the book of Mikhail Fishman is told literally by months and even days.
Could a leader like Boris Nemtsov remain at the center of political life after Vladimir Putin came to power and was confirmed in this power? Could. He stayed. But only in this capacity, which he spoke about after his return from Israel, where he left in 2014, fearing arrest:
"Aren't you afraid of being killed?
- Not. I am not a traitor or an enemy. I am an oppositionist and I express my protest openly, without hiding anything”.
Could he, with such an understanding of the political norm, survive in Russia, which had already begun the path to the end of its modern history? Could not. The shot on the bridge proved this with all tragic evidence. After that, the bridge became Nemtsov in the minds of people. And, of course, it will remain so in the future. And the memory of Nemtsov will remain in the future. What this promises the future of the country in which he did not become president is an open question.