Zhanna Nemtsova, Russian activist and daughter of murdered opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, addresses the 9th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.

9th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, Tuesday, February 21, 2017

On a resurgent Russian authoritarianism:

“The title of the panel, as you know, is “The Return of Authoritarianism”, and I think it fully reflects the situation which we now face in Russia.”

“Russia is not a democracy anymore, it’s not a full democracy, it’s an authoritarian country.”

“We have no political competition; though according to the official polls, 15% to 20% of Russians are critical of Vladimir Putin, they are not represented in any political force.”

“We have no divisions of powers, actually; all power is concentrated in the arms of Vladimir Putin.”

“We have no free media, as was mentioned; all major Russian TV stations are controlled by the state or are owned by the state.”

On common misunderstandings of Russia:

“I talk to many people and I know that there are lots of myths about Russia.”

“One of the myths is that the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, is very popular, and this idea is based on the opinion polls. But, you have to understand, opinion polls do not reflect any reality in an authoritarian regime because people fear expressing their ideas and their opinions publicly.”

“Millions of Russians are familiar with European values and they feel comfortable in democratic countries and they choose to leave for democratic countries.”

Ending with the words of her late father:

“My father repeated the same idea: “Russia without Putin.” I think that Russia should be and must be without Putin – and it will be the reality one day.”

Full Remarks

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. 

Thank you for coming and thank you for the invitation. It’s a big honour for me to talk here at the Geneva Summit. 

The title of the panel, as you know, is “The Return of Authoritarianism”, and I think it fully reflects the situation which we now face in Russia. Russia is not a democracy anymore, it’s not a full democracy, it’s an authoritarian country with the enormous role of Vladimir Putin, President of Russia. I would like just to briefly support the idea that Russia is not a democracy.

First of all, the Russian economy is controlled by the state. Over 70% of Russian gross domestic product is generated by state enterprises. That means that we don’t have a competitive market economy and this is the essential feature of any liberal democracy. We have no political competition; though according to the official polls, 15% to 20% of Russians are critical of Vladimir Putin, they are not represented in any political force. There are no representatives of those people who are critical of the regime in the Russian lower chamber of parliament in the Russian State Duma. We have no divisions of powers, actually; all power is concentrated in the arms of Vladimir Putin. We have no free media, as was mentioned; all major Russian TV stations are controlled by the state or are owned by the state and that means that 15% of Russians, or those who represent their interests, are not heard. They have no chance to be heard but they have a good chance of being attacked by Russian state media. 

We now witness the growing role of the Russian Orthodox Church in all spheres and it’s a tool in the arms of the Russian state to ensure its power and very old religious dogmas which remind us of the Middle Ages are revived. At this point, I would like to cite the words of the patriarch of the Russian Church who said exactly these words: “Today we are dealing with a global heresy of worship in humans. The new idolatry that removes God from human life.” I think that these words speak for themselves.

Unfortunately, in Russia, we have political prisoners. We have over 100 political prisoners now in Russia and I’m very happy that today, Anastasia Zotova, wife of Ildar Dadin, who was sentenced to a term in prison for one-man protests – for peaceful protests – is today with me and she’s going to speak about the situation in Russian prisons. One famous Russian writer and satirist once said to me: “You know, it’s very easy to detect whether a particular regime is an authoritarian one or a democracy. In a democracy, there is political satire and there are no political prisoners. In an authoritarian regime, there are political prisoners and there is no political satire targeting national leaders” and that’s the case with Russia, unfortunately.

I live in Germany, I’m based in Bonn and I travel across Europe and I talk to many people and I know that there are lots of myths about Russia though Mr. Moderator said that Russia is a well-studied subject. One of the myths is that the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, is very popular, and this idea is based on the opinion polls. But, you have to understand, opinion polls do not reflect any reality in an authoritarian regime because people fear expressing their ideas and their opinions publicly as they see the increasing repression and political oppression. Polls are not reliable. We don’t have mass protests in Russia because people are afraid of taking the streets to protest against the Russian government.

Although we have two trends that can show us the real state of affairs in Russia. First of all, in the last five years, 500,000 people left Russia. Many Europeans and Americans say Russians are not prepared for democracy. But, you know, these people didn’t go to North Korea, they didn’t go to Saudi Arabia, they didn’t go to Iran; all these people went to Germany, Canada and the United States of America. And, according to a lot of studies, Russians are people who integrate quite easily and that means that millions of Russians are familiar with European values and they feel comfortable in democratic countries and they choose to leave for democratic countries.

Secondly, what I want to say is that we had parliamentary elections in Russia and their turnout rate was below 50% and in Moscow, it was below 30%. It’s the lowest rate since the beginning of the 21st century and that means that people do not believe in elections, they understand that these are fake elections and they don’t want to participate in these fake elections and in many people’s opinion, this is a silent protest. We don’t know what the result of this silent protest will be. Though authoritarian regimes are visibly very stable, they are in fact very unpredictable and it creates a lot of uncertainty. 

I want to end my short speech with the words of my father. He loved to repeat them. My father, Boris Nemtsov, the leading liberal politician in Russia killed almost 2 years ago. The 27th of February marks the second anniversary of his assassination. My father repeated the same idea: “Russia without Putin.” I think that Russia should be and must be without Putin – and it will be the reality one day.

Thank you very much.