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Nemtsov Prize goes to Russian politician

Roman Gonscharenko / groJune 11, 2016

The newly created Nemtsov Prize has been awarded to Russian politician and publisher Lev Schlossberg. Named after the assassinated Russian opposition politician, the prize was presented for the first time on Sunday.

Stiftung verleiht Boris-Nemtsov-Preis Preis Lev Schlossberg
Image: DW/S. Englert

"Today it is necessary to have courage in Russia if you say something that contradicts the state version," Lev Schlossberg said, during the award ceremony at Deutsche Welle in Bonn.

"Freedom of expression is stipulated in the Russian constitution, but in reality, it doesn't exist anymore," he added.

For Zhanna Nemtsova it was both a joyful and sad occasion. Nemtsova is the daughter of Boris Nemtsov, the prominent Russian opposition politician who was murdered on a bridge near the Kremlin in February 2015.

On Sunday, she presented the first prize bearing her father's name: it honors "special courage in the fight for democratic values ​​in Russia."

"It is a sad prize because it commemorates a murdered politician," said Nemtsova, who is also a journalist with Deutsche Welle's Russia desk. The fact that people have to be especially courageous in Russia today also makes her sad. "Unfortunately, this trait is very much needed to express an opinion," the 32-year-old journalist states. She is aware that very few people are as brave as her father was; she advocates support and media coverage for such people, noting that is the award's main objective.

Voting on the internet

The 10,000-euro prize for freedom is awarded by the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom, which was established just a few months ago in Germany. The first step of the award process was for members of the public to visit the foundation's site and nominate a candidate, explains Nemtsova. Once the nominations were in, the liberal Moscow newspaper "Novaya Gazeta" held a vote via its website in which over 20,000 people took part. Five finalists were selected from 46 suggested candidates. A vote on the web is democratic yet risky, admits Nemtsova - for internet trolls could have easily falsified the results. "We were lucky; there was no interference."

Stiftung verleiht Boris-Nemtsov-Preis Preisträger Lev Schlossberg
Image: DW/S. Englert

At the end of May, the foundation council selected the 2016 winner in a secret ballot: Lev Schlossberg, a politician and publisher from the western Russian city of Pskov. Nemtsova had no impact on the decision because she is not a member of the foundation. The six-member panel consists of former and active politicians and experts from Russia, Germany, the USA and Lithuania. One of the members is former German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger.

Winner was attacked due to controversial publication

Schlossberg, the 52-year-old prizewinner, has been a member of the liberal opposition Yabloko party since the 1990s and heads its association in Pskov region. He was a councilman in the local government for four years until his mandate was revoked in September 2015 for formal reasons. Schlossberg, however, argues that it was a politically motivated decision in the wake of his publishing activity.

At the end of August 2014, Schlossberg published a controversial report that became known throughout Russia. "Pskovskaya Guberniya," the local paper he publishes, was the first in Russia to cover the secret funerals held in Pskov for Russian paratroopers who had allegedly died in clashes in eastern Ukraine. To this day, Russia denies the deployment of its army in the war between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatists. Schlossberg and the journalists were subsequently threatened and attacked. Schlossberg was brutally beaten up by unknown assailants on his way home from his office and had to be taken to the hospital. The trail of clues leads to Moscow, said Schlossberg an interview conducted by Nemtsova for Deutsche Welle in March 2016: "The kingpins are probably high-ranking members of the Russian military."

Winner has remained true to his views despite attacks

The violent incident has not changed him or his opinions, Schlossberg noted. "I only came to understand that some words can be costly," he stated, adding that such words have become all the more precious and that they must be expressed. Zhanna Nemtsova admires Schlossberg's stance. "He will go on," she says. "When the atmosphere around you is so aggressive, when you are attacked and mud is slung at you, it is hard not to acknowledge it and retain your dignity." And there is another point she finds to be in Schlossberg's favor: "He has never changed his views; he has remained true to himself." It is, she notes, a rare virtue in Russia.