Three years later

RAI, the Italian national broadcaster, has some good images from yesterday’s march in the memory of Boris Nemtsov in Moscow. One of the small signs – white on black – reads, literally, “Who is the customer?” What does it mean?

Another slogan mentioned by RAI should make it clearer: “Who ordered?” – that is, who ordered the killing of Boris Nemtsov? This translation is too broad, however. The Russian verb zakazat’ typically refers to a customer or client placing an order for goods or services with a supplier or provider. It does not mean “to command” (there’s another verb with the same root but a different prefix, prikazat’).

Moreover, there’s a recent informal usage – literally “to order someone” – that refers to a contract killing or a smear campaign. “Person A has ordered Person B” can mean that A has put out a contract on B or that A has paid to have B destroyed politically.

If the service rendered was assassination, it’s only natural to inquire, “Who was the customer?”

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