'Hamsters & Penguins': Opposition leader in obscene phone-call leak

Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov has apologized for insulting comments about fellow pro-democracy protesters after a web tabloid published his phone conversations.

Commenting in his Livejournal blog, Nemtsov – a co-chairman of the unregistered People’s Freedom Party, also known as Parnas – said he had begged pardon of everyone who was insulted in the course of his “personal phone conversations.”

“I think I was wrong. Emotions and every word should be controlled even when you talk to close friends on the telephone,” Nemtsov wrote.

Nonetheless, the politician accused the web tabloid, Life News, of violating the Constitution and the Penal Code which guarantee the privacy of correspondence and phone talks.

The aim of the news outlet, which published the comments, was to “wreck the protest rally” planned for December 24 and “sow discord among the opposition,” according to Nemtsov.

On Monday, Life News posted audio recordings which, it said, were of conversations between Nemtsov and his friends and colleagues. The tabloid said that it had over six hours of recorded exchanges between the Parnas leader and other opposition members, in which they discussed the situation around the election protests.

After the December 4 parliamentary poll, thousands of citizens took to the streets protesting against the State Duma vote results. The biggest rally – held on December 10 on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square – brought together from 25,000 to 80,000 people, according to different sources.

People of completely different professions, social statuses and backgrounds – from students, office clerks and businessmen to famous writers, journalists and celebrities – came to the meeting. Many of them had never been part of any opposition movement and the only reason they decided take part was because they wanted to voice their desire for fair elections with no violations in favor of any party.

However, in Nemtsov’s description, his fellow demonstrators were simply “hamsters” and “penguins.”

“Those are cowardly white-collars, such hamsters from the Internet,” the voice allegedly belonging to Nemtsov said in a recording posted by Life News. He stated that only 10 per cent of the rally participants were politically motivated, while the rest were “vegetables” outraged by being cheated on. “I had to represent their interests when sorting the issue with the mayor’s office.”

The opposition – seemingly riven by internal quarrels – were unable to come to a compromise over the site of the protest. Some organizers of the December 10 rally were not thrilled by Nemtsov’s initiative to settle the issue with the city authorities in order to secure permission for the gathering. After he agreed to the authorities’ proposal to hold the meeting on Bolotnaya Squre rather Revolution Square, as had been initially planned, some opposition leaders accused him of betrayal.

Discussing the situation with his friends, Boris Nemtsov made unflattering and in some cases obscene comments, using taboo language, about both his opponents and those who are supposed to be comrades.

The politician admitted in his blog that some of the published conversations were authentic. However, part of the recordings “are arrangements” while the rest are “simply fake.”

Nemtsov plans to sue Life News for illegal tapping. His lawyer, Vadim Prokhorov, told Interfax that the Parnas leader and co-chairman of the opposition movement Solidarity would submit his appeal to the investigative committee on Wednesday.