Oleg Kashin: words that cripple

Last week in Moscow the journalist Oleg Kashin was thrashed to within an inch of his life. President Medvedev has ordered a high-level investigation into the attempted murder. Who would stand to gain this attack and is there any hope of a swift resolution? asks Mikhail Zakharov.
Mikhail Zakharov
8 November 2010

Another journalist has been badly beaten up. The daily newspaper Kommersant journalist Oleg Kashin wrote on many topics, and it is hard to understand who would gain from having him thrashed. What is clear is that all the authorities’ assurances of the “order, stability and freedom of the press” are a myth: they can do little about the lawlessness of their own agents and other representatives of law-enforcement groups.

Kommersant journalist Oleg Kashin was very badly beaten up in Moscow last Friday night. After an operation, the doctors decided to put him into an artificial coma for several days.


There is no shortage of theories about why Oleg Kashin was targeted.

The authorities reacted swiftly. A criminal case of “attempted murder” has been opened.   President Dmitry Medvedev wrote in his blog on Twitter: “I have ordered the office of the Prosecutor General and the Interior Ministry to take the case of the attempted murder of the journalist Kashin under special control. The criminals must be found and punished.”

Representatives of the Prosecutor General’s Investigation Committee say that they are working on several scenarios, including Kashin’s professional activity.

Journalists, friends of Kashin, and people who cannot remain indifferent are picketing the Moscow Central Internal Affairs Directorate.   Kommersant has promised material and other assistance to the victim, and the editor-in-chief Mikhail Mikhailin, who is a member of the Public Council at the Central Internal Affairs Directorate, says he will pressurise the investigation to ensure a swift resolution of the case.

In our country journalism is one of the least protected professions.  All the journalists I know with any degree of prominence have come across this total lack of protection.   Kashin may have been a contradictory journalist, but no one can remain indifferent to this attack on him. He is too high-profile a journalist. All these terrible events cannot be fixed immediately. They are the consequence of a global nightmare that is taking place everywhere. The present leadership of the country completely ignores the Constitution.

Filipp Bakhtin, editor-in-chief of Esquire magazine

Bloggers have already suggested several theories for the attack.  These include an act of revenge by i) pro-Kremlin youth movements or ii) the authorities of the Khimki district near Moscow for an interview Kashin published with an anti-fascist activist (anti-fascists attacked the city administration this summer).  Another theory is that one of the readers of Kashin’s blog took personal offence (Kashin even quarrelled with governor Turchak).

These theories don’t actually hold water. Activists of pro-Kremlin movements are brave when it comes to words and hoaxes, but disfiguring people is not their style. Outsourcers who were once allegedly hired by pro-Kremlin movements to attack the headquarters of left-wing organizations also didn’t go as far as killing and beating people up. So the pro-Kremlin youth movements do have a concept of the limits of acceptability.  The youth movement “Young Russia” has already announced that it is “outraged” by the attack (although this came after the President’s reaction).

The violence in Khimki is getting worse.  Dozens of opposition members have already been beaten up there.  Mikhail Beketov, the editor of the local newspaper Khimkinskaya Pravda, is one of them and an activist from the local pro-business party Pravoe Delo, Konstantin Fetisov, recently joined the ranks. 

But the “Khimki theory” is flawed because Kashin wrote little about on this subject, and didn’t cover the attack on the administration.  Correspondents who directly covered it have given evidence to the police, but there have so far been no threats of physical violence or attacks.  It’s more likely that the perpetrators of the attack on Kashin were imitating the Khimki criminals who attack members of the opposition.

The problem is that people who believe that force is effective, and that a “punishment” like this will change things in their favour, don’t usually hang about, and they only bear grudges for a month, or two at most.  Kashin’s articles during the last two months have not been too hard-hitting, so there haven’t been so many people offended by them.  Even in his blog.   Kashin didn’t write in the style for which journalists are beaten and killed in Russia. He didn’t write angry reports about the North Caucasus (as Anna Politkovskaya did). He didn’t investigate the police and then write it up (like New Times magazine), report on corruption in high places (like Novaya Gazeta) or take photographs of VIP’s watches (as Vedomosti did). He was not what naive people call an “opposition journalist”.

There is no justice in Russia. Today Saprykin quoted Pavlovsky, who said that at all levels of the authorities there are people with blood on their hands. In other words, the regime is virtually a sect of assassins. Unfortunately, this is no great exaggeration.  Behind all the unsolved attacks and murders of journalists in recent years, including Politkovskaya, Estemirova and Beketov, we can see the involvement not of gangsters, but of high-ranking representatives of the regime. This is why no one has been punished and the guilty have not been found.

Andrei Loshak, journalist

The most fitting explanation of the reasons why journalists are attacked and killed is more akin to the Gongadze case.   Some high-ranking official says “I’ve had enough of that (insert appropriate surname here)”, and some rather dimwitted agent or subordinate takes this as an order from on high to act.  They do what they can – some make films involving cocaine and prostitutes, others perpetrate direct acts with baseball bats or even firearms. On the whole, all the bloggers’ theories require verification by professionals from the investigative bodies.

But the tendency is clear:  yet again we have confirmation that being a journalist in Russia is not without its risks, leading many conclude that just living in Russia is dangerous too.  One would like to believe the authorities when they say that wise party and government policies have put the crazy 90s are behind us and that Russia’s low ranking in the free speech tables is a slander and provocation.  But time and again the opposite is proved.

The state has only to say that its law-enforcement officers need more powers to solve law and order problems for it to become abundantly clear once more that the law-enforcement bodies are incapable of protecting their citizens. As soon as someone says that “journalists take too many liberties”, there is proof that it’s not only the journalists.  We would be happy to believe it, but when things like this happen, we can’t.   The authorities should try harder to find the real culprits, rather than just “putting things straight” or looking for extremists, as they did in the case of the Khimki attacks.

This doesn’t affect the wider aim of ensuring that people have a safe country to live in.  But for that the people themselves have to become involved.

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