The official renaming will take place on February 27, the fifth anniversary of the opposition leader’s killing.
This will be the fourth Russian embassy to suddenly find itself based at or near an address commemorating Nemtsov, one of the most vocal critics of President Vladimir Putin.
A few months later, the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius followed with a similar move. Last year, a “Boris Nemtsov Park” popped up in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, near the Russian embassy there.
It might sound like political trolling, but for Nemtsov’s family, the renaming is a powerful gesture.
“It’s very, very important to keep the name in the public domain, for the next political leadership of Russia to have the responsibility to investigate this murder, to have it on the agenda,” Nemtsov’s daughter Zhanna Nemtsova told CNN.
She said the newly named square will also empower those Russians who oppose the current political leadership there. “Pro-democracy people, they have no representation in the Russian system of power, their ideas are not represented by any politicians, they are out of the political system,” she said. “This is a very symbolic move, these people want their voice to be heard.”
The Russian embassy in Prague did not respond to a request for comment, nor did the Russian Foreign Ministry comment on the move.
The decision to rename the square in Prague was sparked partly by a petition, signed by thousands of people.
For many Czechs, their country’s relationship with Russia remains an emotionally charged topic. Some remember firsthand Soviet tanks rolling into the country in 1968, when Moscow decided Czechoslovakia’s tilt towards democracy had to be stopped with force.
But the feeling of distrust is also shared by many of those too young to remember the invasion. For them, the idea of renaming the square right under the Russian diplomats’ noses is a way of standing up to Moscow.
Daniel Kupšovský returned to Prague in 2017, after living abroad for a few years. “I was hearing the Russian language everywhere, not just from tourists in the city center, but also in many residential neighborhoods … and some of these people were very impolite,” he said.
Kupšovský was not imagining the sudden influx — official data from the Czech Interior Ministry shows increases in both the numbers of Russian tourists visiting Prague and those getting residency permits.
He shared his feelings on Facebook and was surprised to find many of his friends sharing the same views.
Worried about what he described as “feeling xenophobic for the first time ever,” Kupšovský decided to investigate his own feelings and made a documentary about his Russophobia.
“I was born in 1977, so I don’t remember the invasion, but I am old enough to remember going to school and being told what to think, being forced to study the Russian language and having a ‘comrade teacher’ who was forcing us to learn Soviet propaganda,” he said.
And while making the documentary proved therapeutic for Kupšovský — he made couple of new Russian friends and no longer feels the overwhelming anxiety he once did — he says he understands the uneasy feelings of many Czechs.
The square renaming is a way to make a statement, he said.
“I think many Czechs are feeling proud of and grateful for the freedom we have,” he said. “This is a way to express solidarity with the part of the Russian society that doesn’t have these freedoms.”
The neighborhood surrounding the Russian embassy in Prague is used to gestures like this.
A short walk away from the future Boris Nemtsov Square is Charles De Gaulle Street — before the Velvet Revolution, it was called Yakov Sverdlov Street, after a high-ranking Russian Bolshevik. Milady Horákoveé Street, renamed after the revolution to honor a dissident Czech politician murdered by the communist regime in 1948, is a stone’s throw away.
Zhanna Nemtsova chuckles briefly, imagining her father’s reaction to the idea of having a square named after him in the company of such major figures. “I don’t think he could not have imagined that this would happen, he was not the kind of person.”
She gets serious quickly. “He was under a lot of pressure in Russia. He didn’t feel that he was that much respected.”