US Street Named after Russian Opposition Leader Boris Nemtsov

11 January, 2018

The local government in Washington, D.C. has approved plans to rename one of the city's streets after Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

The street is in front of the Russian embassy to the United States. Nemtsov, a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was killed in 2015.

Time magazine reports that Russian lawmakers have criticized the plan.

On January 9, the Council of the District of Columbia passed a measure called the Boris Nemtsov Plaza Designation Act. Every member of the council voted to approve the renaming of the street "on an emergency basis."

The measure renames the part of Wisconsin Avenue that is home to the Russian Embassy in honor of the opposition leader. Boris Nemtsov was a reformist politician and fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Nemtsov was shot and killed nearly three years ago on a bridge in Moscow.

People come to lay flowers at the site, where Boris Nemtsov was shot dead, with St. Basil's Cathedral (R) and the Kremlin walls seen in the background, in central Moscow, February 28, 2015.
People come to lay flowers at the site, where Boris Nemtsov was shot dead, with St. Basil's Cathedral (R) and the Kremlin walls seen in the background, in central Moscow, February 28, 2015.

A change coming at a tense time

D.C. officials are seeking permission from the U.S. House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Homeland Security before they make the change. Council officials said that a ceremony to set up a plaque honoring Nemtsov has been set for the third anniversary of his death on February 27.

Federal legislation to rename the area along Wisconsin Avenue was first proposed in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives in 2017. The proposal has yet to be approved.

The Senate bill states that the address of the property containing the embassy, the Russian ambassador's home and consulate would be changed to 1 Boris Nemtsov Plaza.

In the past, Russian officials have expressed opposition to the renaming. However, Dimitry Peskov, a government spokesman, said it is the decision of the D.C. officials for how to name the street in front of the embassy.

"This is a prerogative of the city authorities," he said, while noting it comes at a time when relations between the two countries have been tense. Russia's state-operated TASS news agency reported his comments.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that Nemtsov supporters set up an unofficial memorial in his honor on the bridge where he was shot dead. But it has been repeatedly damaged or removed by unknown individuals.

Last September, a plaque honoring Nemtsov was placed on the Moscow building where the opposition leader lived. But city officials declared the plaque illegal. It was removed after less than one week by a pro-government activist group.

In June, a Moscow court found five men from Russia's North Caucasus area of Chechnya guilty of Nemtsov's murder. It sentenced them to prison for terms between 11 to 20 years.

However, Nemtsov's relatives and other contacts believe the killing had been ordered at a higher level. They say there will be no justice until the person or people who ordered his murdered are identified and brought to trial.

Symbols can create change

Last month, Nemtsov's daughter Zhanna Nemtsova spoke at a public hearing in Washington. She told D.C. council members that Putin's government wanted to completely remove the memory of her father. She said the Kremlin believes correctly that symbols are important and can sometimes incite change.

"This explains the nervous reaction from the Russian Foreign Ministry when they first heard of the Washington, D.C., [street-naming] initiative," Nemtsova said.

I'm Lucija Millonig.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on this story. Phil Dierking adapted the story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

Do you think streets in front of Embassy's should be named after political activists? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section or on 51VOA.COM.


Words in This Story

consulate – n. a diplomatic office

initiative – n. the power to act or take charge before others do.

plaque – n. a piece of metal or wood with writing on it

prerogative – n. a special right or power

symbol – n. something that stands for or suggests something else by reason of relationship or ties

address – n. a place where you can contact or communicate with an individual or organization