Beyond propaganda https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/6258/all cached version 21/08/2018 13:08:47 en How this DIY magazine is making space for taboo topics in Russia https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/thomas-rowley/diy-magazine-taboo-topics-russia-moloko-plus <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Under conditions of growing self-censorship, small media can often raise questions avoided by Russia’s national media – but of real concern to readers. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/thomas-rowley/gde-my-a-gde-rossiya-24">RU</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/photo_2018-08-16_17-30-40.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/photo_2018-08-16_17-30-40.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="317" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Juliana Lizer and Pavel Nikulin. Photo: Artur Davletshin. </span></span></span>Russian DIY journal <a href="https://moloko.plus/">moloko plus</a> appeared in 2016 and immediately attracted interest – not only for its medium (print only) but for its content (the first two editions focused on drugs and terrorism) and mission. Speaking to the current crisis of professional journalism, the journal’s manifesto states that “in Russia today, and perhaps across the world, the combination of experience in journalism, basic ethical and political principles and a generally logical perception of your own worth has turned into a curse. We didn’t choose this trap.”</p><p dir="ltr">Since then, the third edition of moloko plus (titled: “Revolution”) has been released. In July, Pavel Nikulin and Sofiko Arifdjanova, journal coordinator and writer, traveled to Krasnodar to present the journal, where they were <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/07/15/v-krasnodare-neizvestnye-napali-na-uchastnikov-moloko-plus-nikulina-i">subjected to an anonymous chemical attack</a>. The day before, several unknown plain clothes police officers, who introduced themselves as members of the criminal investigation department, arrested Arifdjanova in connection with “a criminal investigation”. At the same time, Krasnodar Interior Ministry seized copies of the magazine “in the interests of preventing extremism”. On 12 August, seven journalists involved in moloko plus <a href="https://zona.media/news/2018/08/12/mlkpls">reported</a> that there had been attempts to hack their email and Facebook accounts. </p><p dir="ltr">In April 2018, I interviewed the journal’s founders, Pavel Nikulin and Juliana Lizer, as part of our <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/odr-debates/unlikely-media">“Unlikely Media” rubric</a> on new media startups. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Tom:</strong> moloko plus is full of excellent texts – you don’t see this level of quality often. It tackles both unusual subjects and publishes serious essays. Let’s start with a simple question: it seems to me that your journal occupies a particular niche in the Russian media sphere. Why did you set it up and what is its mission?</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pavel:</strong> I think there are three questions here. The question “why” should be addressed to me, as I’m the person who set the whole ball rolling. The question “how” – the journal’s quality and its mission – is for Juliana to answer. I’ll tell you quickly why we did it. I didn’t know why I should do it, I just knew that if I didn’t do something and just went on with my boring work, covering the city news and other routine stuff, I would either go mad or kill myself. And I didn’t have any idea what would come out of it. When I began, I had no idea who would support my idea, and when I sent out my first post about collecting money for it, I didn’t at all expect the feedback I had from friends in bookshops: “We’ll sell it, we’ll give you a platform for the launch” and so on. There was no original “why?”. It was a thing in itself, for itself, a kind of punk rock – any journalist can make a magazine.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Juliana:</strong> The second question was about our mission. At the start, it was all about us, our self-development. We wanted to do things that we weren’t managing to do any more, or had nowhere to do: write things, talk about subjects that I, for one, had been interested in for years. It also turned into a learning curve: many of the things we had to do I only knew in theory from a course at the journalism faculty where I did my degree. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">In Russia, there is an established media consensus that this agenda – violence, terrorism, drugs – is marginal. But our audience is quite young and well aware of the fact that the media lie</p><p dir="ltr">With the magazine, I could turn a lot of this theory into practice. </p><p dir="ltr">Doing editorial work, for example. It’s one thing to be just a reporter – everything’s set up for you. But here, you need to make everything work and you carry all the responsibility – both for the print version and social media. And the mission behind all this is, in the first place, about information and education. And entertainment, to some extent: we write about music and films as well, of course.</p><p dir="ltr">But we have another mission as well: to try to bring together in one place everything we know about a given issue, look at it from every angle and produce something coherent, holistic. So that people who want to find out about that issue can at least have something to start from – a kind of mini-encyclopaedia on one subject. And it’s good that it won’t all disappear: something that is printed is tangible, and no matter what happens with the internet, with the power supply (we know how sites get closed, how texts just disappear) anything that’s printed can’t be destroyed. So that’s also a kind of mission as well. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Xo0wKrngw_o.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Xo0wKrngw_o.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="327" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Note from the Editors, "Drugs" edition. Source: moloko plus. </span></span></span>I am someone who came of age in the culture of the 1990s-2000s, when books were still a material object. The books of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Shulgin">Alexander Shulgin</a>, for example, may be banned in Russia, but I have them at home. And so do some other people. Knowledge doesn’t disappear. And knowledge has to be preserved and multiplied in every way possible. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Tom:</strong> This is an enormous topic and one which we underestimate these days. I work pretty hard at our online platform, but I never know what will come out of it – perhaps nothing. So in this sense I admire your mission. Your journal often covers issues such as violence, terrorism, drugs. Why do you find it important to write about these subjects? You said that you need to write and publish on these topics otherwise it could all disappear. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pavel:</strong> In Russia, there is an established media consensus that this agenda – violence, terrorism, drugs – is marginal. But our audience is quite young and well aware of the fact that the media lie. We are more idealists than cynics: we decided not to provide our readers with a concrete answer to the question of how to live, and instead to return them to asking questions. </p><p dir="ltr">As to the first two topics, terrorism and drugs are the most convenient targets for any propaganda: you can’t lose, you can’t win and you can hold society in a constant state of anxiety, scared that their kids will either turn into heroin addicts or blow up the Metro tomorrow. This constant stress means that they no longer know either the reasons for, or the complexity of, these issues. And when we hear the word “terrorism”, it’s important for me to know who is talking and about whom. The use of the term often tells you more about the person talking than the thing they are talking about. If somebody says that the “Workers’ Party of Kurdistan are terrorists”, it tells you more about the person talking than about the Workers’ Party of Kurdistan. Or if someone says that “weed is a drug”, it tells me more about that person than about cannabis. </p><p dir="ltr">There are questions, there are interests. We have decided that we won’t write about what is right or wrong, but about, to a greater or lesser degree, what we know, from both the outside and the inside.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">At the start, it was all about us, our self-development. We wanted to do things that we weren’t managing to do any more, or had nowhere to do</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Juliana:</strong> To sum up, we’re doing it to encourage people to think for themselves. These days, you can’t take anyone at their word, because the public and the media love to hang labels on people: “terrorist”, “drug addict” and so on. These labels already carry negative connotations, even though they describe things that have always existed in human society and have always been very complex. It’s like we’re trying to demonstrate this complexity by saying to people: “Hang on, please, and think about how it’s not just about labels: it’s more complicated than that.” </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Tom:</strong> I had that impression when I read your article, Juliana, about left-wing radicals in Greece. And I did start to think about it. As an outsider, I have a question about so-called “marginal” phenomena in Russia – obscure stories about drugs, terrorism, violence. Why do you think this subject so popular in Russia? </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Juliana:</strong> Because there’s a lot of it. A lot of people have seen something, experienced something and want to find out about it. Take serious alcoholism, for example. It’s a pretty marginal phenomenon, you must agree – but in Russia it’s very widespread. It has affected a lot of people and families. And of course people like reading about it, even if it’s absolutely horrific – people killing one another while “under the influence” and so on. </p><p dir="ltr">As for drugs, they are theoretically a no-go area, and everybody’s interested in what’s forbidden. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pavel:</strong> In the last year, I’ve twice been stopped on the street and searched for drugs in Moscow. This “stop and search” trend among the police has become so common that the hipster city press has started writing about it. Everyone has either been searched themselves, or their boyfriend or girlfriend has. People want to know what’s going on, but no one has the complete picture. Someone may know how the Russian Darknet works, and how drugs are bought and sold in Russia. </p><p dir="ltr">In Russia, the police are everywhere. You can hear the word “terrorism” ten times a day&nbsp;– all you need to do is use public transport. People in the Metro, on escalators, in railway stations and airports are always talking about the terrorist threat. They want to know what the threat is. In effect, the state has hyped up the subject completely.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Some individual journalists involved in their own small projects are more ethical and enjoy more trust than the big corporations. It’s no surprise that they believe us</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Juliana:</strong> For example, I go into my block of flats, and my neighbour is standing in the hall and there are two packages lying on the floor. I thought they were hers, but she’s asking me if they’re mine. I look around, but don’t touch anything (there are signs telling you not to everywhere in the Metro). They contain glass jars. She says, “who can we phone: the main thing is to avoid an explosion.” This reaction has been spreading among people over the years, in one way or another.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pavel:</strong> It’s the same with drugs: there are signs everywhere forbidding people to buy and sell them. I wanted to give a foreign acquaintance a glimpse of typical Russia, and took him to a Moscow suburb, Biryulyovo – not the capital’s most prosperous suburb. I told him that people live in high rise buildings, often without any space around them, nowhere to go for a walk. The walls of the buildings are plastered with warnings about drugs, but in every district there is a church going up – there’s an official church-building programme in operation. He didn’t believe me. And then we come out of the suburban train and he saw the tower blocks, he saw that there was nothing to do there, he saw hoardings advertising some online shop – and the fence round the space where they were building the church. He also saw bottles used for smoking weed in every hallway, although there were fewer syringes than there used to be. And there was absolutely no way of getting any information about anything.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/photo_2018-07-16_12-51-04.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="255" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Police raid the "Typography" establishment, where a presentation of moloko plus was being held, in Krasnodar, 15 July. Source: Alina Desyatnichenko. </span></span></span>On the one hand, it’s good that the younger generation have a certain distrust of the authorities, but on the other hand, the distrust is total. People don’t believe either Wikipedia, or their friends, or the friendly local cop, or the doctor, whether they’re good or bad. But they want information. They want the facts, so that they can draw their own conclusions. That’s why we haven’t tried to write pamphlets, telling them whether that’s good or bad.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Juliana:</strong> We refuse to give people value judgments, on principle. We need to inform, to talk about a subject from the start, clearly and in a way that’s easy to understand. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Tom:</strong> Do you get feedback from your readers on your attempts to inform? Has anyone said: “I hadn’t thought about that, but I’ve started to think about it now after reading your stuff”. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pavel:</strong> Yes, we do get feedback. Sometimes people want to debate an issue with us, sometimes just say “thank you”. After reading their first issue, some people tells us they want to contribute to the second. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Juliana:</strong> I believe that there are people like that, and we sometimes have negative feedback as well, but from a particular type of people. When the National Bolsheviks (a political movement in the 2000s that combined elements of radical nationalism and Bolshevism – ed.) wrote a post on social media about us, it was very funny. There was one guy who came to the book market we had a stall at, where we were selling our first and second issues. He bought a copy of both, took them home, leafed through them and wrote a scathing post on social media which was, of course, only seen by his followers. For some reason what he didn’t like most was the people who bought the journal. He kept writing to us about spotty girls with ugly backpacks.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pavel:</strong> Nevertheless, I couldn’t care less about the fact that a person near 30 can think exactly the same way as we do, and that our work holds nothing new for them. A friend said to me: “I read the second issue, but why did you write it? I didn’t learn anything new from it.” If we gave the first issue to political analysts who are experts on Ireland or Greece, they would also say: “We know everything about that”. Our mission is more educational: to inform people about that this or that thing exists and that they can get in on the act; not to tell them how the world works in 100 pages. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">There are two traditions in Russian media: one’s about punk, culture and then there’s samizdat, which is political, about “we cannot remain silent any longer”</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Juliana:</strong> Another thing about making people think: an indirect sign that people start thinking about something after reading the magazine is the fact that copies are always being passed around. I don’t know how much this happens, but I know that it does. These magazines have a certain life of their own. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pavel:</strong> It is, of course, a bit of a niche market, but it works, and some people set up their own distribution networks: it has even reached the States, Israel and Armenia. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Tom:</strong> These days, and especially in connection with moloko plus, there’s a lot of talk about the rise of small media in Russia. Journalists and editors know where the demand is coming from. On the one hand, texts are removed and blocked online; on the other, people want to do something for themselves, for self-fulfilment. How do you perceive this problem? </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Juliana:</strong> There are small media outlets of all kinds. There’s a terminological question here: what do we consider an example of the small media sector and do we not? If we include anything that isn’t a media corporation, a mass media title, then we have to acknowledge all the video-bloggers with more than 100,000 hits, since this is a good number of hits, but technically they can and usually do it themselves with their own resources. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pavel:</strong> Important nuances arise when a small media project is created by journalists. The point of licencing media outlets used to be that they would then be subject to the law and ethical code (which was practically the same thing). But now people who don’t register their outlet feel they have more freedom, including the freedom to protect journalistic ethics. Some individual journalists involved in their own small projects are more ethical and enjoy more trust than the big corporations. It’s no surprise that they believe us. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Juliana:</strong> You know where we’re at, and where the (state-owned) “Russia -24” channel is. We’ve never had any desire to compete, and never will. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pavel:</strong> A little aside, but systematic – small media want, of course, to be noticed, but look at the <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNTj-s36Fss&amp;feature=youtu.be">recent attack</a> by Rossiya 24 on the <a href="https://batenka.ru/">Batenka </a>journal. It’s clear to me that they made a second report not because they didn’t like how it delivered information, but simply out of envy. They realise that samizdat is believed by the people who will be a very large (and paying) audience in ten years time. </p><p dir="ltr"><iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/LNTj-s36Fss" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen></iframe><em>Russia-24 broadcasts an expose on Batenka journal, March 2018.</em><br /></p><p><strong>Juliana:</strong> They’ll die out by themselves, they have begun to realise that. I have a theory, that you don’t have to believe in evolution and progress, but if you believe in these things they will happen in society whether you like it or not. If you offer the public something that is out of date, sooner or later you’ll have to go. And that means today’s state-owned TV, its ways of working with information and its presentation style. </p><p dir="ltr">My first job was in TV, when it was still normal, and I saw how it changed in front of our very eyes. People who have realised how it all works will leave.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pavel:</strong> At the start of perestroika, cooperatives appeared. It was believed that people involved in co-ops knew the demands of their audience better, although they couldn’t churn out as much as big, industrial TV companies. They did, however, work with the audience and the market around them. </p><p dir="ltr">It’s the same with small media companies. We know exactly what our target audience likes and we know how to supply it. National publications fly so high that they can’t see individual readers and viewers and their national status separates them from their audience. </p><p dir="ltr">I get messages on Telegram. One reader made us spend two hours looking for mistakes in a text. I knew I had already done that, but I psyched Juliana and myself up and we went through it again together.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Many colleagues in journalism are scared that if they leave a media outlet, they’ll lose their audience. But they completely forget that they’re the ones that bring the audience in the first place</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Juliana:</strong> I checked every document that I had already fact-checked, because I was absolutely sure that everything was fine (we were right). But it’s important to do that, because our reputation hangs on it. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pavel:</strong> It’s hard to imagine how big media do it. Small ones are ok. </p><p dir="ltr">There are two traditions in Russian media: one’s about punk, culture and then there’s samizdat, which is political, about “we cannot remain silent any longer”. But these two are joined. Even Batenka magazine has started to annoy people close to the authorities. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Tom:</strong> Does your work also provoke negative reactions, envious one? </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pavel:</strong> If you like doing what you do, then go work for federal media, publish information on bankruptcies, write about which public official didn’t give you a comment, go to the Duma, where parliamentarians <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/07/bbc-journalist-accuses-russian-politician-of-sexual-harassment">grope female journalists</a> and don’t have to answer for it. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Juliana:</strong> It’s not that you don’t have to do that, that’s necessary work. You have to do a journalist’s job, go to all those places. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pavel:</strong> But only if you like it. </p><p dir="ltr">We’re ready to risk our reputation and careers, but at least we know that we living for a reason. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Juliana:</strong> In 2011-2012, Russian society suddenly discovered that we have problems with elections – and democracy in general. This was in the air, everyone understood this, and so demand for propaganda texts emerged, to hush things up. On TV, journalists began doing strange things (e.g. not reporting on major protests, or if they did, then with incorrect numbers or negative framing). I asked why they were doing this: “I need to feed my family.” And it’s clear that that person most likely won’t find another job. This is tragic. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pavel:</strong> Many colleagues in journalism are scared that if they leave a media outlet, they’ll lose their audience. But they completely forget that they’re the ones that bring the audience in the first place and that you don’t need any outlet to say what they say. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Tom:</strong> My suspicion is that people who work in big media, prestigious media – for them it becomes important after a time that that they work somewhere important. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Juliana:</strong> I’d probably agree. Most of the journalists I’ve met have this attitude: “I’m part of something bigger, I’m part of the team. And this is what we’re called.” And then you meet a group of these people and the first thing they ask is where you work. And you answer: nowhere. </p><p dir="ltr">I’m still surprised by this. Perhaps it’s connected with a human’s psychological traits – to define themselves through something else, to perceive themselves through that. Meanwhile, it’s comfortable to work on articles that disappear instantly, without any understanding what happens to it. I don’t like it when I don’t understand why decisions are made, who makes them and why I have to subordinate myself to that. </p><p dir="ltr">There’s a lot of stereotypes now that are directly connected to capitalist values – which are relatively new for our society (this began like an explosion in the 1990s, and in recent years has taken completely barbaric forms). Still, it’s clear that the value of being successful has embedded itself in our society. You need to have enough money, to need to work somewhere decent, and you need to have a decent job. And through all of this, you show everyone else that you’re not a marginal. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pavel:</strong> It’s a kind of career, only this is a career inside society rather than corporations. I have a lot of fellow students – they’re all interested in different things, but somehow they all fit into a single generalised personality. They wear nice clothes, they have the same interests (which are, it should be said, all sold under the rubric of individuality). A person who goes to a public event thinks that only they have the right to be there, because they’re special. </p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tom-rowley/russia-s-wild-decade-how-memories-of-1990s-are-changing">Russia’s wild decade: how memories of the 1990s are changing</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/feeling-yerevan-s-pulse-new-media-talking-about-armenia-s-blind-spots">Feeling Yerevan’s pulse: the new media talking about Armenia’s blind spots </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrey-kaganskikh/the-network">“The Network”: how Russian security services are targeting Russian anarchists and anti-fascists </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Thomas Rowley Unlikely Media Russia Beyond propaganda Tue, 21 Aug 2018 19:53:58 +0000 Thomas Rowley 119366 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Research the revenge: what we’re getting wrong about Russia Today https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vasily-gatov/what-we-are-getting-wrong-about-russia-today <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/Screen%20Shot%202018-08-15%20at%2009.15.58_0.png" alt="" width="80" />Data-mining and analysis will not reveal what makes Russian propaganda tick.</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-33961593_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>(c) Jaap Arriens/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>I personally know many people who work at RT, and I have known some of them for over 20 years. When we first met in the “stormy 1990s”, some of them, like myself, were working for foreign TV bureaus in Moscow, others for independent radio. All those aspiring young people were enthusiastic, cosmopolitan, spoke a number of languages and loved bourgeois traits (which, yes, includes golf).</p><p>These boys and girls eventually hit western media’s glass ceiling. In the early 2000s, the big TV and news media bureaus in Moscow were curtailed — either due to economic constraints or decreasing interest in Russia. Very few of the capable producers, field reporters and editors continued their careers at the BBC, Australia’s ABC News, German public service broadcaster ZDF or Reuters. Western media, once enchanted with perestroika and glasnost’, and later the seismic events of the Yeltsin era, trained and taught this “local staff”, myself included. In the 2000-2004 period, most of these people lost their comfortable jobs, failed to qualify for transfers to other countries or find places for themselves at the Moscow offices of other foreign media outlets.</p><p dir="ltr">A decade later, most of them were working for Russian state television and other state media such as the newly born Russia Today. Today, they are the bosses and leaders of this TV channel, which is now regarded as a major threat to western democracy.</p><p dir="ltr">It is well known that Margarita Simonyan, RT’s editor-in-chief, developed some sort of hostility to the USA after a <a href="https://exchanges.state.gov/non-us/program/future-leaders-exchange">FLEX exchange</a> she attended at the age of 15. A girl from the bustling seaside resort of Sochi found herself in Bristol, New Hampshire (population 1,688 in 2010) — not exactly the centre of the universe. Imagine someone who grew up at the seaside of Miami beach being diverted to an obscure depopulated village in Karelia, northwest Russia? You may fall in love with lakes and rocks, even with the nice cumbersome people who live there, but you’ll never sympathise with the country which sent you to the middle of nowhere — in the case of Simonyan, that’s FLEX (and the State Department that oversaw the programme).</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">There’s no algorithm in RT’s malevolence, no scrupulous propaganda technology. What powers it is the burning hatred of smart boys and girls who once thought of the West as the “shining city on the hill”</p><p dir="ltr">But Margarita Simonyan isn’t alone in her vigorous love-hate relationship with America and the west. Many of her accomplices at RT are disgruntled former staffers of western media in Moscow. These people are well-trained, well-educated, well-travelled — and completely disillusioned in press freedom, having formed their opinions after the abrupt ending of their comfortable and well-paid careers in western bureaus in Moscow. They all have this unifying event in the past: when you’re fired (or rejected) by someone who defined you and your life, it leaves a taste of betrayal in the mouth.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">When academic colleagues <a href="https://reframingrussia.com/">collect data and dissect RT’s malignant practices</a> in an attempt to reconstruct the massive system of orchestrated agenda manipulation, I have to say — I don’t see anything of the sort. What I see are the faces of my former friends and colleagues who, in Star Wars terms, went to the Dark Side. Most of RT’s professional Russian leadership have the following background: once a ZDF producer, once a Agence France Press reporter, once a Golf Digest publisher… Each of them has a desire for revenge, and with time this desire only intensifies.</p><p dir="ltr">To <a href="https://medium.com/@d1gi">my colleagues researching Russian propaganda</a>, I have this advice: don’t overcomplicate RT’s practices. It is possible you will find some vicious patterns and suspicious signs of high intelligence capabilities — but this evidence is false. What you see is not a calculated offensive operation with long-term goals, but a pattern of rage and revenge. Furious in their revenge, people of RT and other Russian “disinformation troops” are merely trying to implement their sense of betrayal. They share this feeling with the Kremlin, which feels deceived by the triumphant post-Cold War West. And, because of this shared hate (and zeal), they tirelessly work and direct work of others — to revenge, to humiliate and deceive in return.</p><p dir="ltr">While I agree generally with the importance of scientific and data-rich research of RT’s activities, I see fewer reasons to develop any recommendations based on these kind of studies. There’s no algorithm in RT’s malevolence, no scrupulous propaganda technology. What powers it is the burning hatred of smart boys and girls who once thought of the West — and particularly Western media — as the “shining city on the hill”, but now feel offended and deceived. The ingenuity of broken illusions is the fuel of RT, coupled with lavish state funding and emotional reimbursement. Nothing is more creative than a desire for revenge — and this means that no “computational” or restrictive measures for opposing this revenge will be successful.</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, a very similar ethos is present among RT’s western staff. Most of them are either outcasts in the journalism of their respective countries (and therefore join RT to wage revenge as well) or junior graduates who had never been really accepted into western journalism, and who easily consume tales and truths, “shaken, not stirred” and supplied by older and more experienced RT staffers.</p><p>That said, I am quite pessimistic about any perspective of policy or other means of response to RT’s continuing campaign. The broadcaster’s staff share the employer’s passionate position against liberal values, free and independent journalism, impartial and balanced reporting — and do their best to perform. Unless the Kremlin decides to opt for some sort of “informational détente” with the West — guided by some pragmatic reasons or terms of trade — RT will continue to efficiently overcome international barriers, playing on the devils and perils of Western societies and cleverly exploiting the weaknesses of the liberal political order. Well, “efficiently” is something of an overstatement: RT <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/08/11/technology/youtube-fake-view-sellers.html">continuously inflates its audience</a>, which has been reported <a href="https://www.thedailybeast.com/putins-propaganda-tv-lies-about-its-popularity">time and again</a>, and this doesn’t bode well for the declarations of grandeur for which Margarita Simonyan is so well known.</p><p dir="ltr">It is powered by revenge for a personal offence, nothing else.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/vasily-gatov/over-barriers-in-us-russian-discourse">Russia, America, it&#039;s time to talk face-to-face</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alexey-kovalev/life-after-facts-how-russian-state-media-defines-itself-through-negation">Life after facts: how Russian state media defines itself through negation</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/nataliya-rostova/in-russia-s-media-censorship-is-silent">In Russia’s media, censorship is silent </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ilya-yablokov/russian-media-s-double-white-lines">Russian journalism’s double white lines</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/elisabeth-schimpfossl/reporting-on-russian-television">Reporting on Russian television</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-smirnov/ban-rt-uk-helps-putin-campaign-freedom">By banning Russian propaganda, the UK will help Putin in his campaign against press freedom</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/nicolai-paholinitchi/moldovas-battle-against-russian-propaganda">Why Moldova’s battle against Russian propaganda isn’t what it seems</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Vasily Gatov Beyond propaganda Wed, 15 Aug 2018 15:33:05 +0000 Vasily Gatov 119262 at https://www.opendemocracy.net By banning Russian propaganda, the UK will help Putin in his campaign against press freedom https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-smirnov/ban-rt-uk-helps-putin-campaign-freedom <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/photo_2017-05-09_22-24-07.jpg" alt="photo_2017-05-09_22-24-07.jpg" width="80" />Why banning Russia Today will have consequences for press freedom in Russia.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-33961593.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>In November 2017, a US TV company linked to RT was registered as a foreign agent in the US. (c) Jaap Arriens/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.(c) Jaap Arriens/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The poisoning of Sergey Skripal has led to a sharp deterioration in UK-Russia relations. For now, London’s official moves, such as deporting 23 Russian diplomats and searching planes inbound from Russia, look moderate. But Boris Johnson’s <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-43429152">statement on 16 March</a> was likely unexpected for Moscow. The British foreign minister came to the conclusion that Vladimir Putin sanctioned the attack on Skripal too quickly, though the Kremlin has, for now, <a href="http://www.theargus.co.uk/news/14764161.Sanctions_against_Russia_should_be_considered__says_Johnson/">merely commented</a> that Johnson’s tone was “unacceptable”.</p><p dir="ltr">Immediately after the attack, the British parliament began discussing possible responses to Moscow. One of the <a href="http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/mps-call-for-russian-backed-tv-station-rt-to-be-banned-from-broadcasting-in-uk/">first proposals</a> was to stop the Russia Today TV channel, which is financed by the Russian government and is openly involved in propaganda, from broadcasting in the UK. And here it’s important to understand that British MPs have raised an important topic — one that’s painful not just for the Kremlin, but the whole of Russian society, including the opposition.</p><p dir="ltr">Banning the Russian propaganda channel in the UK will provoke a predictable reaction in Moscow. And London needs to understand beforehand what will happen (though the Kremlin hasn’t particularly hidden its intentions). First, Maria Zakharova, spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, then Margarita Simonyan, head of RT, made it clear: all British media <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russia-skripal-uk-media-kremlin-reaction-putin-foreign-ministry-latest-britain-a8254246.html">will be banned</a> in response. This will concern first and foremost the BBC. It’s unclear what will happen to the work of other British media in Russia.</p><p dir="ltr">The Kremlin brought independent media in Russia under control long ago. If they managed to deal with television by the mid-2000s, then the internet didn’t really attract the attention of the Russian authorities for some time after. But in recent years the pressure has increased: independent media are often brought under control via oligarchs loyal to the Kremlin. For big internet publications, every year it gets harder to work. High-class independent journalists are fired if they choose not to betray their principles. Meanwhile, the authorities aren’t in a rush to pressure foreign media working in Russia.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The issue is that Vladimir Putin and his team don’t have — and have never had — a clearly worked-out programme to destroy democracy, including freedom of speech</p><p dir="ltr">Here, it’s important to explain the actions of the Russian authorities, which have been and will be demonised quite enough. The issue is that Vladimir Putin and his team don’t have — and have never had — a clearly worked-out programme to destroy democracy, including freedom of speech. As a rule, all their decisions are situative. Russian television was taken under control after Putin was sharply criticised by the oligarchs Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky. The Russian president likes to act in response to any threats.</p><p dir="ltr">Take the events of the past six years. In 2011, hundreds of thousands of people, dissatisfied with the prospect of Putin returning to power, <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/dissecting-russia-s-winter-of-protest-five-years-on">came onto the streets of Russian cities</a>. The protest was suppressed, but the Russian authorities were seriously worried. They set themselves the task of making<em> everything </em>dependent on them, in order to ensure these scenes would never be repeated. The authorities undertook various actions: from formally liberalising the political sphere to passing repressive laws at the very moment when people stopped protesting.</p><p dir="ltr">Once again, it’s important to understand that the Kremlin’s reaction was a response to street protest. Although these laws may have been prepared beforehand, it seems they were thought up on the spot. Take the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/daria-skibo/five-years-of-russia-s-foreign-agent-law">“Foreign Agents” law</a> as an example — this law banned NGOs which take foreign funds from being involved in “political activity”. As is often the case in Russia, this law didn’t only touch on the work of human rights organisations, but many others, from <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-shevchenko/protecting-the-environment-is-becoming-a-deadly-occupation">environmental NGOs</a> to, most recently, a <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-diabetics-foreign-agent-saratov-volga-ngo/28967337.html">diabetes society</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Why did they pass this law? Because the authorities believed that the 2011-2012 protests were organised from abroad. The mass protest started after election observers found large-scale falsifications at the parliamentary elections. The Golos election monitoring association prepared the observers. Golos received foreign funding. This is how the Kremlin put it together.</p><p dir="ltr">A similar situation happened with the Kremlin’s response to Ukraine. Putin was sure that he was simply responding to attempts by the west to take Ukraine further from Moscow’s influence — and, at the same time, breaking Putin’s agreements with Viktor Yanukovych. The 2012 ban on adopting Russian children (the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/daniil-kotsyubinsky/suffer-little-children%E2%80%A6">“Dima Yakovlev” law</a>) was also perceived as a response to hostile actions from the west.</p><p dir="ltr">Here, I’m trying to explain the Kremlin’s logic, which becomes even clearer in the case of Russia Today in the US. After RT was registered under the Foreign Agent Registration Act in November last year, Moscow started feverishly searching for return measures. The initial suggestions were more reminiscent of North Korea, e.g. banning all independent media, including social networks and even the internet. But then the Kremlin softened its position. All US media, which receive state financing, were <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-lukashevsky/russia-expanding-the-field-of-uncertainty">declared foreign agents</a>. Other US media have yet to fall under this law’s purview.</p><p dir="ltr">For me, there’s two reasons for this. The first, as I wrote above, is that the Kremlin is convinced that it’s defending itself from attacks. It has to respond. The second is that Moscow still leaves itself room for manoeuvre and bargaining. If you ban everything at once, there’s nothing to discuss further — and the Kremlin doesn’t want to end up isolated like North Korea. But the risk of isolation has risen after the Skripal poisoning, and the Russian authorities see this. They won’t make any sudden moves on their own.</p><p dir="ltr">This is what western states need to understand about the Kremlin’s behaviour. Currently, there’s no signs that Putin will change his traditional tactics after re-election. The Russian authorities will still monitor the domestic opposition and the actions of the west (and will respond to them). The west needs to understand that the Kremlin’s reaction vis-a-vis freedom of speech and human rights depends on their reaction. Not least of all because the Russian authorities love appealing to the west’s double standards. All actions in connection with RT are seen as the west’s hypocrisy in the field of freedom of speech.</p><p dir="ltr">By banning Russian propaganda, the western world helps Putin in his fight against freedom of speech. </p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-alyukov/how-does-russian-tv-propaganda-really-work">How does Russian TV propaganda really work?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/nataliya-rostova/in-russia-s-media-censorship-is-silent">In Russia’s media, censorship is silent </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilya-yablokov/russian-media-s-double-white-lines">Russian journalism’s double white lines</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/daniel-kennedy/who%E2%80%99s-afraid-of-russia-today">Who’s afraid of Russia Today?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/nicolai-paholinitchi/moldovas-battle-against-russian-propaganda">Why Moldova’s battle against Russian propaganda isn’t what it seems</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/damir-gainutdinov/russia-s-new-foreign-agent-legislation-will-further-silence-independent-">Russia’s new foreign agent legislation will further silence independent media</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Sergey Smirnov Beyond propaganda Mon, 19 Mar 2018 19:05:01 +0000 Sergey Smirnov 116723 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Russian interference in the virtual world is not the problem https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tom-junes/russian-interference-in-virtual-world-is-not-problem <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p lang="en-US">If there were no Russian "influence operations" in the virtual world, no disinformation campaign spearheaded by Russian bots and trolls, would the western world look much different today?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-31349753.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Robert Mueller. (c) James Berglie/Zuma Press/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>It's Mueller time, again. Or rather, it's time to charge up the headline generators about Russian interference and Putin's "master plan" to undermine the west. In the wake of the recent <span><a class="western" href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/us-election-2016-russia-robert-mueller-investigation-fbi-latest-updates-a8214651.html">indictments of 13 Russians for attempted meddling</a></span> in the 2016 US presidential elections, the international media produced a hail storm of articles and op-eds about Russian trolls and bots on social media apparently capable of influencing political outcomes and more in the west.</p> <p lang="en-US">It doesn't seem to matter that most of the revelations were already known and first <span><a class="western" href="https://www.novayagazeta.ru/articles/2013/09/09/56265-gde-zhivut-trolli-kak-rabotayut-internet-provokatory-v-sankt-peterburge-i-kto-imi-zapravlyaet">reported on by Russian media</a></span>. Instead, it appears that the "Russian threat" is now more real than ever and will impact anything from the upcoming <span><a class="western" href="https://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/italy-warns-election-meddling-parties-court-russia-53224379">elections in Italy</a></span> to the mid-term elections in the United States. Even <span><a class="western" href="https://www.cnet.com/news/the-honeymoon-is-over-in-silicon-valley-facebook-google-twitter/">Silicon Valley's Tech Giants are now apparently dismayed</a></span> that their products might have indeed changed the world, though not in the way they intended. But this should not be surprise us. After all, we are living in an era of "hybrid war" in which social media are a "tool" for Russian bots and trolls to succeed in what the erstwhile Soviet propaganda and intelligence network could only have dreamed of during the Cold War. </p> <p lang="en-US">The techno-fetishism surrounding social media, compounded by the hours per day millions of us spend on Twitter or Facebook, has managed to blur the lines between wishful thinking and reality, between the "virtual world" and the real world beyond the immediate vicinity of our screens. Could it not be that we are giving social media too much credit, from inciting mass protests and even "revolutions" to enabling hostile foreign election meddling?&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>Ukraine and the rise of the Russian threat</strong></h2> <p lang="en-US">In early November 2013, there was no mention of a "Russian threat" let alone a "hybrid war" waged against the west. This changed in a matter of months as mass protests erupted in Ukraine following then president Viktor Yanukovych’s sudden decision not to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union. The Euromaidan protests and ensuing Revolution of Dignity were a political earthquake nobody had expected, even though it happened in a period of increasing global protests, and it pitted Russia and the west against each other.</p> <p lang="en-US">However, geopolitical rivalry over influence in Ukraine was not new. Russia had installed <span><a class="western" href="https://www.economist.com/news/europe/21583998-trade-war-sputters-tussle-over-ukraines-future-intensifies-trading-insults">a trade blockade against Ukraine</a></span> in the summer of 2013 in order to pressure Yanukovych to refrain from signing the Association Agreement and consider joining the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union project. But back then there was no perception of any "Russian threat". So little did that possibility seem to be considered by western leaders and commentators that from today's perspective it is hard to believe how complacently and overconfidently EU politicians and US diplomats approached the issue of Ukraine's opening to Europe.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" lang="en-US">While Ukraine and its population paid the highest price for Russia's geopolitical gambit, the west was in shock</p> <p lang="en-US">It was Russia's occupation and annexation of Crimea, and its subsequent backing for the insurgency in Donbas that set off alarm bells in the west. The idea that Moscow would react militarily to what had been a national uprising in a neighbouring country showed that Russia and its leadership was <span><a class="western" href="https://themoscowtimes.com/articles/treat-russia-as-a-global-power-35055">serious about being seen as a Great Power</a></span> which is prepared to act in defence of what it saw as its vital interests. While Ukraine and its population paid the highest price for Russia's geopolitical gambit, the west was in shock. Instead of reflecting upon their earlier miscalculations and lack of caution regarding Ukraine and Russia, western political elites and commentators suddenly reverted to mirroring a Russian discourse of an aggressive and expansive west by invoking an exaggerated Russian threat.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>Western politics as Russian conspiracies</strong></h2> <p lang="en-US">The fallout from the unexpected turn of events in Ukraine evolved into what came to be coined as a "<span><a class="western" href="https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/12/22/donald-trump-vladimir-putin-cold-war-216157">new Cold War</a></span>". Despite the recurring alarmism of some commentators and analysts about a Russian military threat, neither any significant escalation of the war in Ukraine, nor any purported Russian act of aggression against the west has materialised in the past years. Rather, the threat of the so-called "hybrid war" has become internalised while the Ukraine crisis has gradually been forgotten as it no longer captures international headlines. The invisible hand of the Kremlin is now used as an explanation <em>ad absurdum</em> for major political events that transpire in the west.</p> <p lang="en-US">From SYRIZA's ill-fated attempt to challenge the externally-imposed austerity package to the <span><a class="western" href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-spain-politics-catalonia-russia/spain-sees-russian-interference-in-catalonia-separatist-vote-idUSKBN1DD20Y">outbreak of the Catalan crisis</a></span>, from debatable electoral successes of far right parties in Europe to the unexpected victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election, western commentators and politicians have been quick to point the finger to alleged Russian interference or conspiratorial Kremlin-linked destabilising activity as causal explanations instead of looking at deeper societal and historical developments - even if some of the latter are blatantly obvious and common-sensical albeit uncomfortable explanations.&nbsp;</p> <p lang="en-US">The perceived crisis in the west in its various forms is not of Russia's making. This is not to say that Moscow stays aloof from western affairs. Of course Russia does not, just as <span><a class="western" href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39339679">it did not in the past</a></span> (i.e. prior to the Ukraine crisis when there was no perception of a Russian threat). But "Russian subversive activity" should not be blown out of proportion. In countries like Ukraine that share a border with Russia, the Kremlin can afford to rely on its military power. In <span><a class="western" href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tom-junes/what-is-russian-influence-anyway">other parts of the world</a></span>, Russia acts as a spoiler, projecting itself as a counter-weight to the west’s hegemony, and makes use of its energy and financial assets or applying soft power.&nbsp;</p> <p lang="en-US">None of this really threatens the western liberal order. Nowhere has the Kremlin thwarted the west. The threat to western liberal democracies is internal. The longer western elites, policy makers and commentators keep ignoring this fact, the greater that threat will become — regardless of what Russia does or does not do. If there was a time when western observers rightly pointed <span><a class="western" href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/annaborshchevskaya/2014/10/09/putin-and-russias-anti-westernism/#7906aced46ea">to how Putin's authoritarian regime bolstered</a></span> itself by seeking to blame "western interference" or "western aggression" for problems not of the west's making, then it is time to acknowledge that we are increasingly seeing a similar phenomenon in the west. By reverting to a "blame-Russia game" we are <span><a class="western" href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/tom-junes/trap-of-countering-russia">undermining our own democracies</a></span>.</p> <h2><strong>The disinformation about disinformation</strong>&nbsp;</h2> <p lang="en-US">In the wake of the Ukraine crisis with the occupation of Crimea and the outbreak of war in Donbas, we clearly saw a Russian propaganda effort compounded by the murky realities of oligarch-owned media companies in an environment where Russian-language media outlets have a transnational impact. As a result, disinformation spread through both traditional and new media outlets. Ultimately, this was a classic effect of war and military operations, which back in 2014 also turned the virtual world of social media into a proxy battlefield to "win hearts and minds".&nbsp;</p> <p lang="en-US">But it is a distortion of reality to compare the Ukrainian context to the influence of Russian disinformation, twitter bots or facebook trolls in the west. First of all, because Russia does not have a monopoly on disinformation. Western Europeans who opposed the war in Iraq still remember how <span><a class="western" href="https://www.salon.com/2015/05/23/perilously_close_to_propaganda_how_fox_news_shilled_for_iraq_war_and_jon_stewart_returned_sanity/">Anglo-American media promoted the Bush administration's invasion plans</a></span> based on false claims of stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" lang="en-US">Social media are, of course, a technological innovation that protesters use to communicate and spread information. But it does not cause people to mobilise</p> <p lang="en-US">Secondly, what is classified as Russian disinformation? Much of the "disinformation" we see circulating can be easily categorised as tabloid-like lies and gossip. In this sense, <span><a class="western" href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/02/world/europe/london-tabloids-brexit.html">British tabloids can claim much credit</a></span> for the Leave campaign's victory in the Brexit referendum. If only because the tabloid press has a much larger market share and distribution than any organised Russian disinformation campaign could have mustered. Similarly, US cable news market leader FOX News' years-long anti-Obama and anti-Hillary spin surely must have had more impact on American voters than a series of Russian-made memes spread on facebook?&nbsp;</p> <p lang="en-US">In Bulgaria, historically a country where a significant part of society maintains sympathetic views towards Russia, <span><a class="western" href="http://hssfoundation.org/en/anti-liberal-discourses-and-propaganda-messages-in-bulgarian-media/">research has shown</a></span> that what is often seen as "Russian propaganda" is rather a <span><a class="western" href="https://codastory.com/disinformation-crisis/foreign-proxies/made-in-bulgaria-pro-russian-propaganda">home-grown phenomenon</a></span> of "pro-Russian propaganda". The fact that similar tropes of political discourse appear as in Russia does not necessarily imply that these tropes were deliberately infused elsewhere by some Kremlin-ordered operation. The German Marshall Fund’s "<span><a class="western" href="https://dashboard.securingdemocracy.org/">Hamilton 68 tool for tracking Russian influence operations</a></span>" lists MAGA (Make America Great Again) as a top hashtag and FOX News as a top url spread by an undisclosed list of Russian bots on twitter. It suffices to note that neither MAGA nor FOX News were conceived in Russia.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>The power of social media fallacy</strong>&nbsp;</h2> <p lang="en-US">The significance of social media should not be inflated. Researchers of protest movements still debate the veracity of so-called Twitter or Facebook "revolutions". The internet and social media has become an important mainstay in most of our lives. Yet, research has demonstrated that social media works against mobilisation as it leads to "<span><a class="western" href="http://foreignpolicy.com/2009/09/05/from-slacktivism-to-activism/">slacktivism</a></span>" while the impact of twitter and facebook on protests and their ability to force political change <span><a class="western" href="http://www.cyberorient.net/article.do?articleId=7439">has likewise been qualified</a></span>.&nbsp;</p> <p lang="en-US">Social media are, of course, a technological innovation that protesters use to communicate and spread information. But it does not cause people to mobilise. On the contrary, authoritarian regimes have proven quite successful in using social media <span><a class="western" href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/jan/09/net-delusion-morozov-review">to counter possible mobilisation</a></span>. In this light, it is doubtful whether the activity of Russian bots and trolls or the dissemination of Russian-made memes on social media could provide a platform to mobilise voters in any country to elect a candidate or a party preferred by the Kremlin.&nbsp;</p> <p lang="en-US">We should thus be wary of sensationalist stories about Russian disinformation campaigns or the activity of Russian bots and trolls in the social media bubble. The fact that disinformation can be spread via social media does not necessarily imply that this leads to actions by those who are exposed to it. Does this mean Russian interference should not be investigated? No, it should, but it needs to be put in right perspective. As Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russian intelligence and crime networks, <span><a class="western" href="https://inmoscowsshadows.wordpress.com/2018/02/17/a-few-thoughts-on-the-troll-farm-indictment/">poignantly commented</a></span>, this is about crime not politics. The Mueller indictments are an effort to prove "whether crimes were committed under US law", and the indictments are not a conviction so "unless and until there is proof, we should be cautious."</p> <p lang="en-US">The war in Ukraine and western politics are two very different realities. Instead of amplifying hysterics about what goes on in the virtual world, western policy makers and commentators should better focus on the roots of the problems on which disinformation preys and through which it resonates. To phrase this as a counter-factual question: if there were no Russian "influence operations" in the virtual world, no "disinformation campaign" spearheaded by Russian bots and trolls, would the western world look much different today?</p><p lang="en-US">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-alyukov/how-does-russian-tv-propaganda-really-work">How does Russian TV propaganda really work?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tom-junes/what-is-russian-influence-anyway">What is Russian influence, anyway?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/nicolai-paholinitchi/moldovas-battle-against-russian-propaganda">Why Moldova’s battle against Russian propaganda isn’t what it seems</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/vasiliy-gatov-over-the-barriers">Over the barriers</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/bryan-milakovsky/vesti-weapon-or-casualty">Vesti: Weapon or casualty in the information war?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/tom-junes/trap-of-countering-russia">The trap of “countering Russia”</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tom Junes Beyond propaganda Thu, 22 Feb 2018 09:12:37 +0000 Tom Junes 116269 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why Moldova’s battle against Russian propaganda isn’t what it seems https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/nicolai-paholinitchi/moldovas-battle-against-russian-propaganda <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>New legislation banning Russian news from Moldova’s media market seems less about countering disinformation, and more about defending vested interests. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/nikolai-paholnitsky/moldova-borba-s-rossiyskoi-propagandoi">RU</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/RIAN_2984152.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/RIAN_2984152.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The man watches the broadcast of the speech of Russian President Vladimir Putin with the annual message to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, December 2016. Photo (c): Konstantin Chalabov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Next month, a ban on rebroadcasting Russian news and analysis will come into force in Moldova. The ban, legislated via amendments to the country’s broadcasting code, will apply to all foreign news and analytical programming produced outside the EU, the United States, Canada or other signatory countries of the European Convention on Transfrontier Television. Broadcasters that violate the law will face an initial of fine of 40,000-70,000 lei (£1,700-£2,950) and subsequent fines of 70,000-100,000 lei (£2,950-£4,200)</p><p dir="ltr">The ban’s instigators, a group of MPs from Moldova’s ruling Democratic Party, say the ban is necessary “to safeguard the infosphere” and “protect society from attempts to disseminate disinformation and/or manipulate information from without”. The ban was signed into law by Andrian Candu, the speaker of the Moldovan Parliament who is currently acting president, on 10 January. </p><h2>“The confrontation between Dodon and Plahotniuc is fake”</h2><p dir="ltr">The Democrats’ intention to ban Russian news broadcasts became public knowledge back in the summer of last year. Announcing the plans, Vladimir Plahotniuc — leader of Moldova’s Democratic Party, oligarch and media magnate — asserted that “Moldova is vulnerable to media manipulation campaigns waged from without. The content [of Russian news broadcasts] is very frequently defamatory towards our country and our development partners from the USA and the EU.”</p><p dir="ltr">Plahotniuc issued the announcement only weeks <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/eleanor-knott-mihai-popsoi/our-man-in-moldova-plahotniuc">after making an official visit to the US</a>, where, as reported by the Democrats’ press service, he held meetings with representatives of Congress and the State Department.</p><p dir="ltr">A unique situation has arisen in Moldova. Although the Democrat leader does not occupy any official government posts, Plahotniuc is invariably the one to break the news about key decisions or the authorities’ immediate-term plans. Towards the end of last year, for example, Plahotniuc <a href="http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/moldova-s-govt-reshuffle-aim-on-boosting-popularity-12-20-2017">announced</a> new appointments to the Cabinet of Ministers. The opposition, repeatedly alleging that key decisions in Moldova are made by Plahotniuc alone, has accused the politician of usurping power.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Plahotniuc has no interest in combating propaganda — if he did, he’d have refused to rebroadcast Russia’s Channel One a long time ago”</p><p dir="ltr">Plahotniuc announced the “Russian propaganda” ban on 13 June. Later that same day, the bill was registered in parliament by a group of Democrat MPs — and forgotten about for six months. The Democrats turned their attention back to the bill in early December, when Plahotniuc was scheduled to visit the United States, and Russia issued an arrest warrant for the Moldovan billionaire on charges of attempted murder.</p><p dir="ltr">The following day, Parliament passed the bill in two readings, with Moldova’s Liberals, Liberal Democrats and members of the European People’s Party all voting in favour alongside the Democrats. Meanwhile, Plahotniuc made assurances during working meetings with congressmen and senators that Moldova was committed to European integration. His country, he argued, had been sucked into a hybrid war with Russia — a war that entails “aggressive propaganda, economically unfavourable economic measures and the support of pro-Russian forces.”</p><p dir="ltr">According to political expert Victor Ciobanu, the ban on Russian news broadcasts represents “a desperate attempt on the part of Plahotniuc to enlist American support and draw attention to himself.” In the words of Ciobanu, he wants to be regarded as “the collective West’s sole bulwark against the ‘Russian threat’, although this is not the case in reality. The confrontation between Dodon and Plahotniuc is fake. [...] Dodon’s playing the bad cop, Plahotniuc the good.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_3011017.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_3011017.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="296" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>President of Moldova Igor Dodon during a press conference in Moscow, January 2017. Photo (c): Alexander Vilf / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Moldovan President Igor Dodon, who is in favour of rapprochement with Russia, <a href="http://aif.md/dodon-ni-pri-kakih-obstojatelstvah-ne-promulgiruju-zakon-o-zaprete-rossijskih-peredach-v-moldove/">flatly refused to sign the bill</a>, saying that it “dovetails with a general global narrative directed against Russia.” The refusal of Dodon, who represents Moldova’s Party of Socialists, to sign the bill did not, however, prevent Moldova’s parliament from repassing it. After he’d declined to sign again and again, the Democrats appealed to the Constitutional Court (not the first time this has happened). The Court ruled that Dodon be suspended from office, and the bill was signed by parliament speaker Andrian Candu instead.</p><p dir="ltr">Petru Macovei, executive director of the Independent Press Association, also subscribes to the belief that the confrontation between Plahotniuc and Dodon is a simulated one. “Plahotniuc wants to present himself as an anti-propaganda crusader, but this isn’t the case,” says Macovei. “Plahotniuc has no interest in combating propaganda — if he did, he’d have refused to rebroadcast Russia’s Channel One a long time ago [the rebroadcasting rights belong to the Plahotniuc-owned Prime channel].”</p><h2>Market authoritarianism&nbsp;</h2><p dir="ltr">Of the approximately 60 Moldovan TV channels registered with the Coordinating Council for Television and Radio, only four rebroadcast Russian news programming: Prime (Channel One news), RTR-Moldova (Russia-1 news), NTV-Moldova and Ren-Moldova.</p><p dir="ltr">It must be noted that Prime, Moldova’s most popular TV channel, is owned by none other than Vladimir Plahotniuc. Canal 2, Canal 3, Publika TV, CTC-MEGA, Familia Domashniy and several radio stations all belong to him, too, or are under the control of members of his inner circle. Plahotniuc also controls Casa Media, which sells advertising space on the above-mentioned TV channels and on N4.</p><p dir="ltr">The country’s second most popular TV channel, RTR-Moldova, has several founding shareholders: a Russian NGO called the Russian Association for the Organisation and Management of Media and Mass Communication Projects (50%), and SB Grup Media, co-founded by Oksana Borșevici&nbsp;and Galina Sîrbu (25%). The remaining 25% stake belongs to businessman Valentin Stetsko.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Their news reporting is biased and does us a great deal of harm. Nonetheless, local propaganda remains far more harmful than Russian propaganda”</p><p dir="ltr">Another major player in Moldova’s media market is Corneliu Furculiță, a Socialist MP who owns NTV-Moldova, Exclusive TV (which rebroadcasts programming from Russian entertainment channel TNT) and the Exclusive Sales House. The latter sells advertising for NTV-Moldova, Exclusive TV and Accent TV, a channel in the Party of Socialists’ orbit of influence. NTV-Moldova, which rebroadcasts news programming from NTV-Russia, is the country’s fifth most popular TV channel.</p><p dir="ltr">Russian television content enjoys genuine popularity in Moldova. But, whatever the Democrats might say about the need to safeguard Moldova’s media space, the country’s TV viewers prefer Russian entertainment programming to Russian news broadcasts.</p><p dir="ltr">According to <a href="http://agb.md/library_article.html">numbers</a> released by AGB-Nielsen Media Research, which conducts TV audience measurement in Moldova, Russian news and analytical programming has never featured among the top preferences of Moldovan TV viewers. Last year’s biggest draws were the game show “Pole chudes” (“Field of Miracles”) and the talk show “Pust Govoryat” (“Let Them Talk”), both rebroadcast on Prime; an assortment of Russian series and films shown on RTR-Moldova and NTV-Moldova; and Moldovan news broadcasts on various channels.</p><p dir="ltr">Petru Macovei, for his part, claims that Russian propaganda exerts a genuinely harmful influence on Moldovan TV viewers. “Their principal narratives are anti-European and anti-Moldovan in nature,” he says. “Their news reporting is biased and does us a great deal of harm. Nonetheless, local propaganda (i.e. by Moldovan political figures and oligarchs -ed.) remains far more harmful than Russian propaganda.”</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, Electronic Press Association executive director Ion Bunduchi asserts that Russian propaganda “was and remains” a threat. “A country’s infosphere ought to be dominated by content produced in that country, but this has never been the reality in Moldova since it came into existence,” maintains Bunduchi. “On the other hand, a responsible state will utilise radio frequencies — a limited and valuable resource — to keep its citizens informed instead of squandering that resource to fulfil other purposes, as remains the case to this day.”</p><h2>The bountiful battle against Russian propaganda</h2><p dir="ltr">Also noteworthy is the fact the Democrats first declared war on Russian propaganda as early as 2015. That year, a group of Democrats and Liberal Democrats drafted a bill that banned the rebroadcasting of Russian news (the latter would subsequently withdrew their signatures), as well as stipulating the principles of journalistic work. When quoting anonymous sources, for instance, journalists would be expected to add that the information in question didn’t correspond to reality; by the same token, news bulletins concerning state institutions would be green-lighted only if they were accompanied by a comment from them.</p><p dir="ltr">This draft law also required broadcasters to air at least eight hours of domestically produced content a day, the bulk of it in prime time. Following a scandal, all stipulations regarding journalistic work were excised from the bill, leaving only the ban on rebroadcasting Russian news and the domestic content requirement.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Plahotniuc_USA_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Plahotniuc_USA_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Vlad Plahotniuc during his working visit to the USA, December 2017. Photo CC: Partidul Democrat din Moldova / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>The <a href="http://newsmaker.md/">NewsMaker.md</a> portal then discovered that, for all the noises being made by the Democrats about the need to ban Russian news, the bill had been created solely to increase the mandatory proportion of domestically produced content. According to the portal, the bill was <a href="http://newsmaker.md/rus/novosti/rabota-nad-popravkami-kak-izmeneniya-v-kodeks-o-televidenii-i-radio-mogut-pomoch-m-12779">developed</a> with the involvement of the management teams of Plahotniuc-affiliated TV channels and the sales house Casa Media.</p><p dir="ltr">The issue is that Moldova’s TV networks tend to fill their prime-time slots with entertainment shows, films or series produced in Russia and in other countries. Domestically-produced content doesn’t enjoy a great deal of popularity and is more expensive for the networks to acquire. Furthermore, a NewsMaker.md source reported that Vladimir Plahotniuc, who has built the expensive Media City Chișinău&nbsp;production studio for his TV channels, was disgruntled with the fact that his media assets were making a loss — and therefore set out to render them profitable. Other television networks lack the resources to create their own content.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">“If you put all these things together, what becomes apparent is a desire to overhaul everything and squeeze out unwanted market players”</span></p><p dir="ltr">The idea of ​​banning Russian news and analytical programming has met with criticism from the OSCE and the Council of Europe. The Democrats’ first draft bill aimed at combating Russian propaganda was approved in the spring of last year, minus the just-mentioned ban. Of the enormous catalogue of measures drawn up in 2015, only the domestic content requirement survived (eight hours of Moldovan-produced content daily, with six hours to be aired in prime-time, of which four hours’ worth must be Romanian-language programming). As a result, the networks all continued their work, but the cost of advertising grew by 40%-100%.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Ion Bunduchi, the ban on Russian analytical programming will lead to even greater expenditure for TV networks. “Replacing [the large volume of] informational, analytical, political and military programming […] is going to cost a lot of money,” says Bundichi, “because [the networks] will be forced to replace [news broadcasts] with their own content, or to acquire it from elsewhere. Both options will prove very costly for TV and radio broadcasters and cable operators.”</p><p dir="ltr">Petru Macovei stresses that the Russian news ban should be considered in the context of other media-related developments in Moldova, the newly-introduced requirement on domestic content being a case in point. “If you put all these things together, what becomes apparent is a desire to overhaul everything and squeeze out unwanted market players,” Macovei concludes.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/moritz-gathmann-colleagues/whole-pravda-about-russian-propaganda">The whole pravda about Russian propaganda</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/nadine-gogu/who-really-rules-airwaves-in-moldova">Who really rules the airwaves in Moldova?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maria-levcenco/vlad-plahotniuc-moldova-s-man-in-shadows">Vlad Plahotniuc: Moldova’s man in the shadows</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mihai-pop-oi/how-international-media-failed-moldova-s-protesters">How international media failed Moldova’s protesters</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/eleanor-knott-mihai-popsoi/our-man-in-moldova-plahotniuc">Our man in Moldova</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Nicolai Paholinitchi Moldova Beyond propaganda Mon, 29 Jan 2018 20:21:54 +0000 Nicolai Paholinitchi 115849 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Preparing for and working towards a democratic Russia https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andreas-umland/preparing-for-a-democratic-russia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>How the west should prepare and promote a different future for Russia.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_pa-30706731.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_pa-30706731.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>1,043 people were detained at the 26 March 2017 anti-corruption rally in Moscow. (c) Xinhua/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Western comments on Russian domestic and foreign affairs have, during the last years, become more and more gloomy. Among other topics, this pessimistic discourse (to which I too have contributed) features Putin’s neo-imperial plans for the post-Soviet area, the many varieties of post-Soviet Russian ultra-nationalism, the fragility of the geopolitical grey zone between the Kremlin-dominated sphere on the one side and NATO in the other, Moscow’s subversion of the foundations of the world’s nuclear non-proliferation regime (via Russian attacks on the nuclear-weapons-free state Ukraine), the catastrophic scenario of a full-scale Russian-Ukrainian war, the grave repercussions of such a new escalation for the whole of East-Central Europe, and the continuing western naivety with regard to the origins, nature, functioning and aims of the current regime in Moscow.</p><p dir="ltr">To be sure, arguments like these have been and are still necessary to be made as they are so far insufficiently salient in western mass media. Yet, it may be time for developing in parallel a different approach to Russia’s future. At least that is what recent history and the aftermath of the Cold War’s end suggests.</p><h2>How we lost Russia</h2><p>In 1991, the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union opened an unexpected window of opportunity for the creation of a comprehensive, cooperative and stable European security and economic order. One of the reason that this fortunate chance has been missed was that the western community of experts on eastern Europe had, even as Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika was slowly turning into a full-scale revolution, not foreseen such an outcome.</p><p dir="ltr">Most observers kept focusing on the USSR’s remaining imperfections — until the Soviet state did not exist anymore. The west had, before this event, not developed a clear understanding of, and coherent plan for, a situation in which the Russian Communist regime would disappear, and an independent Russia would embark on the road to gradual westernisation. As a result, during the 1990s, western policies towards Moscow were formulated ad hoc, largely uncoordinated between the various actors involved, and without a clear vision of what eastern Europe’s future structure should eventually look like.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/PA-8300872-1_0_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/PA-8300872-1_0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="295" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Both Gorbachev and Reagan were involved in creating "dialogue" between the Soviet Union and the US during the late 1980s. (c) Mark Lennihan / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>It is true that various steps towards a rapprochement with Russia and cooperation with the newly independent states were taken by this or that national western government and international organisation, such as the IMF, G7, Council of Europe or NATO. Yet, there was little appreciation of the uniqueness of the world-historic opportunity on the table, and the enormous stakes involved in getting this critical moment right. Instead of being guided by historic sensitivity, coherent strategy and appealing teleology, western approaches towards the post-Soviet world were characterised by spontaneity, complacency and hesitancy. </p><p dir="ltr">The more sustained approaches, like the EU’s Strategic and Modernisation Partnerships with Russia, were only introduced after the “Putin System” had started to take shape — and when it was thus already too late. We are now paying the price for this grave geopolitical omission of Brussels, Berlin and Washington.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">To be sure, Moscow’s relations with the west may have to get first worse before they get better</p><p dir="ltr">Today, there are reasons to believe that we may sooner or later again be offered a chance to draw Russia into the western community of states, and that we should already now prepare for such an optimistic turn of events. A positive agenda for a post-Putinist Russia could itself become a factor of its realisation, and get us away from permanent repetition of doomsday scenarios. For a prophecy to become self-fulfilling, it needs to be stated first. A vision of how a future non-imperialist and democratic Russia could gradually be integrated into the western community of states could become an instrument for Russian democrats, European diplomats, western politicians and international civil society in their furthering of such a scenario.</p><p dir="ltr">Yet, there is, so far, little thinking about a completely different Russia and how to bring it about, in the west. As in the 1980s, the recent past is seen as the prime or even only analytically sound guide to the future. Anything beyond either mere extrapolation of the present or some even more grim prediction for the future appears as idle day-dreaming. Putin’s regime as well as its drummers in and outside Russia are themselves setting this agenda: All we can get from Moscow, so the story goes, is either accommodation or confrontation. At worst, instead of the current aggressive kleptocracy, a still more dangerous Russian fascist ideocracy could be in the wings. The Kremlin’s projection of Russian power, intransigence and unpredictability is finding fertile ground in a western analytical culture characterised by cautiousness, skepticism and pessimism.</p><p dir="ltr">How likely are a continuation or escalation rather than relaxation or dissipation of the current tensions in Russian-western relations?</p><h2>Why a new window of opportunity may open again</h2><p dir="ltr">To be sure, Moscow’s relations with the west may have to get first worse before they get better. Before it eventually self-destructs, Russia’s unviable kleptocratic order might be going through big convulsions and a period that would be very risky for everybody involved — perhaps even, for the whole of humanity.</p><p dir="ltr">Yet, chances are that sooner or later Russia will turn again to the west and be ready not only for resumption of the pre-Putin course and relationships to the west. There may even emerge the chance for a start of Russia’s all-out integration into western economic and security structures. Such a turn of events may not only mean a second future opportunity to create a “common European home,” as once envisaged by Gorbachev. The very prospect of such a fundamental redefinition of Russian-western relations and the transcendence of Europe’s current division via Russia’s gradual inclusion into the west can and should be itself seen as an instrument to bring about that future.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Today, the question that everybody in Russia’s clientelist system is asking her- or himself is: what comes afterwards?</p><p dir="ltr">The fundamental challenge to the continuing existence of Russia’s domestically kleptocratic and internationally aggressive regime, during the coming years, is a toxic combination of two trends that even clever leadership in the Kremlin may not be able to handle at once. First, unless the price of crude oil shoots up again, the non-competitiveness and underperformance of Russia’s current socio-economic order will become ever more obvious. With every year, the pie to be divided between Russia’s various rent-seekers will get smaller. The concurrent loss of Russia’s relative economic dynamism, international weight and foreign influence will become ever more visible and depressing to Russia’s elite. The Eurasian Economic Union may become either irrelevant or even collapse. The financial burden of sustaining Russia’s various formally or informally annexed territories and satellite regimes may become unbearable. Unless a major non-western economic power like Japan or China starts perceiving Russia not merely as a trading partner, but as a close friend to be actively supported and integrated with, the lack of Russia’s economic prospects on its own will become increasingly obvious to educated Russians.</p><p dir="ltr">A resolute, charismatic and widely accepted ruler may, to be sure, be able to compensate, during a long period of time, for the various problems this creates for the stability of the current Russian polity. But for biological, constitutional and political reasons, it is not entirely clear how long Putin will be able to provide such leadership, and whether his patronalistic regime can arrange for an orderly transfer of power to a suitable successor. Until 2024, the likely end of Putin’s fourth term as president, the leadership issue may not yet become urgent. But already today, the question that everybody in Russia’s clientelist system is asking her- or himself is: what comes afterwards?</p><p dir="ltr">Certainly, Putin can, in 2024, put again a seat-holder in place, like he did with Dmitry Medvedev who was his palliative regent in 2008-2012. Yet, the chances of Putin coming, in 2030, back as a fully accepted leader at the age of 77 are unclear. Russia had, in its Soviet incarnation, already once experienced a gerontocracy during the rule of Leonid Brezhnev, Konstantin Chernenko and Yuri Andropov rule in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Russian people only know too well what such rule by old men eventually led to.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_pa-34150536_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_pa-34150536_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Photo(c): Bai Xueqi/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Therefore, the likely change in the presidential office in 2024 (or before) may, by many within Russia’s leadership, be already regarded as a rather consequential one. The president to be put in place after Putin’s fourth term could be also his long-term successor as Russia’s real future leader. With Putin likely to start his gradual departure from politics already in 2024, if not earlier, the stakes of this profound change will be higher than the transfer of the presidency to Medvedev in 2008. At least, such calculations and speculations are probably now being made by many holders of power, privilege and property in Moscow. They probably, even more so than western observers, wonder what Putin’s slowly approaching departure means for their future and security, and how they should behave to survive this switch — both metaphorically and literally. The arrest and imprisonment of Minister of Economic Development Alexey Ulyukaev in November 2016 has increased the stakes of the upcoming leadership succession, and turned the question of who will be Russia’s next ruler and how stable this new regime will be into an existential issue even for members of Putin’s inner circle.</p><p dir="ltr">All this creates already now volatility in the system — a tendency that will likely increase and may turn into a serious, potentially democratising conflict between various factions of Russia’s elite. A smooth succession from Putin to a new leader and preservation of the current authoritarian order would, perhaps, be possible under conditions of dynamic socio-economic development, as Russia was experiencing during the early 2000s. Yet, the simultaneity of economic stagnation and momentous political transition makes the task of replacing — without meaningful and open-ended democratic elections — the current charismatic leader with a sufficiently accepted alternative figure difficult. Accumulating repercussions of past blunders by the Russian leadership, such as the accidental shooting of the Malaysian passenger plane MH17 over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, or the effects of future mistakes of a Kremlin increasingly cornered by various pressures from within and outside Russia, such as new sanctions measures by the US, may further increase the speed of decline of the current regime.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">A crucial precondition for Russian-western reconciliation will be Russia’s disengagement from its various expansionist adventures in eastern Europe and the South Caucasus</p><p dir="ltr">What the sooner or later resulting destabilisation of Russia’s political regime implies internationally is difficult to predict. Most analysts tend to foresee either a nevertheless high continuity and reconstitution of the current order, with a new leader, or a worsening of the situation, for instance a further radicalisation and even fascisticisation of the current system. Yet, both of these scenarios would leave the current Russian socio-economic contradictions and imperfections in place or make them even more salient via, for instance, an escalating trade war with the west.</p><p dir="ltr">Given Russia’s far-going inclusion into the world economy, inability to become autarkic, and continuing close economic ties with the west, a course or regime change in Moscow may thus eventually lead to a renewal of the rapprochement with the west started in the late 1980s. While it is so far unclear how and when exactly a Russian pro-western turn would come about, it is — at least, in the long run, if not already in the mid-term future — not unlikely. Both the unavailability of other sustainable geoeconomic options for Russia as well as the cultural affinity of most Russians with European traditions will sooner or later drive the Kremlin back into the arms of the west.</p><p dir="ltr">Once that happens, the west should — unlike in 1991 — already have a comprehensive plan of action in the drawer.</p><h2>How the west can further a pro-western Russia</h2><p dir="ltr">A crucial precondition for Russian-western reconciliation will be Russia’s disengagement from its various expansionist adventures in Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus (as well as its cooperation in other world regions, such as the Middle East). The Kremlin would have to abolish its proxy regimes in Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and the Donets Basin as well as reverse the annexation of the Crimean peninsula — the later issue being the thorniest one. Russia’s redefinition as a liberal democratic and territorially saturated nation-state rather than revanchist imperial and paranoid anti-western power would have to start from inside. Yet it can, should and may even have to be supported from outside, in order to be successful.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_pa-34108222_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_pa-34108222_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>December 2017: Vladimir Putin and Bashir al-Assad at Kheimim air base, Syria. (c) Syrian Presidency/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In particular, the EU and US could indicate to the Russians the advantages of giving up their irredentist claims in the former USSR. The west should thus already now announce a comprehensive agenda for a far-going association with, and partial incorporation of, Russia that would go beyond mere restoration of previous cooperation schemes under former Russian Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Medvedev. Such a plan could be part of a larger package for a novel type of partnership that would link a withdrawal of Russian regular troops and irregular units (agents, mercenaries, volunteers, adventurers et al.) from currently occupied territories, on the one side, with an offer of gradual western integration tackling humanitarian, economic and security issues, on the other.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">With Putin likely to start his gradual departure from politics already in 2024, if not earlier, the stakes of this profound change will be higher than the transfer of the presidency to Medvedev in 2008</p><p dir="ltr">Not only could a re-democratising and post-imperial Russia re-enter the G7 turning it into the G8 again, reset its Strategic and Modernisation Partnerships with the EU, reestablish its joint council with NATO, and resume its OECD accession negotiations interrupted in 2014. The EU’s current projects within its Eastern Partnership (EaP) initiative could become templates for a far more intense and much deeper affiliation between Brussels and Moscow than before 2014. Depending on whether the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) survives or not, the EU could propose either the Russian state alone or all members of the EEU a number of partial integration schemes that would include them into a Wider Europe and let them participate to one degree or another in western political processes as well as non-political life.</p><p dir="ltr">In particular, modified versions of the Visa Liberalisation Action Plans and Association Agreements that the EU has been implementing, over the last years, with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova could be also offered to Russia and its current allies. After Moscow’s adoption of a number of necessary laws and implementation of preparatory regulations, Russian citizens could, in a first step, be granted the right to travel visa-free within the Schengen Area. The US could consider to offer Russia, after adequate preparation, an inclusion in its visa waiver program, and Electronic System of Travel Authorisation.</p><p dir="ltr">The conclusion, in a second step, of an EaP-type Association Agreement that includes a deep and comprehensive free-trade area (DCFTA) with Moscow could do two things at once. First, it would lay out a concrete path for how Russia can gradually become part and parcel of the EU’s economic and legal space. Second, such an Agreement would reconnect with each other the post-Soviet economies of Russia (and possibly other EEU members) with those of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova who are already implementing DCFTAs with the EU. It would thereby address a major point in the critique regarding the current integration into the EU of the associated Eastern Partnership economies — namely, that they are being thereby gradually disconnected from their traditional markets and partners in the former Soviet Union.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/2014-03-09_-_Perevalne_military_base_-_0162.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/2014-03-09_-_Perevalne_military_base_-_0162.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Russian troops take the Ukrainian military base at Perevalne, Crimea. CC BY-SA 3.0 Anton Goloborodko. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>The geopolitically most far-reaching proposition that Brussels and Washington should make to Moscow is to jointly start implementing a Membership Action Plan leading Russia towards an accession to NATO as a full member state. Russia’s gradual preparation for, and eventual inclusion into, the North-Atlantic alliance would, as in the case of an EU Association Agreement, help to solve two salient issues simultaneously. It would, first, locate Russia in the world’s most powerful security alliance and thereby help to alleviate the historically deep-seated angst of foreign invasion, in the Russian collective soul — a major reason for the current instability in world politics. It would, second, erase the Russian-western quarrel around previous NATO enlargements and the possible accession of further post-Soviet countries to the Alliance.</p><p dir="ltr">Russia’s eventual entry into the North-Atlantic alliance could be part of a grand bargain for Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus that combines Russian territorial concessions with a resolute western embrace of Moscow. One could imagine a major international act within which NATO would sign concurrent accession treaties with Russia, Ukraine and Georgia (as well as perhaps other post-Soviet countries) on the same day, on which Abkhazia and South Ossetia would return under Tbilisi’s official control as well as Crimea and the Donets Basin, if it continues to remain occupied, under Kyiv’s official control. Within such a scheme, some of the currently illegal Russian troops and agencies on Georgian and Ukrainian soil may be even able to remain in the previously formally or informally occupied territories of Ukraine and Georgia. Via Russia’s accession to NATO they would turn into allied structures supporting rather than threatening Georgian and Ukrainian security.</p><p dir="ltr">No question: fancy schemes like this may look now like wild speculations, if not unserious fantasy. But the geopolitical constellation of the post-Soviet space has become unusually complicated. It may be impossible to overcome them without trying to develop and implement some unheard-of plan.</p><h2>A self-fulfilling prophecy?</h2><p dir="ltr">The usefulness of a new visionary western agenda for “another Russia” — the name of one of Russia’s main opposition associations — is not only the possibility of being quickly implemented, in one way or another, should a radically different constellation in Eastern Europe eventually emerge. Developing this kind of plan today would provide an instrument to promote such a post-Putinist change itself. One of the reasons for Moscow’s aggressive posture in world politics and erratic search for foreign allies is the deadlock in the development of Russia’s international embeddedness and inclusion after the annexation of Crimea.</p><p dir="ltr">In spite of the Kremlin’s eager promotion of the idea of a “multipolarism,” Russia is economically too weak to become itself a self-sustaining pole in a competitive multipolar world and unstable geopolitical environment. Its current partnering with China, Turkey and other non-western powers will remain of a limited nature as it will only occasionally lead to win-win situations. Russia’s cultural affinity with, and geopolitical orientation towards, Europe will not only remain latent, but sooner or later become prevalent again. The continuing integration of Ukraine and other post-Soviet republics into the west will become an increasingly attractive role model for Russia. The unsustainability of Russia’s kleptocratic order and illiberal policies at home as well as the overreach of its revanchist behavior and neo-imperial posturing abroad will become more and more visible to the Russian elite and population.</p><p dir="ltr">By formulating and publicising an alternative view of Russia’s geopolitical future, the west can help to hasten a change of course in Moscow, and should prepare itself for the moment when the tipping point is finally reached.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/nikolai-klimeniouk/crimea-international-law-opposition">Death by Crimea</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/vasily-gatov/over-barriers-in-us-russian-discourse">Russia, America, it&#039;s time to talk face-to-face</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/neil-hauer/to-victors-ruins-challenges-of-russia-s-reconstruction-in-syria">To the victors, the ruins: the challenges of Russia’s reconstruction in Syria</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/andrey-kalikh/free-russia-forum">Free Russia Forum: sanctions and boycotts</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Andreas Umland Russia Beyond propaganda Thu, 28 Dec 2017 20:58:02 +0000 Andreas Umland 115478 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A terminal crisis in Turkmenistan? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bruce-pannier-and-luca-anceschi/a-terminal-crisis-in-turkmenistan <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>While Turkmens are told they’re living in a “golden age”, food shortages, labour unrest and unemployment are on the rise. Unless president Berdymukhamedov changes things fast, his days could be numbered.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/RIAN_3204783.LR_.ru (1).jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/RIAN_3204783.LR_.ru (1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Keeping the throne warm? President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, during Vladimir Putin’s visit to Ashgabat in October 2017. Photo (c): Sergey Guneyev / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">Very few images are more powerful than those depicting the overthrow of a dictator. Recent footage from the Zimbabwean capital of Harare, where Robert Mugabe was deposed after 37 years at the helm, immortalised a moment of epochal change. People celebrated the demise of a regime that held on to power through a mix of disastrous economic policies, international isolation, and brutal repression.</p><p dir="ltr">Central Asia-watchers would have certainly noted that a strikingly similar combination of power technologies defines the authoritarian politics of the region’s most idiosyncratic regime, namely that which is presiding over Turkmenistan. With very few international supporters, the Turkmen leadership has been enforcing, for almost three decades, an unencumbered and repressive decision-making monopoly, managing the country’s significant resource endowment through an unequivocally kleptocratic outlook. Ignoring this reality, official propaganda continues to present Turkmenistan’s authoritarian desolation as an <em>altyn asyr</em>, a golden age in which the regime’s enlightened leadership is to guide the Turkmen people through an unprecedented period of wealth and peace.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Official propaganda continues to present Turkmenistan’s authoritarian desolation as a “golden age”</p><p dir="ltr">While we always highlighted the absurdity of this narrative, we now have enough evidence to question the sustainability of the policies implemented by Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, raising at the same time many doubts about the viability of his personal rule. Reading between the lines of official documents and news reports, and liaising on a daily basis with our contacts in Turkmenistan, we have come to believe that the Berdymukhamedov regime has entered a period of terminal crisis, from which there can be no exit without radical change in economic policy-making.</p><h2>The end of the Turkmen illusion</h2><p>The definitive failure of the political economy of Turkmen authoritarianism lies at the very heart of this terminal regime crisis. Relying since 1992 on the non-transparent management of revenues arising from natural gas exports, successive Turkmen leaderships had no incentive to reform the national economy, which, in late 2017, continues to be almost exclusively based on the energy sector.</p><p dir="ltr">Ensuring a constant stream of revenues represented in this sense the sole preoccupation of Turkmenistan’s economic decision-makers, who commercialised energy relations with Russia, Iran and China to guarantee a steady capital flow into the regime’s coffers. Gazprom’s withdrawal from the Turkmen gas market, the crystallisation of a tumultuous energy relationship with Iran, and the specific terms of the pay-for-purchase agreement finalised with China in the mid-2000s led to a dramatic reduction of revenue in-flows: at the end of 2017, Turkmenistan is reaping very limited financial benefits from the exports of his main resource. Shrinking revenues instigated in turn a wider malaise, which has been affecting Turkmenistan’s real economy since at least 2014.</p><p dir="ltr">In the regime’s authoritarian worldview, it is Turkmenistan’s wider population — and not the élites surrounding the president — that has to be hit most severely by this deepening economic crisis. At the start of December 2017, there were reports of shortages of flour across the country, with other basic goods, including cooking oil and sugar, also disappearing quickly. Food shortages — which were also reported in the autumn of 2016 — would have been unheard of just a few years ago.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Bread_Dashoguz_2011.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Bread_Dashoguz_2011.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>As Turkmenistan’s economic woes continue, reports have surfaced of difficulty obtaining basic foodstuffs in some regions of the country. Baking bread at the Bai Bazaar in Dashoguz, 2011. Photo CC BY 2.0: David Stanley / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">Throughout the last twelve months, the availability of actual currency decreased dramatically. Turkmen authorities explain this development by pointing at the state’s efforts to demonetise the economy: outside Ashgabat, however, relatively few businesses have the necessary equipment to accept payments by bankcard. There is simply not enough paper money in circulation at the moment: bank machines are regularly out of cash, and some bank branches in the Turkmen regions have now closed. Access to hard currency is therefore extremely difficult and extends even to people trying to wire money orders to relatives abroad. Parents with children studying in universities outside Turkmenistan need to bring a package of documents to prove they are actually sending money to their child who is registered as a student at a foreign university.</p><p dir="ltr">At the start of 2017, Turkmen tourists abroad were limited to cash withdrawals equal to $250 per day; by November, this amount had been reduced to $50 per day. The black-market rate for the manat — Turkmenistan’s national currency — climbed from five to six to US dollars at the start of 2017 to more than nine by year’s end; since February 2015, the official rate has remained 3.5 manat to one US dollar.</p><h2>Bread and martial arts</h2><p dir="ltr">Wage arrears, once a rare occurrence in Turkmenistan, became a regular feature during the lead-up to the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games [AIMAG], which Turkmenistan hosted in late September 2017. The state prioritised the construction of the facilities and infrastructure around the venues: the workers’ remuneration, in this sense, became a regularly overlooked expense. In the months preceding AIMAG, the government took money from state employees by garnishing their wages between 20-30%: the enforcement of this detraction came to be known as money officially “donated” by Turkmen workers towards the cost incurred by the state while preparing for the games.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/AIMAG_opening_night (1).jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/AIMAG_opening_night (1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Opening night of the Asian Indoor Martial Arts Games festival, at Ashgabat’s newly-renovated Turkmenbashi Olympic Stadium, 17 September 2017. Photo CC BY 4.0: Tasnim News / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">In 2017, AIMAG construction sites became Turkmenistan’s key employer: at the onset of the games, the country’s unemployment rate was believed to be about 60%. Since AIMAG ended in late September, most of these workers are now presumably unemployed. In another dramatic development for local workers, Turkmennebit and Turkmengaz, the state’s oil and gas companies, are about to let go up to a third of their workforces: this round of layoffs is to follow prior cuts enforced in early 2016. Estimating a 2018 unemployment rate of 80-85% may not be an unrealistic assessment of Turkmenistan’s crumbling economy.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The country’s unemployment rate is believed to be about 60%, and earlier this year, Turkmen authorities ended free provision of water, gas, and electricity</p><p dir="ltr">Earlier in 2017, Turkmen authorities announced that the free provision of water, gas, and electricity was being scrapped, since Turkmenistan had reached an economic level where such “gifts” were no longer needed. Meanwhile, prices for basic foods and goods continue to rise. State stores maintain set prices but are often bare; private stores do sometimes carry basic goods but at a cost often three times higher. The need for money has led the population in rural areas to slaughter some of their herds to sell the meat.</p><p dir="ltr">Recently, these bleak circumstances led to two very rare acts of protest. In Dashoguz velayat, a group of parents, mainly women, gathered outside the provincial education department on 10 October to complain about a 1000% overnight increase in kindergarten fees. An official from the education department told the crowd to go to the mayor’s office. The protesters followed his advice, for which the official was sacked and charged with trying to stoke unrest against the government. Faced with the protesters’ demands, the local mayor remarked that the increase was to compensate rising prices of water, gas, and electricity, which the government was no longer providing for free. Some parents took their children out of kindergarten. Eventually, Turkmen authorities announced that state employees would lose their jobs if they did not send their children to kindergarten, and pay the higher cost.</p><p dir="ltr">Two days later [12 October], a group of cotton farmers in Lebap province went on strike, demanding unpaid wages from the chairman of the Lebap Farmers’ Association. The situation quickly escalated, as the farmers charged the chairman, after he had threatened serious consequences to those who went on strike. With the help of local elders, the chairman reportedly returned to his office and signed an order that confiscated land from those who refused to go back into the cotton field and re-assigned that specific land to those who did return the fields.</p><h2>After Arkadag</h2><p dir="ltr">Diffused economic hardship is eroding regime support amongst the population: a protracted series of failing economic policies is testing the proverbial resilience of ordinary Turkmens, as confirmed by the occasional, yet not insignificant, instances of popular unrest that we listed above. </p><p dir="ltr">Recent initiatives to ramp up the cult of the president’s personality represented a makeshift response to Berdymukhamedov’s popularity crisis: a sustained plan of revenue re-distribution may offer instead a more durable solution to enhance regime support across Turkmenistan. We do however have some reservations about the room available to the president to move resources away from his supporting élites: Berdymukhamedov’s grip on power appears to be precarious, as also confirmed by the astonishing regularity through which central and regional cadres are reshuffled and by the increasingly frequent accounts of the president’s paranoia.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Berdymukhamedov’s grip on power appears to be precarious, as confirmed by the regular reshuffling of central and regional cadres</p><p dir="ltr">There is therefore no immediate solution to what we regard as a systemic crisis. It is only through the introduction of medium-term (allowing access of foreign investors to on-shore gas fields) or more encompassing (recalibrating the Turkmen economy away from the energy sector) economic reforms that Turkmenistan’s negative economic trend may be reversed. These options, however, respectively erode and obliterate the élites’ control over Turkmenistan’s energy endowment: as the nexus between economic rentierism and Turkmenistan authoritarianism appears to be inextricable, there is no ground to predict their implementation in the short term.</p><p dir="ltr">As we query this regime’s capacity to operate in a business-as-usual situation, there is another scenario that ought not to be discarded: leadership change, which offers the increasingly disgruntled population with an[other] illusory promise of liberalisation, while stimulating a wider, and perhaps necessary, process of élite realignment. Unless he gets thrown a lifeline — and the finalisation of an agreement settling the Caspian status may just be that — Berdymukhamedov appears to be very disposable: as political expediency continues to inform the élite’s reticence to decisive tackle the revenues’ crisis, what recently happened in Harare may be one day repeated, in some shape or form, in Ashgabat.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>*Arkadag: the honorific used by president Berdymukhamedov, meaning “protector”.</em></p><p dir="ltr"><em><br /></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/fergana-news/day-watching-turkmen-television">A day watching Turkmen television</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/luca-anceschi/turkmenistan-s-electoral-denial">Turkmenistan’s electoral denial</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anar-valiyev-natalie-koch/sochi-syndrome">The Sochi Syndrome</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anonymous-at-alternative-turkmenistan-news/turkmenistan-where-everything-in-garden-looks-rosy-ashgabat">Turkmenistan – where everything in the garden looks rosy</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Luca Anceschi Bruce Pannier Turkmenistan Beyond propaganda Wed, 20 Dec 2017 20:13:24 +0000 Bruce Pannier and Luca Anceschi 115401 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Russia’s new foreign agent legislation will further silence independent media https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/damir-gainutdinov/russia-s-new-foreign-agent-legislation-will-further-silence-independent- <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">New legislation targeting foreign media operating in Russia has evoked parallels with the US. Here’s why they’re wrong.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/_заседаний_Совета_Федерации,_25.02.2013.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Federation Council, Russia. CC BY 2.0 / Wikimedia. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>On 22 November, Russia’s Federation Council approved new legislation designed to assign “foreign agent” status to foreign media organisations. Previously voted through by the Russian parliament, this new “foreign agents” law was received 154 votes, with one abstention. There’s no doubt that Vladimir Putin will soon sign the document into law. The question now is: how will this legislation, which was clearly written in a rush, be applied?</p><p dir="ltr">Forgetting for a moment the anti-constitutional nature of this legislation, you need to understand that its language completely destroys Russia’s whole system of media law. Article 1 of Russia’s current Law on Means of Mass Communication notes that a “media” is a form of periodically distributing information. The latest amendments introduce a new term (“foreign media”), though there’s no discussion of whether this refers to an organisation or “structure”, and there’s no further mention of the “periodical” element. For example, you want to sell your bike, so you put an ad up on eBay. You receive money from a distant relative in Uzbekistan, and that’s it — welcome to the black list. This lack of clarity on fundamental terms will destroy Russian media law. This couldn’t happen in a normal legislative environment. (That said, who are we kidding.)</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">In the case of Russia’s new media legislation, a lawyer clearly won’t be able to help you</p><p dir="ltr">The amendment’s careless formulations don’t meet the standard requirements for legislative acts as stated by the Russian Constitutional Court, or the European Court of Human Rights. Both of these institutions have stated on different occasions: the minimal criteria for legal definitions mean that a law should, first, conform to the principle of the rule of law, and second, be understandable to citizens who have to regulate their behaviour as a result. It should be clear to an ordinary, competent citizen what they might be punished for. In extreme cases, they should have the opportunity to gauge potential risks together with legal counsel. But in the case of Russia’s new media legislation, a lawyer clearly won’t be able to help you. I’m confident that, on the basis of the legislation alone, not a single specialist will be able to advise an editorial office how to act in order to avoid being branded a “foreign agent”.</p><p dir="ltr">The document states directly that the Russian Ministry of Justice can declare anyone who has any kind of relationship abroad and receives foreign financing a “foreign agent” (with <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/daria-skibo/five-years-of-russia-s-foreign-agent-law">all the unpleasant consequences that entails</a>). An important detail here is that the Ministry can declare a media a “foreign agent”, but it doesn’t have to. In our globalised world (which Russia, despite everything, still belongs to), the Ministry can apply these criteria to whoever it pleases.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-33666841.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>After years of accusations of propaganda against RT, a US TV company linked to RT has registered as a foreign agent in the US. (c) Jaap Arriens/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Russian propaganda often compares this legislation to the US Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), but this is absolutely incorrect. FARA has many shortcomings, it is also discriminatory and should be revoked — but this is a problem for US citizens. If they want it, then so be it. It’s worth remembering that only four media are registered as “foreign agents” in the US — two Japanese and Korean television networks, the China Daily newspaper and now RT. In Russia meanwhile, nine media organisations have already received warnings. There’s likely to be more, mostly to the detriment of Russian-language media and organisations suspected of connections to the US authorities. Russia has <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/daria-skibo/five-years-of-russia-s-foreign-agent-law">declared</a> 160 NGOs “foreign agents” in the past five years, and 40 organisations have been liquidated as a result. The scales at stake here are incomparable.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">This legislation will be applied in a targeted fashion in order to force independent media into silence — particularly foreign media with correspondents or partners in Russia</p><p dir="ltr">Despite FARA’s discriminatory nature (I believe limiting freedom of expression on the grounds of ownership should be considered discrimination), this legislation contains rather strict provision that defends independent media. Where “agents” are concerned, 80% of a given company, according to FARA, must belong to a foreign state. In the Russian version of the law, the amount of foreign financing doesn’t matter.</p><p dir="ltr">There’s no doubt that the Russian authorities won’t be able to apply this new media legislation en masse. Instead, this legislation will be applied in a targeted fashion in order to force independent media into silence — particularly foreign media with correspondents or partners in Russia. Indeed, this is what’s in the Ministry of Justice’s proscription list: they will pressure the media they don’t like, the media that criticise them and the media who are independent.</p><p dir="ltr">The main target, then, is foreign media who broadcast, write and publish in Russian. And the number of these media is only increasing. Unable to find &nbsp;ways to pressure foreign editorial offices, the Russian authorities will, most likely, focus on blocking websites, broadcasts and persecuting these media’s Russian correspondents. Journalists will have their accreditation refused, public officials will be banned from granting them information. The police and other state representatives will stop treating journalists as journalists, which means no immunity at work&nbsp;— for example, at public rallies or in conflict zones. Head offices will find it harder to receive payments and pay their Russian partners and offices.</p><p dir="ltr">It’s telling that Russia’s Ministry of Justice started sending out warning letters to “undesirable” media a month ago&nbsp;— that is, before the law came into effect. The Ministry did not have the right to do this. The legislation states that the Ministry will develop and confirm rules for declaring media “foreign agents” — but the legislation was neither law, nor had the Ministry developed its rules.</p><p dir="ltr">Still, the names of “harmful” media are already known, and the operation has begun. As one editor-in-chief often says: “It will only get worse.”</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/daria-skibo/five-years-of-russia-s-foreign-agent-law">Five years of Russia’s Foreign Agent law</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/elizaveta-pestova/alexander-sokolov-four-years-for-utopia">Four years in prison for utopia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-lebedev/digital-sovereignty-a-la-russe">Digital sovereignty à la russe</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alexei-kozlov/russias-foreign-agents-law">Russia’s “foreign agents” law is bankrupting campaigners and activists</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Damir Gainutdinov Russia Beyond propaganda Fri, 24 Nov 2017 06:15:53 +0000 Damir Gainutdinov 114867 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A Cold War youth festival ages well, but leaves too much unsaid https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/kristina-silvan/a-cold-war-youth-festival-ages-well <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>This year, Russia hosted the World Festival of Youth and Students — with a mix of Cold War slogans and modern realpolitik.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/main_festival_site.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="293" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Mingling at the main festival site in Sochi. (c): Kristiina Silvan. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Calling on the world’s youth to unite “for peace, solidarity and social justice” and to “struggle against imperialism” sounds slightly outdated in Russia today. But those were the phrases that rang out on 13-22 November, when the country hosted the 19th World Youth Festival. The event brought 20,000 young people from across the world to Sochi’s now empty Olympic Park to participate in a bizarre re-enactment of a Cold War era mega-event. </p><p dir="ltr">The result? A celebration of youth, peace and international friendship — overshadowed by the realpolitik and geopolitics of today’s Russia.<br class="kix-line-break" /></p><h2 dir="ltr">Uniting the youth, 60 years on</h2><p dir="ltr">An obvious point of departure for the 2017 festival was the legendary Moscow Youth Festival of 1957. In Soviet and Russian historiography, the festival was an unforgettable event in the lives of a whole generation of Soviet youth. </p><p dir="ltr">It was a chance for the USSR to show the rest of the world what a developed, democratic and, above all, attractive superpower the Soviet Union really was — one that, according to<a href="https://rg.ru/2017/10/21/pochemu-vsemirnyj-festival-molodezhi-1957-goda-v-moskve-pomniat-do-sih-por.html"> accounts oozing with nostalgia</a>, genuinely created a platform for international peace and friendship. Those who were able to take part (many capitalist governments boycotted the festival and barred their citizens from participating) instantly fell in love with the USSR and its people.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2017-11-20_at_13.04.50.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2017-11-20_at_13.04.50.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="312" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Moscow 1957 Festival of Youth and Students is often remembered fondly. Source: Russia 1 / Youtube. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In 2015, Vladimir Putin gave Rosmolodezh, the Russian Committee of Youth Affairs, the task of preparing a bid to host the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students, scheduled to take place in 2017. The timing is hardly a coincidence, as the 2010s witnessed Russia’s growing ambitions to play a leading role in the global arena while Russia’s involvement in the Ukrainian crisis seriously strained the country’s relations with the west and damaged its international image. Moreover, the infrastructure built for the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 had been to a large extent left unused. What a better way of investing in “soft power”, a <a href="https://rg.ru/2012/02/27/putin-politika.html">beloved buzz word in contemporary Russia</a>n “political technology”, than hosting a mega-event for young people (potentially) sympathetic to Russia from all around the world? If foreigners could see for themselves what a wonderful country Russia really was, went the logic, they would not believe all the “anti-Russian propaganda” so prominent in the western press.<br class="kix-line-break" /></p><p dir="ltr">Russia’s bid was accepted by the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Federation_of_Democratic_Youth">World Federation of Democratic Youth</a> (WFDY) in February 2016. This was no surprise — the organisation had suffered from financial problems ever since the collapse of its major sponsor, the Soviet Union. From then on, the 2017 event in Sochi was advertised as and designed to be the biggest and most dazzling youth festival so far. It was all some Russian youth activists could speak of.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The normalisation of these silences was a powerful reminder of how easy it is to indirectly manage the borders of acceptable public discussion</p><p dir="ltr">While the international attendees were largely unaware of what awaited them, the most active representatives of Russian pro-regime youth activists were preparing their applications for the festival. The process consisted of a number of stages: first, suitable candidates were seconded by the regional youth affairs committee, then there was a round of interviews organised by Rosmolodezh. Finally, all applicants passed a security screening by the Russian security services. All this was done to ensure that Russia would indeed be represented by the brightest, and most dependable, minds of the country.<br class="kix-line-break" /></p><p dir="ltr">The application process for foreign candidates varied from country to country. Communist countries and Russia’s close allies like Belarus, Cuba and China organised a similar strict application procedure. while in the rest of the world information about the festival was only available through Russian information channels. One divergence from earlier festivals was that the Russian preparatory committee tried to distance the event from the communist ideology which had been an inseparable part of the festivals since 1947. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/vietnamese_delegation.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/vietnamese_delegation.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="301" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Vietnamese delegation performing at the main stage in Sochi. Photo(c): Kristiina Silvan. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>This is why some leftist youth organisations, such as Finland’s Communist Youth League, decided to abstain from participating. The participation of both communist and more non-ideological youth organisations also created friction inside country delegations. Inside the festival area, the festival organisers had appropriately crammed the communist and leftist youth to the Red Zone (the expo hall was divided into different coloured zones) where they had something of a festival of their own. Needless to say, some countries such as Ukraine boycotted the festival altogether.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Russia, oasis of youth</h2><p dir="ltr">The Sochi World Youth Festival aimed to promote Russia’s image as a developed, hospitable and generous great power. According to the logic of country branding, the increased attractiveness of Russia in the eyes of the foreign representatives (who were supposed to be, don’t forget, not just any random people, but future leaders of their respected countries) would translate to a more favourable attitude towards Russia. In these times of tension, Russia could certainly do with a few friends in the international arena.</p><p dir="ltr">Equally important was the message delivered to the domestic audiences. The fact that 12,000 foreigners had come to Russia and were having the time of their life at the festival was portrayed as a proof of Russia’s legitimacy and attractiveness abroad. Given that around 75% of the festival’s participants were either Russians or Russians living abroad, it can be assumed that the Russian PR campaign was equally targeted at local audiences. The message was clear: Russians ought to be proud about their country. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“I am sure that as you depart from Russia, you will leave behind a piece of your heart, while Russia will stay in your heart forever. We believe in you”</p><p dir="ltr">The fact that the festival actively ignored all potentially problematic topics (such as questionable foreign policy moves or economic, environmental or gender issues — not to mention LGBT rights) was a sign of successful management from the standpoint of festival organisers. The only real issue challenging the image of the perfect Russia was practical organisation: huge queues could be seen everywhere, there were major mix-ups with accommodation for participants, and problems with logistics and communication. But in the midst of all the dazzle, these were, judging by my conversations, minor concerns for participants.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_pa-33386659.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_pa-33386659.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Vladimir Putin welcomes the participants of the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students at the last day before the official closing ceremony. (c) NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The image of Russia as an oasis of youth, peace and unity was conveyed in countless ways. In addition to explicit performances of Russia and its regions (such as the “Russia”&nbsp;show on 21 October, and the opening ceremony), Russia’s special role in the international arena was highlighted in discussion series such as the Forum<a href="http://roscongress.org/en/russian-speakers-thinkers-wfys-hosted-youth-educational-forum-eurasia/"> Eurasia</a>, dedicated to the consolidating role of the Russian language. <a href="http://roscongress.org/en/youth-expo-presented-first-time-wfys-2017/">Expos </a>were dedicated to Russian regions, Russian innovations in science and technology. </p><p dir="ltr">Vladimir Putin visited the festival three times during the week and spoke about peace, friendship and the future on all these occasions. For example, on the last day of the festival he <a href="http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/55891">remarked</a> that an “unusual, absolutely exceptional energy [of young people] reigned at the festival” and declared “I am sure that as you depart from Russia, you will leave behind a piece of your heart, while Russia will stay in your heart forever. We believe in you.” </p><h2 dir="ltr">Fake it ‘til you make it?</h2><p dir="ltr">One initiative to improve the image of Russia in the eyes of the festival’s foreign guests included a three-day optional regional programme that gave selected applicants a unique chance to see different parts of Russia. </p><p dir="ltr">As an adventure-lover I opted for the most exotic destination on the list — the Republic of Dagestan, a region in the North Caucasus which is, sadly, more commonly associated with chronic instability and Islamist extremism. Although I was rather suspicious of the festival in beforehand, the genuineness and openness of both my fellow participants and the festival organisers and volunteers quickly softened my heart. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/lezginka.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/lezginka.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="295" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Festival participants are welcomed to Dagestan with a lezginka dance performance and local TV crews. Photo(c): Kristiina Silvan. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Performing peace and friendship was an important task for all of those who participated in the festival. </p><p dir="ltr">Given that goal, practically no-one dared to express anything else; I experienced genuinely warm feelings towards other festival-goers and to the whole world. In Dagestan, the organisers of the regional programme did everything to help us enjoy their infamous republic, while at the festival site in Sochi, the helpfulness of both volunteers and the festival participants was simply mind-blowing.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">I experienced genuinely warm feelings towards other festival-goers and to the whole world</p><p dir="ltr">While it was great to mingle with happy people from all around the world and participate in this collective performance of global unity of youth, I could not help but think of those who were excluded from our rosy story. Festival taboos included issues like LGBT rights, freedom of media and civil society. The crisis in Ukraine was off-limits, as was (in the case of Dagestan, specifically) the rise of radical Islamism among young people. The festival simply did not provide a platform of discussing these and other painful issues.</p><p dir="ltr">Those of us to whom these thoughts occurred were so overwhelmed by the surrounding friendliness we didn’t feel like “ruining the party” by raising difficult questions — apart from perhaps in individual instances. The normalisation of these silences was a powerful reminder of how easy it is to indirectly manage the borders of acceptable public discussion. While the slogans of peace, solidarity and anti-imperialism resonated with the festival’s young participants, they felt like a facade of Soviet socialist internationalism, far from <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ilya-matveev/russia-inc">the principles to which the Russian state adheres today</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">This internal contradiction makes the memory of the youth festival for me a bittersweet one. On one hand, I was truly amazed at the warm atmosphere I experienced, and remain grateful for meeting dozens of kind and intelligent people from all around the world. On the other hand, the self-censorship was an obstacle to discussing about those issues that I personally find so crucial in understanding Russia today. I left feeling uneasy about the ecstasy of this international friendship I had experienced. The only thing that brings me relief in this moment of self-contempt is that I have resolved to raise the difficult topics more often in the future. I believe in the power of changing attitudes via gentle persuasion rather than hostile confrontation.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/kristina-silvan/seductive-power-of-seliger">The seductive power of Seliger</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/elena-platonova/in-russia-propaganda-starts-in-preschool">In Russia, propaganda starts in preschool</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tatyana-dvornikova/three-teachers-monologues">&quot;I don&#039;t falsify elections and I don&#039;t spread propaganda. But I&#039;m still a teacher, I exist&quot;</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/vladislav-lobanov/for-russia-s-students-price-of-protest-can-be-high">For Russia’s students, the price of protest can be high</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tatyana-dvornikova/young-people-in-russia-today-don-t-have-it-easy">“Young people in Russia today don’t have it easy”</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Kristina Silvan Russia Beyond propaganda Tue, 21 Nov 2017 06:12:51 +0000 Kristina Silvan 114767 at https://www.opendemocracy.net What is Russian influence, anyway? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tom-junes/what-is-russian-influence-anyway <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A new book on Russia’s role in the Balkans demonstrates not just the extent of Moscow’s influence — but also its limits.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/mitrovica_kosovokrym_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/mitrovica_kosovokrym_0.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“Kosovo is Serbian; Crimea is Russian”, reads this mural in the Serb-populated district of Kosovska Mitrovica, a town in northern Kosovo. Photo CC-by-NC-ND-2.0: Allan Leonard / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span><br />Russia is back. Hardly a day passes without the international media running stories about Moscow's hand in a plethora of issues ranging from military conflicts to election meddling, from<a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-10-18/russian-money-talks-america-was-all-ears"> shady financial dealings</a> to the<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/oct/02/facebook-says-up-to-10m-people-saw-ads-bought-by-russian-agency"> spreading of “fake news”</a>. Over the past years, an impromptu army of western Kremlinologists and social media authorities has become preoccupied with exposing this ubiquitous Russian influence on a daily basis.</p><p dir="ltr">Across Europe and the United States, we are told about Russian so-called “active measures” to interfere in local political processes and are warned that Moscow can “weaponise” anything from the refugee crisis to<a href="http://money.cnn.com/2017/10/12/media/dont-shoot-us-russia-pokemon-go/index.html"> Pokémon Go</a>. The media narrative we are being served informs us that the Kremlin is supposedly out<a href="https://www.politico.eu/article/russia-plot-against-the-west-vladimir-putin-donald-trump-europe/"> to destroy the West</a> by engaging in a hybrid war masterminded by Vladimir Putin and a close circle of <em>siloviki</em>, friendly oligarchs, and dubious ideologues. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">In the fog of this “new Cold War” one is often confused about what exactly is meant by Russian influence</p><p dir="ltr">In the fog of this “new Cold War” one is often confused about what exactly is meant by Russian influence. There has been so much hyperbole that most analyses fail to address numerous questions that have arisen. Dimitar Bechev’s new book<a href="https://yalebooks.yale.edu/book/9780300219135/rival-power"> Rival Power: Russia in Southeast Europe</a> is the first comprehensive in-depth study of this complex phenomenon in the geopolitically strategic region of the Balkans, broadly taken as stretching from Slovenia to Cyprus and from Romania to Turkey. Among these multiple countries there are EU and non-EU member states, some of which have joined NATO while others are officially neutral. &nbsp;</p><h2 dir="ltr">The realm of Russian influence</h2><p dir="ltr">Addressing the what, how and why of the Kremlin’s policies, Bechev identifies three areas in which Russia wields influence in southeast Europe: military capabilities, energy politics and soft power. When it comes to the first, it should be noted that Russia is neither a declining regional power nor the geopolitical threat some commentators make it out to be. While ultimately no match for NATO, Russia's coercive capabilities are increasing. Its intelligence network is present throughout the region as shown<a href="https://www.politico.eu/article/montenegro-nato-milo-dukanovicmurky-coup-plot/"> by the events in Montenegro</a> (though as Bechev stresses, many questions regarding the alleged coup attempt still remain unanswered). There is enough reason to believe that Russia will seek to strengthen its position in the future.</p><p dir="ltr">Moscow has indeed drawn lessons from the wars of the 1990s in the western Balkans, where NATO managed to sideline Russia due to its escalation dominance. At present, in the Black Sea area, Russia wields this kind of escalation dominance in Ukraine, which makes the Kremlin incontournable, an unavoidable key player, in resolving the conflict in Donbas. Moscow can thus use its military power in the region as political leverage and has not hesitated to do so even beyond its traditional sphere of influence as in Syria.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Montenegro_Kotor_ship.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Montenegro_Kotor_ship.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A ship docked in the bay of Kotor, Montenegro. In October 2016, news surfaced of a Russian supported attempt by Montenegrin and Serbian citizens to organise a coup against Montenegro’s then prime minister Milo Đukanović. The country became NATO’s newest member in June 2017. Photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0: Chris Bentley / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">More than its military capabilities, Bechev explains, it is the politics of Gazprom and Lukoil that gives Moscow its clout in the region. Russia is in fact Russia Inc. Enabled by a culture of corruption, national energy companies in the Balkans serve as cash cows offering lucrative spoils to both Russian and local actors. Co-opting local elites works better than military coercion or subversion. Oil and gas remain key assets at Moscow's disposal as Russia remains the dominant energy player in the region though consecutive EU policies and regulations have provided checks on how Moscow can wield that power.</p><p dir="ltr">Another potent asset that Russia can wield is soft power. Public diplomacy, cultural institutions, the Orthodox Church, print and online media, as well as variegated local networks of political actors (ranging from radical fringe groups to moderately pro-Russian mainstream political parties) can wield influence. It is also easier and more cost-effective than bribing governments through energy contracts or resorting to military action. The book does not gauge the actual impact of this array of soft power tools, but it does offer sobering counter-examples such as the much easier penetration by<a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2011/11/20111111201910810159.html"> Al Jazeera Balkans</a> (which broadcasts in Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian from Sarajevo since 2011 and is owned by the Qatari government) compared to any attempted Russian television setup.</p><p dir="ltr">In the Balkans, sympathies for Russia tend to be high and durable (owing, among other things, to Cold War legacies), though no country has turned decisively to a more pro-Russian position. Bechev points to numerous polls and surveys showing that favourable opinions of Putin or Russia are on the rise, but still western-centric attitudes are more entrenched and western popular culture and lifestyle serve as the main reference point for the overall majority of people in the region.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The Kremlin acts as a spoiler, but it has so far not been able to prevent any country in the Balkans from joining the EU or NATO </p><p dir="ltr">It is worth noting that there are currently in-depth research projects underway such as the Human and Social Studies Foundation's study of<a href="http://www.eurozine.com/co-opting-discontent-russian-propaganda-in-the-bulgarian-media/"> anti-democratic and pro-Russian propaganda in Bulgaria</a> in the local media. But Bechev's book drives an important point home regarding Russia's soft power. While Moscow can shape discourse, it cannot directly impact political events through its soft power. The Kremlin acts as a spoiler, but it has so far not been able to prevent any country in the region from joining the EU or NATO let alone leave them. </p><h2 dir="ltr">What the Balkans teach us</h2><p dir="ltr">What stands out is that “Russian influence” in the Balkans, a region both geographically and historically relatively close to Russia, is characterised by a non-ideological, interests-first approach. Often the historical or stereotypical characterisations in the media are off the mark. The book ventures into historical contexts and provides perhaps surprising conclusions. In doing so, it debunks certain myths: Serbian Russophiles have little real knowledge of Russia; Bulgaria is in fact a failed “Trojan Horse”; Greece's sympathy for Russia is based on not more than abstract emotions; and Russian-Turkish relations have always been complicated but seem not to lead to outright confrontation — a “marriage of convenience” only recently taken to new heights. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/bulgaria_guards.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/bulgaria_guards.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Bulgaria is often considered Russia’s “backdoor into the EU” — but is that giving the Kremlin too much credit? Bulgarian presidential guard march through Sofia, 2016. Photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0: Ava Babili / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">Most significantly, as Bechev demonstrates, Balkan leaders use Russia as much as Russia uses them. Serbia's leaders over the years tried rapprochement with Russia in a quest to gain support to resolve the Kosovo conundrum, but Russia accepted Kosovo's independence by instrumentalising it as a precedent concerning Transnistria, Abkhazia and Ossetia instead. Russia's dealings in the Balkans often end with mutual disappointments. The South Stream pipeline debacle left all sides involved with a headache. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Most significantly, Balkan leaders use Russia as much as Russia uses them</p><p dir="ltr">Nevertheless, the Balkans represent an area of Russian influence through which the Kremlin can play its cards skilfully to counter the West in a game of geopolitical rivalry. At times, authoritarian Balkan politicians have exploited this causing anxiety among EU and NATO officials who then legitimated the former<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/tom-junes/trap-of-countering-russia"> by countering Russia</a>. Since Moscow perceives the West as interfering in its backyard in the post-Soviet space, in the Balkans it can readily show that it too can interfere in the West's backyard. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Between domestic politics and geopolitics</h2><p dir="ltr">Bechev addresses questions relating to Russian policies from today's point of view and frames them within a medium-range historical perspective mainly covering the period from the break-up of the Soviet Union. While history matters, the book sheds light on how 'Russian influence' is not just the result of the Kremlin's policy aims based on strategic interests, but in fact stems from a dynamic of reciprocity between local actors and Moscow. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/RIAN_2394985.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/RIAN_2394985.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Milorad Dodik, president of Republika Srpska, the Serb autonomous entity in Bosnia, meets Russian Orthodox patriarch Kirill in Moscow, 2013. Photo (c): Sergey Pyatakov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">It really does take two to tango. However, opportunistic considerations are never far away. Today's pro-Russian Balkan politicians like Milorad Dodik in Republika Srpska, Nikola Gruevski in Macedonia or Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey were regarded as pro-western in the not-so-distant past. The outcome of this dance of shadows in the Balkans generally leaves both sides dissatisfied.</p><p dir="ltr">Bechev’s book illustrates what Russian influence is about but also what it is <em>not</em> about. It crucially underlines what most of the media discourse doesn't. Despite some of its soft power rhetoric<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/katarzyna-kaczmarska-vincent-keating/feared-for-all-wrong-reasons-workings-of-russia-s-con"> which even appeals to conservatives in the West</a>, Russia is not out to destroy the West and replace it with a new political order or “empire” in the Balkans. Russia preys on weaknesses like pervasive corruption to serve its interests. While the Kremlin aims to undercut institutions and undermine the rules set by the West, this is not a new Cold War. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Today's pro-Russian Balkan politicians were regarded as pro-western in a not-so-distant past</p><p dir="ltr">By understanding what Russian influence in the countries of southeast Europe entails, we can also draw lessons for countries in neighbouring regions like central Europe, southern Europe, the Caucasus and the Middle East. More so, the three spheres in which Russia wields influence are relevant on a much broader plain. Moscow's military capabilities are a challenge to NATO as such, Russian energy interests stretch over broad parts of Europe and Asia, and Russian soft power is now seemingly felt on both sides of the Atlantic. And among it all, Balkans allow us to observe not only how far Russian influence can stretch — but also its limits. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong><em><a href="https://yalebooks.yale.edu/book/9780300219135/rival-power" target="_blank">Rival Power: Russia in Southeast Europe</a> by Dimitar Bechev is published by Yale University Press</em></strong></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/katarzyna-kaczmarska-vincent-keating/feared-for-all-wrong-reasons-workings-of-russia-s-con">Feared for all the wrong reasons? The workings of Russia’s conservative soft power</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tom-junes/bulgaria-how-not-to-mistake-russian-propaganda-for-russian-policy">Bulgaria: how not to mistake Russian propaganda for Russian policy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/vassilis-petsinis/putin%E2%80%99s-%27useless-idiots%27-or-signs-of-deeper-pathology-russophil">Putin’s &#039;useless idiots&#039; or signs of a deeper pathology? Russophilia and national populism in Greece</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/ko%C4%8D-pavlovi%C4%87/montenegro-fistful-of-democracy">Montenegro: a fistful of democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/vassilis-petsinis/competing-conservatisms-in-serbia-and-croatia">Competing conservatisms in Serbia and Croatia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/carole-hodge/between-russia-and-west">Between Russia and the west</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tom Junes Russia Beyond propaganda Mon, 06 Nov 2017 13:02:50 +0000 Tom Junes 114482 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Vesti: Weapon or casualty in the information war? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bryan-milakovsky/vesti-weapon-or-casualty <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The search for Russian influence in Ukraine’s media is an important task. But when the mainstream makes little space for inconvenient facts, who ends up losing?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 10.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="245" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A still from CCTV that allegedly captures strana.ua editor Igor Guzhva blackmailing a Ukrainian politician. Source: Facebook. </span></span></span>In Ukraine, the long-running conflict around the <a href="http://vesti-ukr.com">Vesti media group</a> and its successor <a href="http://strana.ua">Strana.ua</a> has produced strongly contrasting narratives. For many patriotic minded Ukrainians, these outlets are weapons in Moscow’s information war. They believe these media mixes lies and half-truths to undermine support in the Ukrainian government and the army, still fighting in the east. Yet for those opposed to Ukraine’s post-revolutionary political order, the papers are a victim of repression by a state intolerant of dissent.</p><p dir="ltr">In truth, much of the worst of both narratives is true. Vesti is the revanchist project of a Moscow-exiled oligarch from Viktor Yanukovych’s fantastically corrupt administration, while Strana.ua is a partisan organ for the remains of Yanukovych’s party. Both media are in transparent pursuit of the latest <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/igor-burdyga/ukraine-s-media-plea-for-pluralism"><em>zrada</em></a> (treachery, sellout) of the ruling liberal-nationalist coalition. But they are also the object of selective, heavy-handed investigations and raids by Ukraine’s tax authorities, prosecutor general and security services on questionable charges of money laundering and inciting treason. In parallel to this official pressure, they have faced forceful intimidation from radical activists who have taken on themselves the task of “fighting separatism”. </p><p dir="ltr">This conflict tells us much about the challenges of maintaining open discourse in conditions of hybrid warfare —&nbsp;and how the boundaries of civil society are policed in Ukraine. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Speaking for whom?</h2><p dir="ltr">The tangled narrative begins in 2012, when the Vesti media group burst onto the scene with anonymous funding and a free daily paper, a long read journal, a TV station and a countrywide radio network. Under the management of veteran editor Igor Guzhva, the Vesti group quickly became one of the country’s leading media outlets.</p><p dir="ltr">Fast forward two years, and Vesti did not join many other papers in championing the Euromaidan cause. Instead it took a skeptical and sometimes hostile attitude to the revolution. However, in contrast to most Russian media, Vesti did cover the brutalisation of protestors by the Berkut riot police. One of its reporters, Vyacheslav Veremiy, was <a href="https://cpj.org/killed/2014/vyacheslav-veremiy.php">murdered</a> when he tried to photograph the titushki thugs bussed in to beat up protesters.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">It is difficult not to see a concerted campaign against specific media in the efforts of the security services, tax authorities and prosecutor general’s office</span></p><p dir="ltr">Vesti’s opposition to the revolution marked it for opprobrium from both liberal and radical circles. These suspicions darkened in the intense atmosphere of national survival brought on by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and concealed invasion of the Donbas. Many heard echoes of Russian media narratives in Vesti’s relentlessly critical view of Ukraine’s new government and the military operation in the east, which included reports of high civilian casualties. At a<a href="https://www.ukrinform.ru/rubric-other_news/1709230-pod_sbu_trebovali_zakrit_vesti_ot_putina_1667626.html"> demonstration</a> in September 2014 to shut down Vesti in Kyiv, one Maidan activist put it thus: “This mouthpiece of the Kremlin is meant to destroy the consciousness of Ukrainians, deceiving them about the real events going on in the east and inciting civil war in our country. We believe that the articles in this newspaper kill no less than bullets.”</p><p dir="ltr">The authorities and activists saw Vesti’s anonymous funding as a possible inlet for Kremlin financing. In May 2014, the tax authorities raided the paper’s offices and opened a criminal case alleging that money was laundered to the paper through Crimea by the fugitive oligarch Sergey Kurchenko. Others linked the paper to Viktor Yanukovych’s son, but most often to Aleksandr Klimenko, a notorious figure <a href="http://hubs.ua/authority/genprokuratura-zavershila-rassledovanie-protiv-eks-glavy-minsdoha-klimenko-107850.html">accused of epic embezzlement</a> at Ukraine’s Ministry of Revenue and Fees. When Yanukovych fell in February 2014, Klimenko set up shop in Moscow, where he runs a<a href="https://uspishnakraina.com/ru"> marginal Ukrainian political party</a> that peddles business-friendly politics and plots his return to Ukraine.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/thumb_316.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="304" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>June 2016: Alexander Klimenko appears at a Uspishna Kraina ("Successful Country:) forum on tax reform. Source: Uspishna Kraina.</span></span></span>The idea of money flowing into a major media outlet from the state waging war on Ukraine raised appropriate alarm. But the case itself is highly questionable. Beneath the trappings of “Kremlin financing”, the case actually boiled down to an administrative dispute over the timing of tax payments. Though several more raids were made as part of the case over the next two years, Guzhva claims it largely fizzled after a court decided there were no damages to the Ukrainian government.</p><p dir="ltr">Soon the official accusations took a more ideological hue. In 2015, the Ukrainian Security Services<a href="http://gordonua.com/news/society/sbu-zavela-delo-na-vesti-reporter-i-obyavila-v-rozysk-eks-glavreda-izdaniya-85558.html"> opened a second case</a> against Vesti.Reporter — this time for “compromising Ukraine’s territorial integrity and inviolability”. The accusation pertains to <a href="http://vesti-ukr.com/import/vesti-reporter/48259-hunta-predali-doloj">three </a><a href="http://vesti-ukr.com/import/vesti-reporter/59436-mahnovskoe-sostojanie">articles </a>about the <a href="http://vesti-ukr.com/import/vesti-reporter/47863-slavjansko-proletarskaja-respublika">unrest</a> in eastern Ukraine which extensively quoted separatist sympathisers. I’ve read the articles in question, and in fact they are nuanced examinations of how Russia mixed mercenaries and arms into large-scale indigenous unrest in the Donbas to launch its separatist project. This allegedly treasonous narrative would soon find outlet in Deutsche Welle, the Guardian, the New York Times and other leading papers covering the Ukraine conflict. This case also went dormant after a forensic linguist testified that the articles contained no incitement to treason.</p><p dir="ltr">In parallel to this official attention, Vesti was targeted from the street. Radical activists led by parliamentarian Ihor Lutsenko (who had been kidnapped and tortured by titushki during the revolution) <a href="http://vesti-ukr.com/kiev/58680-provokatory-pytajutsja-sorvat-patrioticheskuju-akciju-vestej">ransacked</a> a Vesti event on 28 June (Constitution Day), <a href="http://vesti-ukr.com/kiev/58976-davlenie-na-vesti-otkryvaet-put-k-terroru-protiv-zhurnalistov">warning</a> that “This is our last peaceful demonstration about Vesti. We won’t have any more patience if they don’t change their editorial policy.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/80_main.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="335" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>June 2014: roughly 40 people in masks turn up to disrupt a Vesti public event in Kyiv. Image: Vesti. </span></span></span>A week later, at the start of July 2015, several dozen masked youths beat up a security guard at the paper’s offices, smashed some windows and hurled flares inside. Liberal parliamentarian Serhiy Leshchenko<a href="http://gordonua.com/news/society/Leshchenko-Lyubomu-ponyatno-chto-napadenie-na-gazetu-Vesti-ne-vygodno-nikomu-krome-samoy-gazety-30398.html"> speculated</a> that Vesti organised the attack itself in order to attain martyr status, and the leader of a radical nationalist organisation soon took public responsibility. He was never arrested, and later <a href="http://vesti-ukr.com/kiev/96547-ukrainskie-specsluzhby-sozdajut-armii-iz-radikalov">showed</a> Vesti reporters a certificate of appreciation from the SBU and told them he actively cooperates with the Service “against separatism and the opposition, the actions of which are aimed at the undermining of national security and discrediting of the government.”</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, the nation’s leaders began weighing in on the situation. After chief editor Igor Guzhva complained of repression on Facebook, the chair of the Verkhovna Rada Freedom Speech Committee Viktoria Siumar fired back: “Are you sure you don’t work for the government that is waging war on my country? I’ve got a question for the security service: why after a year and a half of war does the public still not know about the sources of financing of this expensive ‘free’ paper?” (Vesti was distributed for free in large cities). On Journalist Day (5 June), President Petro Poroshenko <a href="http://www.rbc.ua/rus/news/poroshenko-nameren-ukazaniya-zakrytii-teh-1433501096.html">stated</a> that “transparency of media ownership in wartime is an extraordinarily pertinent national security question… If the tax authorities provide evidence of opaque financing of Vesti, the country has the ability to defend itself.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">"I consider pressure on the press unacceptable, even in wartime. But to treat these media like regular publications that supposedly have their own viewpoint would be suicide"</span></p><p dir="ltr">The claims that Vesti had funding from a fugitive oligarch received ironic confirmation in June 2015, when Guzhva suddenly announced he was resigning as editor in chief and selling his share of the media group. Media observers <a href="http://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2015/07/29/7076104/">alleged </a>that he had been forced out by owner Aleksandr Klimenko as a sop to the Ukrainian government, possibly to facilitate the latter’s return to Ukraine or at least reduce pressure on his remaining business interests. Journalists and radio newscasters from within the media group<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/valery-kalnysh/goodbye-radio-vesti"> confirmed</a> Klimenko’s ownership and the handoff of management to his common law wife. Complaints of editorial manipulation quickly emerged and many leading journalists and radio personalities jumped ship.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Journalists practicing politics?</h2><p dir="ltr">After Guzhva’s jarring departure, Vesti has continued reflecting and stoking the discontent of some Ukrainian citizens over the government’s management of the economic crisis, the conflict in the Donbas, linguistic and national memory policies. But it has become less hard-hitting and more transparently an organ of Klimenko’s political project, publishing constant fluff pieces about the oligarch. In this cruder form it is distinctly less influential in the Ukrainian information sphere. This, perhaps, was the goal of the intense political pressure: to defang the troublesome paper without shutting it down, which would lead to international outcry.</p><p dir="ltr">As for Guzhva, he quickly opened a new internet outlet, <a href="http://strana.ua">Strana.ua</a>. Strana has continued to bait Ukraine’s post-revolutionary ruling elite. Guzhva claims that after Strana published recordings by fugitive parliamentarian Aleksandr Onischenko in late 2016 that alleged vote buying by President Poroshenko, the order came “right from Bankova Street” (that is, the presidential administration) to shut him down. Citing political repression from the top makes good copy, but Guzhva’s claims received some confirmation when two more criminal cases were opened against him. These were <a href="https://www.facebook.com/LlutsenkoYuri/posts/767187116813799">loudly publicised</a> by Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Yury Lutsenko, who even had his press secretary <a href="https://www.facebook.com/LarysaSargan/videos/vb.100001906009251/1532363710170481/?type=2&amp;theater">publish </a>video evidence of Guzhva’s alleged wrongdoing on Facebook.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Vesti has become less hard-hitting and more transparently an organ of Klimenko’s political project, publishing constant fluff pieces about the oligarch</p><p dir="ltr">The first case alleges that Guzhva coerced $10,000 from a Radical Party parliamentarian to pull an unflattering story about him. According to Lesya Ganzha, chief editor at the public watchdog <a href="https://dostup.pravda.com.ua/">Access to Truth</a>, there are frequent rumours in the Ukrainian media sphere of monetary payments for withholding negative press and removing already published stories. Prosecutor General Lutsenko released multiple videos of Guzhva in alleged negotiations with an intermediary, but they are barely decipherable and the story has its share of unanswered questions. The parliamentarian’s own testimony about the proposed transaction contradicts that of the intermediary. The second case involves Guzhva’s alleged possession of a flash drive full of military secrets (confiscated during a search of the site’s offices as part of the first case). Strana.ua published a rebuttal claiming that the flash drive is missing from the official protocol of items confiscated during the search. The first case is now <a href="https://www.facebook.com/veprwork/posts/1581699555222249">due to go to court</a>.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/11825727_950811568274772_6739856184022127202_n.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="357" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Igor Guzhva, former chief editor of Vesti and now Strana.ua. Source: Facebook. </span></span></span>This tangled narrative does not lead to easy conclusions. It is difficult not to see a concerted campaign against specific media and journalists in the efforts of the security services, tax authorities and prosecutor general’s office. Yet the role of both Vesti and strana.ua as organs of revanchist political forces is also clear, the former for Klimenko personally and the latter for Opposition Bloc, the political party which emerged from the ruins of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions. Guzhva himself ran on the Opposition Bloc ticket for Kyiv city council in 2016, and the editorial section of strana.ua is chock full of MPs and political consultants in the party’s orbit.</p><p dir="ltr">Because of their association with discredited pre-revolutionary politics, Vesti and strana.ua have received little in the way of journalistic solidarity from their liberal peers. Denis Kazansky, a journalist who fled Donetsk for Kyiv after the outbreak of conflict, acknowledges the political motivation of the investigations against Guzhva, but claims that’s just the point. “Guzhva is not a journalist,” Kazansky tells me, “he’s a politician practicing journalism. He and his party have a political conflict with the government. This isn’t between politicians and journalists, it’s between politicians and politicians.” In Kazansky’s assessment, Vesti and strana.ua cannot help but filter the news through their political sponsors’ “Moscow interests”.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">Inciting separatism or laundering stolen funds are prosecutable crimes, but serving an unpopular reading public is not</span></p><p dir="ltr">Yury Lukanov, a veteran Ukrainian journalist and active participant in Ukraine’s independence movement and EuroMaidan, believes the publications’ links to exiled oligarchs in Moscow puts them outside the journalistic fold. “I consider pressure on the press unacceptable, even in wartime. But to treat these media like regular publications that supposedly have their own viewpoint would be suicide.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">Information security</h2><p dir="ltr">Journalists who do express solidarity (even mild) with the publications can find themselves similarly ostracised. Serhiy Tomilenko, the head of Ukraine’s National Union of Journalists, <a href="http://europeanjournalists.org/blog/2017/08/14/ukraine-journalists-union-attacked-by-pro-government-mp/">criticised </a>the Ukrainian government’s “selective approach” towards investigating Vesti and strana.ua on Facebook. This immediately brought the ire of National Front parliamentarian Dmytro Tymchuk, who runs Inforesist, a patriotic website that publishes war dispatches from the east. Tymchuk wrote that Tomilenko “is playing against the information security of Ukraine… acting as advocate for anti-Ukrainian publications… seriously strengthening the position of the aggressor in the media sphere.” Tymchuk inspired an intense online campaign against Tomilenko and the Union, and the latter claims he even received violent threats.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/^C64F69A921F858EBE94712C3E626DB20FA89E93413853618B3^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="308" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>3 March, 2017: a largely older crowd protest the closure of Radio Vesti outside Ukraine's presidential administration, Kyiv. Source: Vesti.</span></span></span>For his own part, Guzhva claims no owner has ever influenced his editorial policy and asserts his commitment to a unified Ukraine (he is a native of Donetsk). </p><p>In 2015 he <a href="http://spektr.press/bolshevizm-yavlenie-internacionalnoe-glavred-ukrainskih-vestej-o-raskole-v-smi/">described </a>how Ukrainian journalists had divided into three camps — those who were ready to serve the Euromaidan revolution, those who wished to see it crushed with tanks (who today reside in Donetsk or Moscow) and those who tried to objectively record events. </p><p class="blockquote-new">“The first group hates the second, and the second the first, and they both hate the third. Vesti belongs to the third group, so we have problems with both sides of the front… That’s the fate of objective media in a breakthrough period of history. It’s a very difficult position to hold, because you’re constantly in the crossfire.”</p><p dir="ltr">Given the partisan bent of his publications, Guzhva’s claim of strict objectivity raises eyebrows. In truth, Vesti and strana.ua are representative of one of Ukraine’s dominant ideological camps, which opposes the post-revolutionary order, pines for “eight hryvnia to the dollar” under ex-president Viktor Yanukovych and criticises the military operation in the east. Many liberals distrust this camp and suspect it of blending easily into separatism. But the fact is that many Ukrainian citizens subscribe to it. Inciting separatism or laundering stolen funds are prosecutable crimes, but serving an unpopular reading public is not.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The only struggle?</h2><p dir="ltr">Watchfulness over the role of oligarchic money in Ukraine’s press and vigilance against Russian media warfare are necessary tasks. But in monitoring publications like Vesti with suspect finances and loyalties, we should avoid ascribing Kremlin origin to any narrative that is challenging or uncomfortable. </p><p dir="ltr">For instance, in July 2014 Vesti’s front page showed two residents of the warzone community Stanitsya Luhanska fleeing their flaming home after <a href="https://www.ostro.org/lugansk/politics/articles/449307/">bombing</a>, most likely by the Ukrainian air force, that tragically killed up to twelve civilians. The headline read “Mass civilian death in the east.” One critic<a href="http://nv.ua/ukraine/Durnye-vesti-Konflikt-vlastey-i-prokremlevskoy-gazety-vyshel-na-novyy-uroven-11523.html"> indignantly offered</a> this as proof that “the publication has more than once used openly anti-government rhetoric and distorted facts.” </p><p dir="ltr">But a Ukrainian battalion commander <a href="https://lenta.ru/news/2014/07/03/azov/">acknowledged </a>the airstrikes could have been caused by pilot error, and the rising civilian death toll in the Donbas was confirmed by the UN, OSCE, Amnesty International and other international organisations. I have spent much time in Stanytsya Luhanska, a rural suburb of Luhansk severely shelled by both sides of the conflict, and can attest to the critical importance of understanding the violence its inhabitants experienced. More and more Ukrainian media are grappling with such painful topics, including major outlets such as <a href="http://hromadskeradio.org">Hromadske Radio</a> and <a href="http://pravda.com.ua">Ukrainska Pravda</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">This deserves at least as much effort as the search for Kremlin mouthpieces.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/valery-kalnysh/goodbye-radio-vesti">Goodbye, Radio Vesti</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/igor-burdyga/where-now-for-ukraine-s-brave-new-journalism">Where now for Ukraine’s brave new journalism?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-eristavi/terror-against-ukraine-s-journalists-is-fueled-by-political-elites">The terror against Ukraine’s journalists is fuelled by political elites</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/aleksey-matsuka/what-is-meaning-of-journalism-in-ukraine-today">What is the meaning of journalism in Ukraine today?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/oles-petik-halyna-herasym/critical-thinking-at-stake-ukraine-s-witch-hunt-against-journali">Critical thinking at (the) stake: Ukraine’s witch hunt against journalism</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-goncharuk/donbas-we-re-used-to-shelling">Donbas: “We’re used to the shelling”</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia openMedia World Forum for Democracy 2017 Brian Milakovsky Ukraine Beyond propaganda Thu, 19 Oct 2017 20:48:50 +0000 Brian Milakovsky 114112 at https://www.opendemocracy.net What is the meaning of journalism in Ukraine today? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/aleksey-matsuka/what-is-meaning-of-journalism-in-ukraine-today <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/13631576_10210200367591722_204667795520323865_n.jpg" alt="13631576_10210200367591722_204667795520323865_n.jpg" width="80" height="126" />Ukraine’s journalists are often told we need to react in kind to information warfare. But let’s not forget what we can do to de-intensify this conflict.</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_5695 (1) (1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="400" height="266" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Donbass Media Forum, Svyatohirsk, 2017. Source: DMF. More details on the forum <a href=https://donbassmediaforum.blogspot.co.uk/2017/07/the-3d-donbas-media-forum-was-held-in.html>here</a>. </span></span></span>When armed conflict broke out in Ukraine’s Donbass in spring 2014, many Donetsk journalists found themselves on the frontline by chance. Some of the city’s editorial offices changed their addresses, while others had to close down their operations entirely. Other editors and journalists have stayed in their profession, but are now bound by the demands made by the new rulers of Donetsk and Luhansk. Since the beginning of the “Russian Spring,” the new authorities’ main rule of thumb has been to suppress independent media. Indeed, there are no local journalists in the Donbas whose fates did not change after April 2014. In order to figure out what’s become of our profession in the region — and to retain our ties — we’ve been holding the <a href="https://donbassmediaforum.blogspot.com/">Donbass Media Forum </a>for several years now.</p><p dir="ltr">Facing aggression from the authorities of the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic,” the editorial staff of the <a href="http://novosti.dn.ua/en">News of Donbas</a> left Donetsk in small groups. Our first reaction to this situation was: we need to tell the truth about what’s happening in Donetsk, and the truth about those people who had suddenly declared a republic in our region. In our broadcasts for Donbas Public Television, we shed light on the “DNR” and its leaders, in order to inform as many people as possible about the situation.</p><p dir="ltr">At some point, I started receiving invitations to appear on every TV programme imaginable, as an “expert on the Donbas”. On air, I’d hear the same information which I’d published elsewhere. It seemed as though some media outlets weren’t interested in my knowledge of the current situation, but instead my interpretation of information which I’d been collecting since 2006, and my status as a witness in a criminal case into the activities of the “Donetsk Republic” organisation, which was banned in 2007.</p><p dir="ltr">That’s when I decided to conduct an experiment of my own. When I was invited to speak on Ukrainian television channels, I started asking uncomfortable questions on topics which are often considered taboo in our media. For example, why do Ukrainian newsmakers have a critical attitude to any peace process (if there were people clearly antagonistic toward this idea in the studio) or how they view the realisation of the Minsk Agreements (if there were people calling for peaceful reintegration on air). That is, I changed the tone of the debate from the affirmative (transmitting new facts about the “DNR” and my interpretation of the situation in Donetsk) to the interrogative. Because that’s a journalist’s job. After all, if I’m already sitting beside the country’s VIPs, when why shouldn’t I use them just as other journalists have used me in their own talk shows?</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/_MG_9445.JPG" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>I started asking even more questions and, every time, I observed how the reactions of the guest speakers and hosts changed towards me. As a result, one of the presenters declared me to be “working for <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/0972792c-1e96-11e7-a454-ab04428977f9">Viktor Medvedchuk</a>”. She continued that my interest in “such issues” as Minsk or even worse, the peace process, amounted to clear evidence for my close ties to “strange circles” and apparent desire for the “capitulation of Ukraine” to Russia. This TV presenter, whom I know well, later took me to one side and told me that since it was “so clear” why “we” don’t need Minsk, there was simply no point discussing them on the air. That is to say, as it seemed so “clear” to her, she believed it must be the same for everybody else.</p><p dir="ltr">Well, as a journalist, I always have my doubts. Doubt courses through my entire life. Perhaps that’s the reason why I decided to become a journalist in the first place, rather than a political analyst, a course which was always open to me given my Master’s degree in political science.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Was it right for our editors to insist on calling those on the “DNR” side “terrorists”? Was it right to react to the conflict solely with excessive patriotism that flooded our newsfeeds?</p><p dir="ltr">I also had my doubts in 2014. Was it right for our editors to insist on calling those on the “DNR” side “terrorists”? Was it right to react to the conflict solely with excessive patriotism that flooded our newsfeeds? What will actually change from the media’s employing the terminology used by Ukrainian military commanders, soldiers or simply online haters? Will the war really grind to a halt if some strive to make their insults twice as potent as their opponents?</p><p dir="ltr">In 2016, a wonderful book fell into my hands, published by the OSCE and <a href="http://www.osce.org/ukraine/254526?download=true">freely accessible</a> on their website. It concerns conflict-sensitive journalism, and I still read it once a week, whenever I look back over the content produced for <a href="http://novosti.dn.ua/en">News of Donbas</a>. I almost remember it by heart. That very year at the Donbas Media Forum in Mariupol, one of the speakers called on journalists working in the conflict zone not to “make things worse than they already are.” That phrase, and the OSCE’s book, allowed me to answer those questions I raised earlier.</p><p dir="ltr">By following its recommendations, as well as the experience of journalists from other countries who lived through other events, I like to think that I’m helping the media outlets I work for to become more balanced and produce work of a higher quality. This in turn opens them up to wider audiences on both sides of the frontline, which after all is at the very heart of the goal which the Donetsk Institute of Information has set for itself. The institute, which administers News of Donbas and Donbas Public Television, promotes the establishment of democratic, humanistic values across Ukraine through the dissemination of fact-checked news and quality analysis.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/58495d2cd06a9-lives-on-the-line_1200_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="233" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Scenes from Maryinka, a town just east of Donetsk which is under Ukrainian state control. Source: <a href=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_q8pSM6LiQc>"Lives on the Line"</a> film by Iryna Solomko / <a href=http://civiliansinconflict.org/>Center for Civilians in Conflict</a>.</span></span></span>The result of all the discussions, debates and, of course, arguments we’ve held over the past three years has drawn me to the following question: is it possible for journalists to dial down the toxicity of their work? If my hypothesis is correct, this could lead to a dialling down in the aggression which has swept society — an aggression which divides society ever more with each passing year, along various “lines of discord”.</p><p dir="ltr">The longer this war drags on, the deeper the sense of frustration and alienation. This can be easily seen in discussions in social media and among journalists themselves. My colleagues even receive threats simply because they, as journalists, permit themselves to consider and pose uncomfortable questions, to put journalistic ethics into practice and perfect what they produce, which is becoming more and more critical.</p><p dir="ltr">For some reason, many now appear to feel that media has a duty to serve a certain position on current affairs. That is to say, their position. “I’ll only trust sources which view things as I do.” Why, then, can’t media outlets become trusted for every audience? They don’t even have to be trusted 100% — the doubting reader is the most valuable kind of reader. How can a media outlet become the kind of resource that provokes confidence in its readers (even if they may disagree with some of its materials), one which does not countenance distortions and sticks to standards and dedication to balanced reporting? That is to say, a truly mass media organisation? Only journalists themselves can answer this question, by producing high-quality materials, generating and maintaining an impeccable reputation.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The key question that must be asked regarding the last three years of war in the Donbas is this: what can the media do to de-intensify this conflict that has engulfed our country?</p><p dir="ltr">We’re often told that this war was “unleashed by the media,” that the media’s role in this conflict is greater than ever before, and that we “must react” to the wave of “information aggression” before us. But to my mind, the key question that must be asked regarding the last three years of war in the Donbas is this: what can the media do to de-intensify this conflict that has engulfed our country?</p><p dir="ltr">I ask myself this question every day, and my search for a compelling answer continues. All I can repeat to myself in response is this: “Don’t make the situation worse than it already is.”</p><p dir="ltr"><em>This article <a href="http://detector.media/blogs/article/128069/2017-07-18-smysl-tepereshnei-zhurnalistiki/">originally appeared</a>&nbsp;at News of Donbas.&nbsp;</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/kateryna-iakovlenko/disconnected-society-how-war-in-donbas-has-affected-ukraine">Disconnected society: how the war in the Donbas has affected Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/oles-petik-halyna-herasym/critical-thinking-at-stake-ukraine-s-witch-hunt-against-journali">Critical thinking at (the) stake: Ukraine’s witch hunt against journalism</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/liberal-democracy-hard-choice-for-ukraine">Liberal democracy: a hard choice for Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-goncharuk/donbas-we-re-used-to-shelling">Donbas: “We’re used to the shelling”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/igor-burdyga/where-now-for-ukraine-s-brave-new-journalism">Where now for Ukraine’s brave new journalism?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Aleksey Matsuka Ukraine Conflict Beyond propaganda Wed, 09 Aug 2017 12:24:59 +0000 Aleksey Matsuka 112746 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Four years in prison for utopia https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/elizaveta-pestova/alexander-sokolov-four-years-for-utopia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">Russia’s fight against "extremism" is a convenient pretext for restricting freedom of expression — and journalist Alexander Sokolov is paying the human cost. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/elizaveta-pestova/alexander-sokolov-utopia">RU</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/20160824_sokolov2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="284" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Russian journalist and economist Alexander Sokolov is facing prison time for his activist and journalist investigations. Source: <a href=rotfront.su>Rot Front</a>. </span></span></span>Since November 2016, the corridors of Moscow’s Tverskoy district court have been filled with elderly citizens, loudly discussing conspiracy theories, the fate of the Soviet Union and the significance of Stalin. Waiting outside the courtroom, they exchange comments with officers of the court before finally being allowed inside, when they promptly occupy all the seats. Two tall women, dressed in their prosecutor blues, follow them into the court, where three men — Kirill Barabash, Valery Parfyonov and Alexander Sokolov — are standing trial. Yuri Mukhin sits next to them, and this is the case against “Army of the People’s Will”.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Mukhin is a prominent political writer, who <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vyacheslav-kozlov/knocking-back-russia%E2%80%99s-nationalists">began his career back in the early 1990s</a>. In 1995, he began publishing the<em> Duel</em> newspaper, which, in its various iterations, took Stalinist and anti-Zionist approaches to Russia’s political and social problems. Later, Mukhin’s most active followers joined his organisation “Army of the People’s Will” (AVN), which sought to, among other tasks, enforce the direct responsibility of Russia’s politicians to the people: AVN tried to conduct a referendum on changes to Russia’s Constitution permitting public officials and parliamentarians to be punished, should the people wish it. It’s completely legal to want a referendum, but in 2010 AVN was declared an extremist organisation and banned. In effect, this court decision meant that any further activity by AVN was subject to criminal prosecution.</p><p dir="ltr">At one point, though, an initiative group on conducting a referendum (under the name “For responsible authorities”, or ZOV) was set up in parallel with AVN — this group had the same basic idea and the same people behind it. If you compare the leaflets they published, the symbols they used and their demands, these two organisations were similar to the point where you couldn’t tell them apart.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-small'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/1ea660832a0a997abca7394787e0056a.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="216" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Yuri Mukhin, speaking in 2009. Source: Denis Lobko / Wikipedia. </span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">You can interpret Mukhin’s clear intention to continue the activities of AVN under a new guise in various ways. </p><p dir="ltr">The officers of the Moscow Centre for Combating Extremism and police investigators interpreted it clearly, however — and in line with Article 282.2 of Russia’s Criminal Code (“Continuing the activities of an extremist organisation, banned by a court decision”). </p><p dir="ltr">In summer 2015, the Russian security services searched apartments belonging to members of the organisation, and detained Mukhin, who was sat in his trunks on a Crimean beach at the time. (Mukhin, who admires the USSR, supported the annexation of Crimea in 2014.) Two of Mukhin’s followers, Valery Parfyonov and former military officer Kirill Barabash, also wound up in custody.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">What’s important here is the fact that a journalist is being prosecuted for his activist past</p><p dir="ltr">Enter Alexander Sokolov, a journalist for leading Russian politics and business news agency RBC — and a strange addition to this cast. Just before his arrest, Sokolov, who covered Russia’s state corporations, published a <a href="http://www.rbc.ru/investigation/society/06/07/2015/55958a469a794774f0921542">lengthy investigation into corruption</a> at the Vostochny cosmodrome, a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/unpaid-wages-halt-progress-at-russia%E2%80%99s-flagship-space-project">flagship project for the Kremlin</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">It soon became clear that Sokolov does have some past involvement with Mukhin and his organisation — though, truth be told, it’s not clear how closely he really knows them. The criminal case assigns Sokolov the role of administrator for the initiative group’s website, which apparently promoted extremist materials online. Indeed, the final prosecution documents devote only a single sentence to Sokolov.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/amur trip putin kremlin ru_0.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="284" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Vostochnyi Cosmodrome, visited here by Vladimir Putin in September 2014, has been plagued by <a href=https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/unpaid-wages-halt-progress-at-russia’s-flagship-space-project>wage arrears</a> and allegations of embezzlement at the subcontractor level. Source: Kremlin.ru. </span></span></span>During the investigation and trial, the RBC journalist has insisted that he left his activist days behind him in 2013, when he <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=el57MTaPAwQ">defended his PhD</a> and began working as a journalist. Sokolov’s dissertation focused on the inefficient use of funds during projects carried out by some of Russia’s major state corporations — Rosnano, Olimpstroi, Rosatom and Rostec. The management of Rostec, a powerful state corporation that is closely allied to the Kremlin, studied Sokolov’s work — and, according to the journalist, they were not pleased with its contents. Sokolov insists that he was arrested because of his journalistic and research work.</p><p dir="ltr">Of course, the investigators knew that Sokolov’s views and acquaintances have changed. He himself could have tried to put some distance between himself and the strange Stalinists he’s being tried with, but he didn’t surrender his former comrades — even when they called themselves “citizens of the USSR” and spoke about the emergence of a fascist regime in Russia. The trial, which is due for sentencing on 10 August, has been long and difficult: hours were spent discussing absurd petitions raised by the defendants; dozens of requests for the judge and prosecutors to recuse themselves; a vocal support group that, on occasion, came to (minor) blows with officers of the court; the judge’s voice often rising to a shout.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Russia’s fight against “extremism” is being conducted so successfully that anyone, even someone who believes in utopia, can wind up in court</p><p dir="ltr">Nevertheless, Alexander Sokolov faces up to eight years in prison on extremism charges, and now the trial is at an end he’s been mostly forgotten — though not by his colleagues. At the end of 2015, RBC journalist Mikhail Rubin <a href="http://www.rbc.ru/politics/17/12/2015/56729c0c9a794709f623882a">asked Vladimir Putin about the fate of Sokolov</a>. The editorial team were concerned about the effect on freedom of expression. The president promised to look into, though no change in the prosecution has been registered. A year later, Putin was asked <a href="http://tass.ru/politika/3901608">once again about Sokolov</a>. He responded: “Most likely my administration has looked into it, and if the case has made it to court, then that means everything isn’t quite so simple. But I’ll look into it again.”</p><p dir="ltr">Prior to the pleadings, when the prosecutor’s office asked for Sokolov to be sentenced to four years in general regime prison, Russia’s independent Union of Journalists <a href="http://www.colta.ru/articles/society/15404">published an open letter</a>, in which 282 signatories (after the number of the article of Russia’s Criminal Code) called the case against the journalist “uncivilised”, and requested it to be closed. The Memorial Human Rights Center has <a href="http://old.memo.ru/d/248767.html">declared</a>&nbsp;Mukhin, Parfyonov and Sokolov political prisoners.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">To assert that the charges against Alexander Sokolov are connected with his journalism would be an exaggeration. What’s more important here is the fact that a journalist is being prosecuted for his activist past. Nevertheless, Russian law enforcement has long worked to restrict freedom of expression in society — the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalia-yudina/got-tagged-get-fined-russia-s-battle-against-digital-extremism">numbers of criminal cases for reposts on social media</a> and offhand comments on blogs speaks to this. </p><p dir="ltr">Russia’s fight against “extremism” — which is, on the whole, the fight against freedom of expression — is being conducted so successfully that anyone, even someone who believes in utopia, can wind up in court. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Update: on 10 August, Alexander Sokolov was <a href="https://themoscowtimes.com/news/russian-journalist-sokolov-jailed-for-extremism-after-calling-for-referendum-58629">sentenced to four years in prison colony </a>on extremism charges, alongside Kirill Barabash (four years), Valery Parfyonov (four years) and Yuri Mukhin (four years conditional sentence). The European Court of Human Rights has stated it will examine the case against Alexander Sokolov.&nbsp;</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/vyacheslav-kozlov/knocking-back-russia%E2%80%99s-nationalists">Knocking back Russia’s nationalists</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/nataliya-rostova/regulating-moscow-hack-pack">Regulating the Moscow hack pack</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-yudina/got-tagged-get-fined-russia-s-battle-against-digital-extremism">Got tagged? Get fined! Russia’s battle against “digital extremism”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ivan-zhilin/writing-poetry-in-russia-is-dangerous-profession">Writing poetry in Russia is a dangerous profession</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/pavel-chikov/russia-s-managed-thaw">Russia’s “managed thaw”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/nataliya-rostova/could-trade-union-do-anything-to-protect-russian-journalists">Could a union do anything to protect Russian journalists?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Elizaveta Pestova Russia Beyond propaganda Sat, 05 Aug 2017 16:33:47 +0000 Elizaveta Pestova 112686 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A day watching Turkmen television https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/fergana-news/day-watching-turkmen-television <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In Turkmenistan, people will do anything to avoid watching their tightly-controlled state media. This journalist spent a day glued to the screen to find out why.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Turkmenistan_President_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Turkmenistan_President_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="304" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>In the eye of the beholder. Turkmenistan’s authoritarian president, Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov. Photo CC-by-2.0: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><em>This article by Atadzhan Nepesov* <a href="http://www.fergananews.com/articles/9398" target="_blank">originally appeared in Russian at Fergana News</a>, a leading source of information on Central Asia. We are grateful for their permission to translate and republish it here.<br /></em><br />In Turkmenistan’s capital of Ashgabat, a state campaign to dismantle satellite dishes atop multi-storey apartment blocks is coming to end. Nevertheless, the “plates”, as Turkmen fondly call them, remain popular across the rest of the country. In provincial cities and towns, even in the <em>auls</em>, tiny clay-brick settlements lost among the sand dunes of the Kara Kum desert, families keep one or two antennae primed at communication satellites Yamal-401 and Hot Bird. Despite barely understanding a word of any foreign language, these viewers eagerly tune in to Chinese, European, Russian, Uzbek and Turkish television channels.</p><p>In fact, it seems like Turkmen viewers will consume anything, from football matches to entire drama series, before watching local TV. Turkmen journalist Atadzhan Nepesov decided to spend an entire day watching programmes on Turkmenistan’s seven television channels, in a brave attempt to find out why. 
</p><h2>Our pride and joy</h2><p>According to Reporters without Borders, Turkmenistan is an information “black hole.” One of the most repressive regimes in Central Asia, if not the world, Turkmenistan <a href="https://rsf.org/en/turkmenistan" target="_blank">ranks 178th</a> of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index&nbsp;<span>– alongside Eritrea and North Korea.</span></p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">Turkmenistan ranks 178th&nbsp;of 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index&nbsp;– alongside Eritrea and North Korea</span></p><p>With this in mind, it’s no surprise that, if you fancy yourself a discerning viewer and see television as a source of knowledge, then Turkmenistan’s TV channels are unlikely to satisfy you. For example, the news programme “The Planet’s Echo” only tells you about those world events which are impossible for the government to hide — selected clips taken from foreign news programmes, which are all positive. 

Other news programmes keep you updated about internal developments in Turkmenistan. They sing from the same hymn sheet, keep the same old hallmarks and the same irritating intonation. </p><p>Even when reeling off dry statistics, newsreaders seem to suffocate from sheer delight. Again, there’s nothing new of substance — practically the same information as yesterday and the day or even month before that. And on it goes from six in the morning to midnight, until rounding off the day with the programme “Watan” [Turkmen: “homeland”], which is broadcast simultaneously on three channels.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Watan_News.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Watan_News.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="265" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Daily updates on your president. Watan news, on the Altyn Asyr TV channel. Image still via Homunkulus / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>An acquaintance of mine was recently in Ashgabat to attend an international exhibition, and shared his impressions upon returning. “We spent our free evenings in the hotel, as the organisers of our trip recommended against going out into the city by ourselves. Out of boredom, I switched on the TV in my hotel room a few times. I couldn’t really judge the local programmes, as I don’t speak Turkmen. But I noticed that everything seemed staged; too orderly, lacking feeling. </p><p>After surfing the channels a little, I came across Miras, a channel which broadcast Russian entertainment series like “Field of Wonders” [ed. a Russian game show]. The next day, I asked a Turkmen guy I knew what there was to see on Turkmen TV. ‘We don’t even watch it’, he answered, ‘so there’s even less of interest for you. There’s simply nothing to see.’”</p><p>Turkmenistan’s ethnic Uzbeks, who live along the border with northern neighbour Uzbekistan, have a particularly interesting approach to the problem of poor TV. Following the death of the last president Saparmurat Niyazov in 2006, the’ve barely given Ashgabat a moment’s notice. Back then, they started to set up rudimentary satellite dishes and aerials on aluminium tubes, directed towards Tashkent, Urgench, Bukhara or Nukus, cities in Uzbekistan. They’ve been hooked on Uzbek TV ever since. </p><p>A friend of mine living in Yilanly district once described his family’s attitude: “it’ll only take seconds after tuning in to Turkmen TV before somebody will demand that we change the channel immediately,” he wrote. “And that’s not because of the language — we all speak Turkmen perfectly, including the kids. It’s because all the programmes on local TV are dedicated to one person: to you-know-who…”

</p><h2>It’s all about the president

</h2><p>During the rule of Turkmenbashi [ed. “head of the Turkmen”, as Niyazov was referred to], a popular anecdote by the Turkmen humorist Ata Kopek often did the rounds. Somebody asks a village elder:

 </p><p class="blockquote-new">“Ata Agha [ed. Turkmen term of respect], why do you walk around in such crumpled trousers and such a creased shirt?
 <br /><br />“Ah, that’s because I’m afraid of switching on the iron” he replies.
<br /><br />“What’s to be afraid of? You plug it in, turn it on, and just start ironing!”
 <br /><br />“No, I’m scared that when I turn it on, the iron will start singing Turkmenbashi’s praises — just like the television and the radio!”</p><p>The joke is still relevant; only the president has changed. 

Indeed, it’s strange that Turkmen television hasn’t yet been renamed to “Arkadag TV” — as it’s not only dedicated to the current president who’s referred to by that title [ed. meaning “protector” in Turkmen], but to all the events in the country — events which the media always find a way of connecting exclusively to him. </p><p>I even began to count how many times his name was said or references to him made in one evening broadcast of “Watan”. 

</p><p>I simply lost count.<br /><br />

It sounded something like: “leader of the nation, respected president, our hero and Arkadag, his excellency Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov visited, reviewed, got acquainted with, instructed, founded, presented, dismissed, initiated, showed concern for, won, became first in the races at…”, and so on and so forth.

 “You need strong nerves to watch and listen to all that, to just take it all in” wrote my Uzbek friend, “otherwise you’ll end up like a vegetable.”

</p><p>In fact, the only TV programme I saw which didn’t mention the president was the weather forecast.</p><h2>Censorship is not the word&nbsp;</h2><p>Fans of talk shows won’t find anything to their taste on any channel (except for “Miras”, which broadcasts a select few Russian entertainment programmes). Here in Turkmenistan, you won’t see debates, heated arguments or a clash of opinions on TV. If more than two people are sitting in a studio, then as a rule, one will be talking and the others will listen. Looking at their faces, you’ll notice how tense they seem, how afraid they are of missing a word from the speaker. Their hands rest on their knees, they sit with their backs perfectly straight — their posture betrays the same sense of tension.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The only TV programme I saw which didn’t mention the president was the weather forecast</p><p>Don’t even speak of live broadcasts: the viewer gets everything recorded, as it’s all has to go past three state censors. At least, that’s what I was told by a friend who works for “Yaşlyk TV.”

&nbsp;<span>According to him, the very first stage is the self-censorship of the television presenter or reporter who helps prepare the programme. The rest of the footage is given the once-over by the management: editors, programme directors, or even the TV channel’s director and his deputy.
</span></p><p>
When the material is ready for broadcast, a final check is carried out by Turkmenistan’s state committee for the defence of state secrets in the broadcast media. If at any point they express reservations or have comments about the planned broadcast or the appearance and behaviour of presenters who feature in it, then everything goes back to the studio to be recorded again.

</p><p>The attentive viewer will notice that in official communications, the name and surname of officials are never mentioned, be it the deputy prime minister, a minister or any member of the government — only their title. If their name has to be mentioned, then it’ll only appear once, at the very start of the broadcast. Rashid Meredov, say, will then be referred to as the minister of foreign affairs, and Akja Nurberdiyeva as the chairwoman of the Mejlis, Turkmenistan’s parliament. As my friend from Yaşlyk TV explains, this is an order from on high, so that nobody eclipses Arkadag — one name and surname must be heard loud and clear, over and over again: Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00974735.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00974735.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="312" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Celebrations in 2011 at the opening of the Turkmenistan TV tower in Ashgabat. At 211 metres, it is the tallest structure in the country. Photo (c): Amangeldy Nurmuradov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>What else is left to see on Turkmen TV? On 27 April, I tuned in to a “debate” of sorts, called “Il saglygy – ýurt baýlygy” (which translates as “a nation’s health is a country’s wealth”) on the “Altyn Asyr” (“Golden Age”) TV channel. I admit that I nearly turned off the TV several times, as I didn’t have the stamina to stomach a whole hour of such drivel. </p><p>Both the show’s presenter and the invited speakers — a doctor, university lecturer, museum curator and personnel manager of the “Turkmen stones” mining enterprise, in case you wondered — spoke with clunky, prepared speeches, watered down with interminable facts and figures from their institutions. As one droned on, the other guests would sit motionless, as though they’d swallowed a broom-handle. Upon concluding, they never neglected to thank Arkadag for everything, repeatedly calling him a hero and wishing him good health and success in his difficult duties.

</p><h2>“They show us the middle finger, and we applaud them”</h2><p>Here I paraphrase a song by our fellow Turkmen, the politician and lyricist Dzhakhan Pollyeva. She wrote, “they beat us, but we fly” — and it’s a truer description than any of those who work in Turkmen television.

Over the past ten years of his presidency, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has often made clear his dissatisfaction with the work of state media. And very often, the focus of his ire is television.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The more the president reshuffles TV directors, the more new appointees try to praise him. Media quality deteriorates, and there’s no way out of this vicious circle&nbsp;</p><p>Every time, whether it’s in commenting on the work of the deputy prime minister (whose remit involves culture and media), dismissing the head of the state committee for television, radio or cinema or poor unfortunate head of some TV channel, Berdymukhamedov stresses that the country’s television is of poor quality. He complains the work of Turkmenistan’s journalists is interminably dull, and reading, watching or listening to it is a chore.

</p><p>However, the president has never demanded that the media cease glorifying his deeds and his name at every available opportunity, nor even that they dial down the sycophancy.

“He could put a stop to this torrent of praise with just one word” says my contact at Yaşlyk TV. “But he keeps quiet, and newspaper editors and television channel directors interpret that silence as a sign to praise him even more. Everybody is afraid of him, especially the bosses and producers at TV stations.”

</p><p>And that’s exactly how it goes: the more the president lambasts journalists, the more they praise him and his great achievements. If he dismisses TV directors, their replacements are even greater sycophants. There’s no way out of this vicious circle.&nbsp;</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">Any villager with a fourth-grade education can say exactly what’ll be covered on TV tomorrow. And they don’t need a crystal ball to tell you</span></p><p>As it turns out, there’s no need to have any specialist education or experience to work in television in Turkmenistan. You don’t need training to be a camera operator or sound editor — you don’t need to be particularly creative or gifted. It’s enough to just stick to the established guidelines and standards, keeping to the rigid rules of behaviour in the studio. You need to know how to behave in front of a camera or microphone, and what subjects are off limits.</p><p>All this is done in such a predictable and primitive fashion that any villager with a fourth-grade education from some tiny desert settlement like Balla-Ishem or Yerbent can say exactly what will be covered tomorrow, what words will be used, what the guests will say, and how the broadcast will end. And they don’t need a crystal ball to tell you.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Arkadag_Song.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Arkadag_Song.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="249" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>An ode to president Berdymuhamedov, “Arkadag”, by Parahat Amandurdiyev, on the Türkmen Owazy music channel. Image still via Youtube / Türkmen Owazy. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>I tried to watch a music channel, naively hoping to listen to hear something a little different — maybe some of the destan performers [ed. traditional lyric bards and musicians] who are so close to Turkmens’ hearts. Perhaps there’d be songs by Sahy Dzhepbarov, Mahtumkuli Garlyev, Odeniyaz Nobatov, Akmuhammed Saparov or some of the many highly talented and not politically provocative singers. </p><p>Alas, in Berdymuhamedov’s so-called “era of might and happiness“ the only songs on the music channel “Türkmen Owazy” were much the same as they were during Niyazov’s “golden age of the Turkmen people”. As it happens, Berdymukhamedov has even outdone his predecessor in the number of songs written about him.&nbsp;</p><p>Of the seven TV channels I watched, only “Sport” TV mentioned the name of Turkmenistan’s president infrequently. But this “oversight” has been corrected, and Berdymukhamedov will now be mentioned more than all the athletes, sportsmen and coaches combined — for last month, the president dismissed the channel’s director Yuldashgeldi Khanaliyev from his post (Khanaliyev had “not coped with the duties assigned to him.”) The task of correcting these past errors and bringing the channel up to the standard of others now falls to new director Rasul Babayev.</p><p>Here’s the remote&nbsp;<span>—</span><span>&nbsp;happy viewing!&nbsp;</span></p><p><em>*Atadzhan Nepesov is a journalist in exile, originally from Turkmenistan. He writes here under a pseudonym.</em></p><p><em>Translated by Maxim Edwards</em>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-alyukov/how-does-russian-tv-propaganda-really-work">How does Russian TV propaganda really work?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/nataliya-rostova/in-russia-s-media-censorship-is-silent">In Russia’s media, censorship is silent </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/igor-burdyga/where-now-for-ukraine-s-brave-new-journalism">Where now for Ukraine’s brave new journalism?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/valery-kalnysh/goodbye-radio-vesti">Goodbye, Radio Vesti</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/naryn-aiyp/inciters-deceivers-slaves-kyrgyzstan-s-president-takes-aim-at-press">“Inciters, deceivers, slaves”: Kyrgyzstan’s president takes aim at the press</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/amirzhan-kosanov/kazakhstan-s-thin-red-line">Kazakhstan’s thin red line</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Fergana News Turkmenistan Beyond propaganda Central Asia Mon, 15 May 2017 11:14:43 +0000 Fergana News 110887 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How does Russian TV propaganda really work? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-alyukov/how-does-russian-tv-propaganda-really-work <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">New research shows that Russian state media’s influence is by no means total. Most people are capable of watching television news critically — provided they’re given the opportunity to do so. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-alyukov/cherniy-yaschik">Русский</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/RIAN_02824503.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Two in a room. (с) Pavel Lisitsyn / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Today, many researchers <a href="http://russia-rating.ru/info/2505.html">agree</a> that the influence exerted by television on Russia’s citizens is an important source of power for Putin’s regime. But this idea is more of a political statement than an established fact. For media researchers, how a viewer perceives what is broadcast to them is a “black box” — in order to understand exactly how this process works, qualitative empirical analysis is required.</p><p dir="ltr">Preliminary results of research I’ve conducted at the Department of Political Science and Sociology at the European University at St Petersburg suggest that the way people consume television news is far from a simple process, and that, when they have the opportunity to do so, viewers are capable of engaging in complex critical analysis.</p><p dir="ltr">My study’s primary focus is on Russian television viewers’ perception and analysis of news broadcasts regarding the situation in Ukraine. Eight focus groups were held in St Petersburg (November 2016) and Moscow (March 2017). These focus groups revolved around coverage of three main events broadcast by Russia’s Channel One: the Kiev protests of 2013; the 2014 referendums in Donetsk and Lugansk; and the armed clashes that took place in eastern Ukraine over the course of that same year.</p><p dir="ltr">The data gleaned from these groups allow us to outline some of the general mechanisms of how Russian television viewers interpret news broadcasts. And so, how do Russian viewers interpret information they receive via television?&nbsp;</p><h2>Bounded rationality</h2><p dir="ltr">Research in communication and cognitive psychology points to the existence of two primary modes of information processing. The first, called “systematic”, requires time, effort, considerable resources, and — predicated as it is on the collection, comparison and analysis of various data — resembles the work of a scientist. The second, “heuristic” mode involves information processing shortcuts that <a href="http://neuron4.psych.ubc.ca/~schaller/Psyc590Readings/Chaiken1980.pdf">allow you to make an immediate leap from data to conclusion</a>, without expending mental energies or engaging in time-consuming data comparison and analysis.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">Most viewers watch and interpret the news in a heuristic fashion — TV-watching tends to take place in parallel with a host of other activities, such as cooking, chatting, working, playing with the kids</p><p dir="ltr">In the heuristic mode, analytical procedures are substituted for conceptual cues and schematised representations that serve to simplify analysis and are predicated on phenomena not directly related to the essence of the matter. Thus, for instance, you might base a judgment about the president’s future policy direction on his appearance and personal qualities, while largely ignoring his political programme.</p><p dir="ltr">This is what happened with Ronald Reagan. As shown by John Zaller in <em>The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion</em>, Reagan’s personal charm outweighed the purely political dimension of his actions in voters’ eyes. Another classic example is voter reliance on the party affiliation heuristic: in <em>The Reasoning Voter</em>, Samuel Popkin demonstrates that, instead of analysing information about a given candidate, American voters frequently use party affiliation to stereotype that candidate as an average representative of the Democrats or Republicans.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/President_Reagan_giving_Campaign_speech_in_Austin,_Texas_1984_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ronald Reagan on the campaign trail in 1984. Source: Reagan Library / Wikimedia Commons.</span></span></span>Most viewers watch and interpret the news in a heuristic fashion — TV-watching tends to take place in parallel with a host of other activities, such as cooking, chatting, working, playing with the kids. And more often than not, TV functions as a background presence. Involved in other activities, viewers rarely analyse daily news broadcasts in detail, habitually relying on semi-automatic information-processing mechanisms.</p><h2>Heuristic thinking: why do viewers trust the news?</h2><p dir="ltr">According to many researchers and journalists, television coverage of the conflict in Ukraine significantly boosted the legitimacy of the Russian regime in the eyes of its citizens. Skillful manipulation of facts and emotions induced viewers into accepting the government’s official stance on the conflict and led to the mobilisation not only among the regime’s supporters, but also undecided and even critically-minded individuals.</p><p dir="ltr">But when TV viewers watch news reports about Ukraine, what exactly do they ground their trust on? In general, when it comes to news analysis, most conceptual shortcuts are used to determine the reliability of information. With the help of these shortcuts, viewers determine which aspects of the broadcast are and aren’t true without resorting to complex analytical procedures or wasting time on analysis.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">Negative emotions, and fear in particular, are the very foundation stone of Russian media’s Ukraine coverage</p><p dir="ltr">One key shortcut is <em>violence</em>. In respondents’ eyes, images of violence render the broadcast trustworthy because, as far as they’re concerned, violence cannot be staged. In the words of one respondent, “there’s no doubting this horrific imagery of war”. And so, when they see footage featuring violence — and Russia’s airwaves have been saturated with it over the last three years — viewers immediately conclude that the broadcast possesses a degree of authenticity.</p><p dir="ltr">Another shortcut is <em>recognition</em> or <em>identification</em>. “Ordinary people” featured in news broadcasts have an air of sincerity because, as another respondent explained, “you’re on the same level with people the same as you.” This shortcut is predicated on a complex dynamic typical of post-Soviet societies, which many researchers regard as <a href="http://hbanaszak.mjr.uw.edu.pl/TempTxt/Howard_2003_The%20weakes%20of%20civil%20society%20in%20post-Communism%20Europe.pdf">depoliticised</a>. To put it differently, members of these societies have no desire to participate in the political process and see politics as a dirty and pointless business. “Ordinary people” seem sincere in the eyes of focus group participants not so much because they’re similar to themselves, but because they’re the antithesis of corrupt politicians. Being “on the same level” with a guy off the TV not only means that they’re “similar to you”, but also that they’re “not some politician”.</p><p> <iframe frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/I4IOUcRD1N0" height="259" width="460"></iframe><span style="font-style: italic;">18 May 2015: Channel One news update on the situation in Ukraine. Source: <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I4IOUcRD1N0">Youtube</a> </span></p><p dir="ltr">The third important shortcut utilised by TV viewers to determine the trustworthiness of a news story is — strange though this may seem — the <em>authority of the state</em>. “You try to believe what the TV says,” one respondent remarked. “After all, we’re talking about state-owned channels where high positions are occupied by responsible individuals." Despite the fact that trust in parties, trade unions, churches and other state institutions is extremely low in Russia, the state remains a very important entity on an everyday level. Viewers don’t trust political parties, but they still do their utmost to get their children into a state university.</p><p dir="ltr">In large part, this attitude on the part of focus group respondents stems from their experience of life in the 1990s. Back then, private institutions could come into being only to fizzle almost immediately out of existence, and stability — or at least a modicum thereof — was the preserve of state institutions alone. State authority now functions as a marker of trustworthiness when it comes to the everyday activity of news-watching.</p><p dir="ltr">Finally, a particular role in news analysis is played by <em>emotions</em>. Negative emotions, and fear in particular, are the very foundation stone of Russian media’s Ukraine coverage. Viewers find their own sense of security threatened: they’re frightened less by developments in the Donbas per se than by the prospect that war might touch their own lives. “I was scared that it [war] might break out here, that it’d come our way if they didn’t contain [the spread of the conflict to Russian territory]" – this is a constant refrain in respondents’ discussions of the news.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-22153807-1_3_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="270" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>February 2015: pro-Russian separatists in Vuhlehirsk, Donetsk region. (c) Petr David Josek / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>This shortcut allows the question of trustworthiness to be sidestepped: the fear that the war might affect your country, your town implies that you already trust the news without checking its credibility. It’s worth mentioning certain societal and gender differences here: groups particularly susceptible to fear of this kind included women with children and people whose lives have already been touched by armed conflict (wartime residents of Chechnya, for example).</p><h2>Real politics: what is good for the state is good for me</h2><p dir="ltr">When watching the news, TV viewers not only evaluate a story’s trustworthiness but also make moral assessments of current developments, pronouncing them acceptable or otherwise. Perceptions of news coverage are also shaped in accordance with another shortcut that allows the viewer to undertake a political and normative assessment of events: this is realpolitik.</p><p dir="ltr">In political theory and practice, the term realpolitik denotes an approach to policy whose proponents give precedence to pragmatism over ideology and morality. Russian television viewers, for their part, see the concepts of objectivity and the interests of the state in opposition, believing, for example, that certain information should be withheld if its disclosure were to present a danger to the state or tarnish the country’s international image.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">In respondents’ eyes, images of violence render the broadcast trustworthy because, as far as they’re concerned, violence cannot be staged</p><p dir="ltr">This shortcut plays a particularly significant role in structuring perceptions of news stories that feature references to foreign intervention. “What are foreigners doing there?!” respondents cry indignantly; if a story features foreign politicians (or even ordinary citizens) and makes reference to western funding or any other western influence on the situation in Ukraine, the viewer’s interpretation of that story immediately comes to be influenced by the realpolitik shortcut.</p><p dir="ltr">This, in turn, thwarts any discussion of trustworthiness because the shortcut presupposes that objectivity is an unattainable ideal at best, and, at worst, a harmful illusion. It is the interests of the state(s) involved, and those interests alone, that truly matter. News reports, like information circulating in the media as a whole, are merely the expression of the interests of your own state, or those of another. Information distortion is an acceptable manoeuvre simply because it cannot be otherwise: objectivity, according to this theory, doesn’t exist.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/RIAN_02824387.LR_.ru__0_1_0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="242" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>April 2016: journalists at a Moscow newspaper watch "Direct Line with Vladimir Putin". (с) Aleksandr Vilf / VisualRIAN. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In all likelihood, the realpolitik shortcut wasn’t particularly prevalent prior to the outbreak of the conflict — it has acquired particular relevance and become widespread as a result of the traumatic experience undergone by Russian TV viewers over the past three years. The war in Ukraine seems so illogical and contrary to common sense that viewers have come to believe that the groups behind the conflict wield tremendous power.</p><p dir="ltr">This, in turn, calls into question the possibility of independent journalism – if these groups could force thousands of people to kill each other in a meaningless war, then what chances does independent journalism have? Believing in its ideals, we merely succumb to an illusion that allows us to be manipulated.</p><h2>Systematic thinking: how do viewers stop trusting the news?</h2><p dir="ltr">Interpretation shortcuts help us to simplify the complex and remote domain of politics and translate it into the language of the familiar and intelligible domain of everyday life. They help us to understand what’s true and what isn’t, what’s acceptable and what’s inadmissible, without expending time or mental resources. There’s huge scope for manipulation here: exploiting the existence of these shortcuts, TV channels offer viewers a world-picture they believe in — or at least consider acceptable.</p><p dir="ltr">But what happens when viewers engage in systematic analysis rather than the usual semi-passive heuristic analysis when watching television? Imagine, for example, that you’ve got into the habit of critically assessing news broadcasts before getting together with other people to discuss their minutiae in detail. Focus groups help to simulate this scenario. Research on the modes of engaging with and analysing information is most often based on quantitative methods, but qualitative methods (the focus group being a case in point) also allow researchers to document the transition from one processing mode to another.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-19312249_0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The <a href=https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/nikolai-klimeniouk/crimea-international-law-opposition>Crimea Consensus</a> has been generated largely through propaganda. (с) Yaghobzadeh Rafael/ABACA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>That such a transition has indeed occurred is evident not only from viewers’s subjective feelings — many respondents explain that, since they don’t normally tend to scrutinise the fine details of news reports, the analytical discussions held in the context of the focus group constitute something extremely unusual for them — but also from the fact that what they previously considered to be criteria of trustworthiness become &nbsp;objects of criticism as a result of their joint discussions. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Deploying a systematic information-processing strategy is relatively simple. First, you have to avoid clichés enforced on the popular consciousness by state propaganda. For example, when asked the question “How do you feel about the Russian government?”, viewers immediately react with a series of state-approved clichés circulating in the public sphere. To cite one example: annexing Crimea is said to be a “necessary and fair step” that justifies the economic difficulties we’re living through now.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">When they scrutinise anew the “horrific imagery of war” whose veracity had previously seemed beyond any doubt, viewers begin to see evidence of editing</p><p dir="ltr">Secondly, you need to discuss people’s own experiences. Generally, in order to provoke an entire series of critical narratives, I only had to ask how much more (in)frequently respondents have been watching the news in recent years. Some start talking about emotional burnout and employ striking corporeal metaphors while doing so (“my body cannot take it anymore”; “my eyes started bleeding”). People who remember life in the USSR, meanwhile, start making ironic references to Soviet censorship (“Oh, we’ve got it so good here. Just like in in the Soviet Union. They’ve got it bad, but over here things are great.”)</p><p dir="ltr">Viewers’ own experiences are in many ways linked to the anger and frustration they feel both with regard to the news, which traumatises them and doesn’t offer them certain meaningful information, and with regard to everyday life — salaries, public amenities and overall level of life comfort.</p><p dir="ltr">Thirdly, I draw respondents’ attention to dubious news items (“intercepted” conversations between Ukrainian pilots, military deliberations conducted on Facebook, and so forth). Common sense tells viewers that military frequencies aren’t exactly straightforward to intercept and that military personnel don’t discuss upcoming operations on social media. When combined with a general critically-minded attitude to life and politics in Russia, this gives rise to the following effects.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">When they scrutinise anew the “horrific imagery of war” whose veracity had previously seemed beyond any doubt, viewers begin to see evidence of editing. Yes, the violence itself cannot be staged, but the news item featuring that violence certainly can. And viewers start to see that the item has been concocted by the imagination of a director — that it’s artificial, and that it’s teeming with “directorial gambits” and cutting techniques designed to trigger certain emotional effects in the viewer. &nbsp; &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">How do we take the practices of attentive news-watching and post-viewing discussions beyond the focus group and turn them into an integral part of everyday life?</p><p dir="ltr">Induced by these effects to trust the people populating their screens, viewers now come to regard them as being part of a strategy of manipulation. "What’s the purpose of this relentless negativity?” exclaims one respondent, her voice rich with emotion. “You turn on the TV and start feeling bad – what’s the point of that? There’s deliberate propaganda going on.” When they approach news broadcasts analytically, viewers effortlessly recognise such moments for the targeted propaganda that they are. The feelings of identification lose their power, too. The selfsame “ordinary people” who’d previously commanded respondents’ trust metamorphose into “dubious characters”, while the behaviour of bombing victims starts to seem unnatural, their conduct now regarded as “very cold”.</p><p dir="ltr">Above and beyond the specific issues that can call a news item’s trustworthiness into question, viewers often remark on the clichéd nature of the news in general. The broadcasts they’ve been watching for the past three years are highly consistent in terms of content and structure alike. And so the following refrain predominates in group discussions: “It was as if I’d watched the same report for the tenth time”.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/airplane donetsk.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Still from Channel One broadcast of Ukrainian air force pilot's "intercepted" conversation. </span></span></span>This repetitiveness forces respondents to take the news with a pinch of salt because it presents very different events as if they were governed by the same logic. Protests, military confrontations, referenda — everything is integrated into the same all-encompassing framework and &nbsp;therefore perceived as manipulation. “It’s all a dog and pony show as far as I’m concerned,” says one respondent. “I don’t take any of it in. […] In my eyes, it’s all just clichés. News stories are constantly being cooked up according to an absolutely unchanging recipe.”</p><p dir="ltr">In this situation, a logical question arises: how do we take the practices of attentive news-watching and post-viewing discussions beyond the focus group and turn them into an integral part of everyday life?</p><h2>How do we transform systematic thinking into an everyday practice?</h2><p dir="ltr">Some researchers have tackled this problem by creating manuals and guides that provide explanations of propaganda techniques. Numerous such publications have seen the light of day in the wake of the Ukrainian conflict. (See, for instance, this <a href="http://mediakritika.by/article/3579/14-priznakov-propagandy-kotorye-dolzhen-znat-kazhdyy">explainer</a> on mediakritica.by, or Alexei Kovalev’s <a href="https://republic.ru/posts/57165">guide</a> on Republic). Manuals can provide the reader with a theoretical grounding in the subject; critical analysis, however, isn’t the same as second-hand knowledge — it’s a practice that involves a particular mode of engagement.</p><p dir="ltr">And yet, directly broaching the issues of propaganda and politics in conversation with people isn’t a strategy that tends to yield much success either. Firstly, Russian society remains depoliticised, and discussing politics with strangers is seen as an unusual occurrence at best, and a downright objectionable one at worst. So people often either simply hold their tongues or else parrot safe, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ilya-matveev/russia-inc">state-approved commonplaces</a> like this one: “We’re prepared to stomach the west’s sanctions because the annexation of Crimea represents a restoration of historical justice.”&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Secondly, the issue of critical thinking immediately triggers a defence mechanism: no one’s likely to admit that they take the news at its word. Differentiating between this defence mechanism and genuine systematic thinking is relatively straightforward. In the case of the former, viewers only talk about comparing different sources of information in the abstract, and are unable to adduce any examples; in the latter, conversely, they either discuss concrete examples from their own lives or refer to the news stories they’ve seen over the course of the focus group.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Stillman_TV (1).jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Many respondents in focus groups reported feelings of burnout after three years of watching uninformative and cliched news. CC BY 2.0 Давид Стильман / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Finally, people may well be loath to initiate such discussions because the question of Ukraine has already caused them to fall out with friends and relatives. Conflict between loved ones is a well-known consequence of the social polarisation generated by the Ukrainian crisis; people prefer to “stick to their own opinion” and avoid getting embroiled in debates.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">But focus group discussions testify to the fact that it is possible to discuss politics productively and analytically. What are the prerequisites for such discussions?</p><p dir="ltr">First of all, you have to avoid state-propagated commonplaces and guide the discussion into the sphere of everyday life. Second, you need a safe space where you can speak out without any fear of payback by the state – or, indeed, of other people’s aggression. These spaces can exist beyond the artificial environment of the focus group: it’s possible to create them in everyday situations, too. We can all address the personal experiences of our interlocutors without resorting to ideologically loaded clichés. Instead of employing loaded terms like “propaganda” or "manipulation”, you need to use a very different sort of language to speak about whatever your interlocutor might be feeling and about how it impacts their daily existence. Little by little, they themselves will start dealing in more abstract categories such as “objectivity” or “justice”.</p><p dir="ltr">Once the focus group is over, many of my respondents get back in touch to ask whether they might be able to participate in the study for a second time. Which goes to show that discussing politics and social problems can, in actual fact, be enjoyable. The main thing is to create conditions conducive to such discussions.</p><h2>Three years’ worth of news about Ukraine</h2><p dir="ltr">TV viewers rarely engage in such systematic analysis. In the current situation, complex criticism is replaced with disappointment, frustration, and fatigue. How have viewers’ psyches been affected by three years’ worth of reports awash with violent imagery and negative emotions?&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Initially, the events in Ukraine kindled viewers’ interest in politics and generated strong politicising effects. Viewers began to watch the news more frequently and some began scouring the internet for further information. But such engagement couldn’t last very long, and was soon replaced by what the media scholar Susan Moeller calls “compassion fatigue”. This effect (a response to the traumatic nature of news) poses an extreme threat to society: people feel emptied out and disconnected and ultimately lose interest in any problems beyond the confines of their private lives.</p><p>Clichéd news coverage contributes to compassion fatigue in its own way. For the past three years, the news has revolved around stark geopolitical schemas like “Russia versus the west”, and it has been dominated by stories of shelling, casualties and “provocations”. None of this is meaningfully informative: journalists have failed to explain the mechanisms of the conflict or the context behind it, and they haven’t conducted any true-to-life analyses of the factions and factors involved. Why, one might ask, would simple TV viewers require complex political analysis?</p><p class="mag-quote-center">State media coverage of the conflict in Ukraine has served to validate viewers’ already existing but inchoate stances, pushing them to their extremes. At the same time, it has spawned widespread fatigue and political apathy</p><p dir="ltr">Yet studies have shown that “simple people” are usually smarter than elites and newsmakers suppose them to be: they understand complex explanations, and, if such explanations are lacking, the upshot is a loss of interest in politics and news. Precisely this often occurs during times of crisis, and the model of journalism that gives rise to such effects has been dubbed the “crisis model” by Doris Graber.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">As a crisis unfolds, TV viewers feel the need to understand what’s going on, but the media either can’t provide them with correct and substantive information (because access to the conflict zone is limited, for example), or else don’t wish to do so for political reasons. This is exactly what’s happening now — a fact not lost on viewers. Journalists “flit from topic to topic” yet “no topic is ever properly rounded off”, engendering the feeling that television “is never going to teach you anything new”. In the absence of any meaningful analysis, viewers watch the news ever more infrequently and focus on “key points” alone. The emotionally-driven and content-free coverage of the Ukrainian conflict that has dominated Russian state media for the past three years was meant to mobilise and politicise the citizenry. The gamble succeeded, but only in the short term: its long-term consequence is political apathy.</p><p dir="ltr">Different viewers have been affected in different ways. Those who initially held critical (though not necessarily oppositionist or anti-regime) views became disillusioned with politics in general: in the eyes of these viewers, pro-Kremlin and opposition politicians are now all peas from the same pod. Those with pro-regime views, meanwhile, also grew weary of the content-free coverage and began to watch less news, their interest in politics diminishing. Their attitude towards the regime hasn’t changed, however, and they’re now prepared to justify the manipulation and propaganda for the sake of their own peace of mind. Some of them believe that the media should withhold information conducive to traumatic and negative emotions even if such a manoeuvre flies in the face of objectivity.</p><p>State media coverage of the conflict in Ukraine has served to validate viewers’ already existing but inchoate stances, pushing them to their extremes. At the same time, it has spawned widespread fatigue and political apathy, which, in its turn, inhibits any political discussion that could prompt these stances to shift. However, I’m yet to figure out precisely which social, political, ideological and biographical factors have influenced various strategies of interpretation. &nbsp;</p><p><i>Translation by Leo Shtutin.&nbsp;</i></p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/nataliya-rostova/in-russia-s-media-censorship-is-silent">In Russia’s media, censorship is silent </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/moritz-gathmann-colleagues/whole-pravda-about-russian-propaganda">The whole pravda about Russian propaganda</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-sidorov/how-russian-tv-propaganda-is-made">How Russian TV propaganda is made</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ilya-yablokov/why-are-russia-s-journalists-so-prone-to-conspiracy-theory">Why are Russia’s journalists so prone to conspiracy theory?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/vasiliy-gatov-over-the-barriers">Over the barriers</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alexey-kovalev/life-after-facts-how-russian-state-media-defines-itself-through-negation">Life after facts: how Russian state media defines itself through negation</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Maxim Alyukov Beyond propaganda Mon, 08 May 2017 08:34:07 +0000 Maxim Alyukov 110623 at https://www.opendemocracy.net For Moldova’s journalists, surveillance is the new norm https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vladimir-soloviev/for-moldova-s-journalists-surveillance-is-new-norm <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Digital and personal surveillance has become a fact of life for Moldova’s journalists. My story is the tip of the iceberg. <em><strong><a href="http://newsmaker.md/rus/novosti/popali-pod-nablyudenie-kak-v-moldove-sledyat-za-zhurnalistami-30708">Русский</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_4784_0.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="266" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>4 April: Surveillance against the author in Chișinău. Image: Vladimir Soloviev / Newsmaker.</span></span></span>“You’re paranoid,” I told Vadim Pistrinchuk, an MP from Moldova’s Liberal Democratic Party. We’d met late on the evening of 3 April, at a pizzeria in Chișinău’s Telecenter. Pistrinchuk had just remarked: “It’s strange that no one’s following us.” And here’s where I called him paranoid.</p> <p>We talked for about an hour that evening. I asked him why another group of MPs had just left his party, and Pistrinchuk shared his thoughts on the matter. As we were leaving, we noticed a Kia Sportage car (registration GBR 757) parking up next to the pizzeria. Two people got out of the car — and we nearly bumped into them on the way out. But they changed their minds about the pizzeria, returned to the car and stood near it as I bid goodbye to the MP.&nbsp;</p> <p>The next morning, the same car was parked outside the offices of <a href="www.newsmaker.md">Newsmaker</a>, the online platform I run, on Schusyev Street. I counted four men in dark coats and sunglasses standing in places with good views of the office’s front entrance. They didn’t really try to conceal themselves, perhaps, they actually wanted me to notice them. </p> <p class="mag-quote-center">In Moldova, surveillance in person and over the telephone has become the norm&nbsp;</p> <p>I saw these same four men every time I went out onto the street to smoke. I went to get a coffee — the Kia appeared next to the café. I went back to the office — the Kia went back too. They followed me until evening.&nbsp;</p> <p>I decided to take the trolleybus to see my friend and lawyer Stefan Gligor. Two of the four joined me on the bus — one sat facing, the other had his back to me, and out the back of the trolleybus I could still see that same Kia car.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_4781.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="296" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>4 April: the Kia car following the author through town. Image: Vladimir Soloviev / Newsmaker.</span></span></span>When I got to the café on Jerusalem Street where I was supposed to meet Stefan and decide what to do about this surveillance, the Kia parked close by. Initially, the men hung around next to the car, and then decided to spread out along the street.&nbsp;</p> <p>Stefan and I decided the correct thing to do was call the police. I rang 902, the emergency services number, and describe the situation to the officer on the other end. The district policeman arrived a short while later, at which point I repeated my story to him, pointed out the Kia and the people that had been following me all day.&nbsp;</p> <p>What happened next happened rather quickly. The Kia’s driver jumped behind the wheel and started the car. I tried to open the front passenger door, but it was already locked. While I walked round to get to the driver’s door, the Kia backed up very quickly — I barely had time to jump out of its way, and the car screeched off into the evening.&nbsp;</p><p> <iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/e9mku9lICsI" frameborder="0"></iframe><em>The author's encounter with the Kia on 4 April.</em></p> <p>About a hundred metres away I noticed one of the guys who’d been following me. I caught up with me and decided not to let him go until the policeman arrived. When we got to the station I wrote a statement, and Stefan, my lawyer, gave a supporting statement. The policemen asked the detainee for his version of events. It was short: he was a random passer-by, he hadn’t been following anyone, and he was seeing me for the first time. After that, he was released.&nbsp;</p> <p>The police identified the Kia’s owner. I hope to see him in court. His actions fall under Article 78 of Moldova’s Administrative Code: “the systematic persecution of an individual that causes anxiety, fear for personal safety or safety of close relatives, and which forces the individual to change their way of life.”</p> <p>This can be done either via “a) following the individual, or b) establishing contact or attempts to establish contact by any means or via another person” and carries “a fine or unpaid public work from 20 to 40 hours or arrest from 10-15 days.”</p> <p>Perhaps there won’t be any court. I had a similar experience in 2014, ahead of Moldova’s parliamentary elections. I was followed, and I turned to the police for help, showing them images of the car that appeared everywhere I had meetings. Back then, the police told me that they couldn’t help me at all. If the current situation turns out the same way and the law enforcement agencies can’t find out who organised surveillance against me and why, then this will answer the question of who needs me under surveillance.</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">Today, you can’t find an opposition politician in Moldova who wouldn’t complain about surveillance or informal pressure&nbsp;</p> <p>In Moldova, surveillance in person and over the telephone has become the norm. Politicians rarely talk to journalists over the phone, and ask them to use all sorts of messaging apps instead. Frequently they meet in secret, and try to avoid taking their mobile phones to meetings. If they give comments to journalists, then only on condition of anonymity.&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, you can’t find an opposition politician in Moldova who wouldn’t complain about surveillance (personal or digital) or informal pressure. Even those who have a relationship with the authorities — and the authorities in Moldova today are the Democratic Party and its leader <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maria-levcenco/vlad-plahotniuc-moldova-s-man-in-shadows">Vladimir Plahotniuc</a> — are scared. For example, I recently met someone close to the Democratic Party. He picked me up in the middle of the street and asked me to sit in the back, behind the blacked-out glass. During our hour-long conversation, he didn’t stop once, driving round Chișinău&nbsp;the whole time.</p> <p>Another example: I recently agreed to meet a western diplomat. We met in his office at the embassy and, just before we started, he placed his mobile in a special case. Noticing my look, he explained that he wasn’t just concerned that he was being tapped, he knew that he was being tapped. And he even knew who was doing it. He wasn’t even referring to the all-powerful Russian security services, no, but local specialists.</p> <p>An acquaintance in Moldova’s law enforcement agencies warned me a year ago that I should be more careful on the phone. “I’ve also got personal surveillance… Usually they follow in the day, when I meet someone from Transnistria or even middle-ranking businessmen,” this is what a colleague from an investigative outfit wrote to me just the other day.&nbsp;</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">Someone thinks it is important to know not only who Moldova’s journalists meet and speak on the phone to, but who they sleep with, too</p> <p>Two weeks ago, Evgeny Shopar, a journalist at <a href="www.newsmaker.md">Newsmaker</a>, was detained at Chișinău&nbsp;airport on his way back from Venice. He was asked to undergo a more serious search. “We’re looking for any notes, notebooks, documents, papers,” this is what the border police said to one another during the search. Furthermore, they mentioned a particular state agency that had “ordered” Evgeny to be carefully searched. They refused to name it. Having searched my colleague’s luggage and turned out his pockets, the border guards issued him a document stating that “no illegal documents” had been found.&nbsp;</p> <p>Last year, Natalia Morar, a Moldovan journalist, <a href="https://ava.md/2016/07/13/policiya-rassleduet-ugrozy-v-adres-natal/">revealed</a> that some people had tried to blackmail her with an intimate tape. That is, someone thinks it is important to know not only who Moldova’s journalists meet and speak on the phone to, but who they sleep with, too.</p> <p>I link my experience exclusively with my professional activities. I’m not involved in business, I don’t owe anybody money, and no one owes money to me. My personal surveillance, obviously, is a reflection of the work carried out by <i>NewsMaker</i> and <em>Kommersant</em> newspaper.&nbsp;</p><p> <em>This article was originally published in Russian in <a href="http://newsmaker.md/rus/novosti/popali-pod-nablyudenie-kak-v-moldove-sledyat-za-zhurnalistami-30708">Newsmaker</a> and <a href="http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/3262511">Kommersant</a>.</em></p><p><em><br /></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/make-moldova-great-again">Make Moldova great again</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/eleanor-knott-mihai-popsoi/our-man-in-moldova-plahotniuc">Our man in Moldova</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maria-levcenco/vlad-plahotniuc-moldova-s-man-in-shadows">Vlad Plahotniuc: Moldova’s man in the shadows</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/nadine-gogu/who-really-rules-airwaves-in-moldova">Who really rules the airwaves in Moldova?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Vladimir Soloviev Moldova Beyond propaganda Fri, 07 Apr 2017 08:40:07 +0000 Vladimir Soloviev 109954 at https://www.opendemocracy.net “Inciters, deceivers, slaves”: Kyrgyzstan’s president takes aim at the press https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/naryn-aiyp/inciters-deceivers-slaves-kyrgyzstan-s-president-takes-aim-at-press <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Naryn_Ayip_OpED_0.jpg" alt="" width="80" />New moves against opposition politicians and the press are meant to scare the last bastion of Kyrgyzstan’s civil society into submission. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/naryn-ayip/kyrgyzstan-novoe-napadeniya-svobodu-slova" target="_blank">Русский</a></em></strong></p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/_СМИ_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="269" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>15 March: president Almazbek Atambayev makes a speech in Bishkek, accuses journalists of slander. Image: Aslanbek Pazyl / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Compared to neighbouring states in Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan looks like a democratic country. Our relative freedom of the press remains the clearest sign that democracy exists in some form here. But over the past 25 years of independence, Kyrgyzstan’s authorities have learnt all too well how to manipulate the system. Today, the principles of parliamentarism, free elections and the separation of powers exist in name only – the task of defending democracy now rests largely on the shoulders of Kyrgyzstan’s journalists.&nbsp;</p><p>But the wide-ranging attack on our independent media and the opposition, which began after president Almazbek Atambayev returned from Brussels in February, shows that the Kyrgyz leadership intends to destroy those who can restrain the authorities – they don’t seem worried about the results of upcoming presidential elections, which are set for November 2017. Indeed, Atambayev often focuses on praise from European Union officials regarding Kyrgyzstan’s progress towards democracy, indirectly invalidating criticism from local journalists.</p><h2>The onslaught begins&nbsp;</h2><p>On 24 February, the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK), which Atambayev calls the “presidential” party (although Kyrgyzstan’s Constitution forbids the president from political party activity), filed a suit against the <a href="http://24.kg/" target="_blank">24.kg news agency</a>, its journalist Tatyana Kudryavtseva and Rita Karasartova, director of the <a href="http://www.koom.kg/" target="_blank">Institute of Civic Analysis</a>.&nbsp;</p><p>In an article (“<a href="http://24.kg/vlast/44643_regionyi_kyirgyizstana_pokazali_zubyi_partii_vlasti/" target="_blank">The regions of Kyrgyzstan bear their teeth to the party of power</a>”) published on 8 February, Kudryavtseva quoted Karasartova on the behaviour of the SDPK ahead of Kyrgyzstan’s presidential election this November: “They’ve got carried away in politics, they’re selling positions left and right.” The party is now demanding one million soms (£11,500) in compensation from 24.kg and Karasartova. The first court hearing took place on 10 March in Bishkek, with the next held on 23 March.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">President Atambayev often focuses on praise from EU officials on Kyrgyzstan’s progress towards democracy, indirectly invalidating criticism from local journalists</p><p>Ten days after the SDPK filed its suit, Indira Dzholdubayeva, Kyrgyzstan’s General Prosecutor, filed defamation suits in defence of president Atambayev against two media outlets — <a href="https://rus.azattyq.org/" target="_blank"><em>Azattyk</em></a>&nbsp;(RFE/RL’s Bishkek bureau) and ProMedia, the foundation behind <em><a href="http://zanoza.kg" target="_blank">Zanoza</a></em>, a leading source of news and investigation in the country.</p><p>The first suit accuses <em>Radio Azattyk</em> and ProMedia of “tendentious and biased coverage of unchecked, false information, which directly concern the honour and dignity of the head of state,” and that these organisations failed to take “steps to check to ensure that [Omurbek] Tekebayev’s personal opinion conformed to reality”. Omurbek Tekebayev, the “uncontrollable” leader of the Ata-Meken political party, was <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/daniil-kislov/in-kyrgyzstan-it-s-revolution-revanche-repeat-all-over-again" target="_blank">arrested on 26 February on bribery charges</a>. In November 2016, Tekebayev, leader of Kyrgyzstan’s Ata-Meken party, announced that he was collecting materials in order to open impeachment proceedings against president Atambayev for March 2017.&nbsp;</p><p>The second accusation concerns articles that <em>Radio Azattyk</em> and <em>Zanoza</em> published on 13 February. These materials reported, on the basis of an interview with Omurbek Tekebayev, that the Ata-Meken leader had “found information regarding Atambayev’s property in offshore structures in Cyprus.” Other media reported this news too, and <em>Azattyk</em> and <em>Zanoza </em>published the reaction of the presidential press office on the very same day.&nbsp;</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">Kyrgyzstan’s independent journalists and opposition politicians are experiencing unprecedented pressure from the authorities</span></p><p>Dzholdubayeva is asking the court to make <em>Radio Azattyk</em> pay 10m soms (£116,000), and ProMedia – three million soms (£34,000) compensation to president Atambayev. The parties concerned first met in Bishkek’s Lenin district court on 15 March. In the General Prosecutor’s second suit, the main defendants are Tekebayev’s legal team — Taalaikul Toktakunova and Kanatbek Aziz, with <em>Azattyk</em> and ProMedia as co-defendants.&nbsp;</p><p>Toktakunova and Aziz, Tekebayev’s solicitors, held a press conference on 1 March, where they reported that the alleged contraband cargo on board the <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-38633526" target="_blank">Turkish cargo jet that crashed near Bishkek in January 2017</a> in fact belongs to president Atambayev. According to Aziz and Toktakunova, the Kyrgyz authorities detained Tekebayev on the suspicion that he possessed documents relating to this allegation. Kyrgyzstan’s General Prosecutor accuses <em>Azattyk </em>and <em>Zanoza</em> of “distributing false information” from Tekebayev’s solicitors “without fact-checking the information presented at the press conference”, and giving this information a “political flavour”.&nbsp;</p><p>Almost all Kyrgyz media covered this press conference. What’s more, despite the fact that you can still watch the <a href="http://presscenter.akipress.org/news:26711" target="_blank">full video</a> on <em>AKIPress</em>, only <em>Azattyk</em> and<em> Zanoza</em> are facing legal action — and these media published the Turkish ambassador’s response the same day.&nbsp;</p><h2>Who really paid for the banquet?&nbsp;</h2><p>Kyrgyzstan’s General Prosecutor filed her third suit on 13 March — this time, specifically against ProMedia and me, its co-founder, as the author of an article called “The President’s Millions: Who Really Paid For The Banquet?”, published on <em>Zanoza</em> on 22 October, 2015. The claims are based on two sentences in my article.&nbsp;</p><p>The General Prosecutor considers that the sentences in question “unambiguously lead the reader to believe that president Atambayev has committed a crime, in particular, theft.” As mentioned before, Dzholdubayeva is requesting three million soms compensation, and on 15 March, Oktyabrsky district court decided to put my apartment under arrest as a precaution. Dzholdubayeva also states, in her suit against Aziz and Toktakunova, that by holding their press conference, they were trying to put pressure on the investigation into Omurbek Tekebayev.</p><p>Tekebayev was arrested on 26 February on return from Vienna, where he had participated in the winter session of the OSCE’s parliamentary assembly. He is <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/daniil-kislov/in-kyrgyzstan-it-s-revolution-revanche-repeat-all-over-again" target="_blank">accused of accepting a one million dollar bribe</a> from Leonid Maevsky, a Russian businessman, former Duma deputy and business partner of Atambayev, in 2010. The accusations were made following new testimony from Maevsky, but no documents have yet been published.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Political_Field_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Political_Field_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="264" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Onto the battlefield. Ala-Too Square, Bishkek. Photo CC-by-SA-2.0: Dan Lundberg / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>However, the Kyrgyz authorities themselves are in fact pressuring the court and investigation in a far more open and serious manner. Public television broadcasts biased materials against Tekebayev practically every day, and, after meeting with Vladimir Putin on 28 February, president Atambayev commented on Tekebayev’s case that a “thief should be in prison”.&nbsp;</p><p>Atambayev also stated during his meeting with the Russian leader that “This will be a lesson for the future… We need to teach all the marauders a lesson forever, to those people who protected them, the raiders, the corrupt officials, it will be merciless.” Atambayev also referred to himself in the third person: “The country is different now, the security services are different, the president, who the people support, is different, and we won’t accept any chaos in the country.”&nbsp;</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">“This will be a lesson for the future… We need to teach all the marauders a lesson forever, to those people who protected them, the raiders, the corrupt officials, it will be merciless” - Almazbek Atambayev</span></p><p>A week after Atambayev’s meeting with Putin, on 6 March, the same day that the General Prosecutor filed a defamation suit against the media, the president stated during a medal ceremony that “for the past two-three months people have been constantly creating parliamentary committees in parliament… Day by day, parliament is turning from a legislative institution into an institute that generates lies.” He then stated that Ata-Meken, Tekebayev’s party, “stinks”.&nbsp;</p><p>The president also stated his opinion that <em>Radio Azattyk</em>, which is financed by the US Congress, is “trying to spread rumours under the holy name of ‘Azzatyk’. They don’t have to account for the funds they receive. I know perfectly well what grudges the US has against me. This isn’t about democracy or truth, but because Atambayev removed the US military base” from Kyrgyzstan.&nbsp;</p><p>Later, the day before the first court hearing on the suit against independent media, Farid Niyazov, a presidential advisor, called the norm that prevents the authorities from suing the press, “an old stereotype”. For Niyazov, the “world has changed and the information age has now arrived”, and the General Prosecutor’s lawsuits are “one of the stages of developing and strengthening freedom of speech in Kyrgyzstan.” According to Niyazov, “Atambayev is coming out to defend the principles of freedom of speech”, and it was only the “slander” that forced the General Prosecutor to file these suits.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">This crackdown prior to the beginning of the election campaign has met with resistance from Kyrgyz civil society&nbsp;</p><p>Niyazov also stated that Tekebayev’s legal counsel had presented “a clearly false document”. This is why the authorities have been “forced to get a court decision to confirm that this is a lie”. After all, Kyrgyzstan is now “dealing with a choice: either freedom of speech or the chaos of slander”. Niyazov added: “We could have chosen less tense relations with any media, even the most biased, and just worked out our last months [before presidential elections in November]. But someone had to start this work!”&nbsp;</p><p>The same day, Atambayev stated that “people are worried how false information, open slander, is being deliberately distributed in social networks and the media. As the head of state elected by all the people, I cannot calmly stand by and watch how the people becomes a hostage to falsehoods and rumours.”</p><p>According to the president, the “rotten politicians and journalists — Zamira Sydykova, Begaly Nargozyev, Narynbek Idinov [that is, me] — created a special organisation allegedly in defence of freedom of speech, to defend Kyrgyz journalists, but are, in fact, mocking our country in front of the whole world.” This is why, it seems, “we cannot be deceived by their words and once again give away our priceless Homeland into the hands of these inciters, deceivers and unthinking slaves [<em><a href="https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Mankurt" target="_blank">mankurty</a></em>], we cannot trust the rumours they are spreading.”&nbsp;</p><h2>Don’t put your pens down yet</h2><p>This crackdown prior to the election campaign has met with resistance from Kyrgyz civil society. On 13 March, around 150 activists, journalists and civic figures have <a href="https://www.change.org/p/%D0%BE%D0%B1%D1%80%D0%B0%D1%89%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%B5-%D0%BA-%D0%B3%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B5%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%BB%D1%8C%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%BC%D1%83-%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%BE%D0%BA%D1%83%D1%80%D0%BE%D1%80%D1%83-%D0%BA%D1%8B%D1%80%D0%B3%D1%8B%D0%B7%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%BE%D0%B9-%D1%80%D0%B5%D1%81%D0%BF%D1%83%D0%B1%D0%BB%D0%B8%D0%BA%D0%B8-%D0%B4%D0%B6%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%B4%D1%83%D0%B1%D0%B0%D0%B5%D0%B2%D0%BE%D0%B9-%D0%B8-%D1%8B-%D0%BE%D0%B1%D1%80%D0%B0%D1%89%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%B5-%D0%BA-%D0%B3%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B5%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%BB%D1%8C%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%BC%D1%83-%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%BE%D0%BA%D1%83%D1%80%D0%BE%D1%80%D1%83-%D0%BA%D1%8B%D1%80%D0%B3%D1%8B%D0%B7%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%BE%D0%B9-%D1%80%D0%B5%D1%81%D0%BF%D1%83%D0%B1%D0%BB%D0%B8%D0%BA%D0%B8-%D0%B4%D0%B6%D0%BE%D0%BB?utm_content=petition&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_source=48373&amp;utm_campaign=campaigns_digest&amp;sfmc_tk=cTB9nRLt0N5bc775DLcu2TibsshiBFvP6jdnlFBSWCDNk1xv88j%2fmURDBSeevzlL" target="_blank">signed a petition addressed to the General Prosecutor</a> to “stop its anti-people and anti-constitutional activities” and recall new lawsuits against two media outlets.&nbsp;</p><p>Five days later, a <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/82906" target="_blank">peace march was held in Bishkek in support of freedom of speech</a> — hundreds of citizens took part, including parliamentary deputies, journalists, media experts, who demonstrated their solidarity with Kyrgyzstan’s media and journalists who are facing defamation suits from the General Prosecutor. Five people were detained during the march. Later that day, these people were sentenced to five days imprisonment.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Political_Rights_Speech_KYG_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Political_Rights_Speech_KYG_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="263" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Peace march in defence of freedom of speech, Bishkek, 16 March. Photo: K-News / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Kyrgyzstan’s Independent Union of Journalists and the Committee in Defence of Freedom of Expression have also held forums, where media experts, journalists and civic activists have condemned the lawsuits against the media and journalists, and demanded that these cases end, characterising them as limits on freedom of speech. The participants noted in a resolution that Kyrgyzstan’s legislation frees the media from legal responsibility when quoting public events.&nbsp;</p><p>Civic activists are now collecting signatures to hold parliamentary hearings on this issue, and Tekebayev’s legal team have appealed to the Constitutional Chamber, as Kyrgyzstan's 2003 Law on Guaranteeing the Actions of the President (which forms the basis of the General Prosecutor’s suits against <em>Azattyk</em> and <em>ProMedia</em>) contradicts the country’s new constitution, passed after the <a href="http://www.rferl.org/a/kyrgyzstan-constitutional-referendum-whats-at-stake/28164053.html" target="_blank">December 2016 referendum</a>.</p><h2>Saving the Fourth Estate&nbsp;</h2><p>Kyrgyzstan’s independent journalists and opposition politicians are experiencing unprecedented pressure from the presidential administration and law enforcement agencies. On 24 March, the president once again touched on the <a href="http://kg.akipress.org/news:1372037" target="_blank">lawsuits against the media</a>: “These aren’t lawsuits against journalists, but slanderers. It’s so you don’t believe that propaganda that’s appeared recently… It’s been going on for years… The most open slander… The Fourth Estate is also an authority, and it’s been blackmailing everybody. But… the Fourth Estate should understand its responsibilities.”&nbsp;</p><p>The authorities’ targeting of these media for punishment shows that they’re trying to clear Kyrgyzstan’s media environment before the elections later this year. The main television channels, including the public broadcaster, have long broadcast only what the authorities allow.&nbsp;</p><p>President Atambayev considers these latest developments democratic. Referring back to Europe, Atambayev stated on 6 March: “I was amazed how our delegation was met in Brussels: it was the leaders of the European Union, not us, who talked about the grandiose reforms and achievements we’ve made in Kyrgyzstan.”</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/daniil-kislov/in-kyrgyzstan-it-s-revolution-revanche-repeat-all-over-again">In Kyrgyzstan, it’s revolution, revanche, repeat all over again</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/amirzhan-kosanov/kazakhstan-s-thin-red-line">Kazakhstan’s thin red line</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anne-rennschmid/is-election-observing-in-central-asia-lost-cause">Is election observing in Central Asia a lost cause?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Naryn Aiyp Beyond propaganda Kyrgyzstan Central Asia Thu, 30 Mar 2017 10:26:56 +0000 Naryn Aiyp 109785 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Kremlin’s so-called “partners” https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexander-morozov/kremlin-s-so-called-partners <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>For the Kremlin’s friends in the west, the reality of Russia’s actions is finally sinking in.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 11_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="290" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>December 2015: Michael Flynn, Jill Stein (foreground) and Margarita Simonyan during Vladimir Putin's address at RT's 10th Anniversary celebrations, Moscow. Source: <a href=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOaQA6uFacA>RT/Youtube</a>. </span></span></span></p><p><em>This </em><a href="http://www.colta.ru/articles/society/14209"><em>text</em></a><em> originally appeared in Russian on </em><a href="colta.ru"><em>Colta</em></a><em>, a leading Russian platform for comment and discussion. Colta is funded by donations – find out how you can help </em><a href="https://planeta.ru/campaigns/colta"><em>here</em></a><em>.</em></p> <p>Before Crimea, everyone “cooperated with the Russians”. And until mid-2016, no one knew what to think or do with this history of cooperation. Sanctions hardly made a dent in this “cooperation regime”.</p> <p>But beginning with the US presidential elections, important changes are taking place — and it’s hard to know what to call them or how to describe them. Externally, we see that people who were supposed to communicate with “the Russians” are losing their positions. And this is accompanied by public scandals. It’s not the case that these people cooperated with some questionable goals in mind, but they’d come into contact with a taboo — <a href="https://avtonom.org/en/news/belorussian-prison-untouchables-prison-hierarchy"><em>zashkvar</em></a> in Russian criminal slang.</p> <p>No one doubted the loyalty of US national security adviser Michael Flynn, but he <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/14/us/politics/mike-flynn-resign-pence-russia.html">resigned</a> because of his “contacts” with the Russians. A few days ago, the vice-speaker of Lithuania’s parliament <a href="https://ria.ru/world/20170310/1489714161.html">resigned</a>. Mindaugas Bastys left because the Lithuanian security services refused him access to secret data. But the list of Russian citizens whom Bastys had contact with over the years doesn’t contain anything particularly shocking — representatives of Russian state corporations in Lithuania, the usual suspicious Russian businessmen and so on.</p> <p>The recent hack of the email account of hitherto unknown Alexander Usovsky, who was working for the Kremlin in Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Balkans, <a href="https://www.bellingcat.com/news/uk-and-europe/2017/03/04/kremlins-balkan-gambit-part/">shows</a> that Konstantin Malofeev, an Orthodox Russian businessman <a href="https://jamestown.org/program/hot-issue-konstantin-malofeev-fringe-christian-orthodox-financier-of-the-donbas-separatists/">known for financing separatists in the Donbas</a>, discussed or in fact conducted operations against elections in Bosnia and Poland.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 11.54.54_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="270" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>October 2014: Alexander Usovsky discusses leaking an image of Milorad Dodik, pro-Russian president of Republika Srpska, meeting with Konstantin Malofeev. Source: <a href=https://www.bellingcat.com/news/uk-and-europe/2017/03/04/kremlins-balkan-gambit-part/>bellingcat</a>.</span></span></span>Malofeev’s activities are an extreme example of Russia’s openly subversive actions in other states. But when you look at <a href="https://www.bellingcat.com/news/uk-and-europe/2017/03/04/kremlins-balkan-gambit-part/">Usovsky’s emails</a>, and you’re aware of the state Russian affairs in Europe, you realise&nbsp;that Malofeev’s strategy and tactics are no different from the actions of dozens and hundreds of similar actors beyond Russia’s borders. Before Crimea, for those who cooperated with the “Russians”, these activities looked like “supporting Russia’s interests”. Now these people are beginning to figure out what this really meant.</p> <p>“What have we got ourselves involved in?” they asked themselves — people who’d performed one-off services or participated in “Petersburg Dialogue” (<a href="http://www.russkiymir.ru/en/publications/197108/">a German-Russian public form</a>), the <a href="http://valdaiclub.com/">Valdai Club</a>, the “Dialogue of Civilisations” (another public forum) and the dozens of other programmes where Russian money was involved.</p> <p><span class="mag-quote-center">All these political, cultural and media contacts are nothing compared to the scale of cooperation in business</span></p> <p>Members of Russian émigré organisations (which refused to work with the <a href="http://russkiymir.ru/en/">“Russian world” programme</a> fairly early on) have told me that, at the start, they were taken in by film director Nikita Mikhalkov’s initial cultural projects. They sincerely supported the director’s appeal to Russians abroad.</p> <p>But around 2008 these émigré organisations felt that they were beginning to be recruited into an ideological support campaign for the Kremlin. Many people continued travelling to Moscow for émigré congresses, but already as “observers”. They already decided back then that this was the “New Comintern” and it was wrong to accept their grants. Other people continued to accept the money happily, and sailed off together with the Kremlin in the direction of Crimea.</p> <h2>Money talks</h2> <p>But all these political, cultural and media contacts are nothing compared to the scale of cooperation in business.</p> <p>For more than a decade, millions of people across the world have been involved in networks of “Russian money”. After all, the large-scale capital flow out of Russia, the partial reinvestment of these funds back into the country through offshore structures and into infrastructure outside of Russia (companies, shares, property, yachts and so on) – this is the gigantic money-moving machine of Putin’s corporate state, which is operated by millions of people (solicitors, politicians, parliamentary deputies, cultural professionals, translators and so on).</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/13285092744_6450c50afb_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>March 2014, Crimea. CC BY-2.0 Sasha Maksymenko / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>As a result, by the time Crimea happened, the Kremlin had a significant lobby at its disposal. This doesn’t mean that people were actually “bought” (to use the language of anti-corruption). People merely “cooperated” and received certain bonuses for this cooperation. If you once took money from an old friend in your past, then, even if you see it in a critical light now, you’ll still maintain your loyalty to him or her in public. Who would want to start a scandal about the misdeeds of someone who once helped, let’s say, to finance your new home? You’d keep quiet.</p> <h2>The retrospective starts now</h2> <p>In other words, for over a decade — since roughly 2004, after Khodorkovsky’s Yukos company was seized — the Russian economy kept its (hard to measure) foreign networks well-oiled.</p> <p>This wasn’t about corruption in the narrow sense. Of course, in the west, this was seen as economic interaction with a particular kind of “eastern” economy, where everything is accompanied by “signs of gratitude”, “kickbacks”, exchange of various bonuses and preferences, trips to the sauna, hunting expeditions with helicopters and so on. And this wasn’t criminal activity as such. It was seen as part of the “specifics” of dealing with the country. Russia is far from the only economy that operates this way — i.e. through “partnership”. The world’s largest companies opened offices and factories in Russia. And until recently, this was a privileged economy incorporated into the BRICS system.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Putin used Crimea to draw people who’d been involved in partnership into a one-off mobilisation. The Russian president made it necessary for all these “partners” to define their position</p> <p>Crimea turned the results of this ten-year-long support into a problem. Obviously, Putin used Crimea to draw people who’d been involved in partnership into a one-off mobilisation. The Russian president made it necessary for all these “partners” to define their position. Putin’s “partners” (he often pronounces the word with irony) are often understood in the diplomatic context. But in reality Putin has other “partners” in mind — those millions of people who have for years sat on Russian contracts, Russian money and other forms of interaction with “the Russians”.</p> <h2>Unreliable partners</h2> <p>Now these “partners” have big problems. And I note sadly that their problems are not due to Crimea (as such), the sanctions or counter-sanctions regimes, nor the ambiguity of past participation in toxic projects with “the Russians”. The problem for them is that Putin does not want to stop.</p> <p>This community would have sighed with relief if Putin had just “signed over the assets to his name”, i.e. taken Crimea and stopped there. But the extreme ambiguity that characterised 2014-2017 continues to be maintained and even expanded: it wasn’t Putin who shot down MH17, but some people working for Konstantin Malofeev; Putin didn’t murder Boris Nemtsov, it was a few Chechen security officers; it wasn’t Putin who hacked the US Democratic Party’s servers, but some hackers — possibly Russian, possibly not (but from Russian servers); Putin didn’t organise the coup attempt in Montenegro, but some unknown individuals; it wasn’t Putin who organised the campaign to destabilise and destroy Ukraine as a state, but <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andreas-umland/glazyevs-tapes">Russian presidential adviser Sergei Glazyev</a>; it was some guy named Alexander Usovsky who organised pro-Russian demonstrations in European states (with cash from patriotic Russian businessmen), not Putin. And so on.&nbsp;</p> <p><span class="mag-quote-center">Now everyone is looking back on this time and asking themselves: who were really “partnering” with? Maybe it was Russian intelligence?</span></p> <p>This list is growing by the day. And yet the Kremlin is not distancing itself from any of this with the previous energy so understandable to its so-called “partners”. The Kremlin doesn’t conduct investigations into any of these issues, but an ambiguous game that can be clearly read as “covering” all of its “own people”.</p> <p>Thus, the previous decade of developing relationships transforms before our eyes into an “invitation to complicity”. Now everyone is looking back on this time and asking themselves: who were really “partnering” with? Maybe it was Russian intelligence? Or maybe from the very beginning this was just a trick to recruit us for dubious lobbying campaign?</p> <h2><strong>Ambiguity rules</strong></h2> <p>This is all scarily new. Everything that’s happening before our eyes regarding the US State Department and pro-Russian politicians in Europe reveals a complex problem — the borders between lobbying, partnership, espionage, propaganda influence and corruption are being washed out.</p> <p>Thus a situation arises whereby it is impossible to distinguish between real partnership from participation in a campaign to distort “the borders of the permissible”. Just yesterday you were a “Christian Democrat” developing a partnership with the Russian Federation, and today you’re just a silent participant in the degradation of the very norms of European political culture. You’re not just keeping quiet with a look of shame on your face as you refuse to judge the actions of the Kremlin. It’s actually the opposite. By “remaining loyal” to the results of your previous partnership with the Kremlin, you even raise your skeptical voice: but what’s even criminal in Putin’s politics? And others go like this: “Sanctions are ineffective and Crimea, if I’m honest, was always Russian.”</p> <p>If it is possible to take a broad view of so-called Kremlin propaganda as the product of work carried by Moscow agencies and marginal sites of leftwing and rightwing critics of US hegemony (and who sympathise with Putin precisely on these grounds), then it’s impossible to take in the Kremlin’s gigantic system of bedding itself into western economic structures. It does not yield to any kind of evaluation. And the same goes for the transformation, or, to be precise, the degradation that the Kremlin has engineered not only among its own citizenry, but various strata of western society, too.</p> <p>Three years ago, I <a href="http://www.colta.ru/articles/media/1466">wrote</a> that Putin was in the process of creating a rightwing Comintern. It’s since become known as the “black Comintern”. But now I think that the current situation is not only more complex, but worse. “Putin’s Comintern” is a rather insignificant and clearly visible section of a much bigger process occurring at different levels of European life, where people — who are not at all involved in radical right- or leftwing politics — are keeping silent on the Kremlin’s actions. They might condemn it, but they still remain loyal. And they are waiting in good faith for Putin “to return to European norms of partnership”.&nbsp;</p> <p>These people cannot and do not want to see that the ambiguity fostered by the Kremlin over who is responsible for murder, paramilitary groups, armed mercenaries, destabilisation in smaller states is not some temporary phenomenon. It was done on purpose right from the start. And this is how it will continue. </p> <p><em>Translated by Tom Rowley.&nbsp;</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="http://www.colta.ru"><img src="http://www.colta.ru/assets/logo-afb684c3d35fc1f6f103f9fb638c8ec1.png" alt="" width="100%" /></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/vasiliy-gatov-over-the-barriers">Over the barriers</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/vasily-gatov/over-barriers-in-us-russian-discourse">Russia, America, it&#039;s time to talk face-to-face</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alexey-kovalev-ilya-yablokov/putin-and-trump-s-bad-bromance">Putin and Trump’s bad bromance</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anton-barbashin/limits-of-anti-americanism-in-russia">The limits of anti-Americanism in Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alexey-kovalev/life-after-facts-how-russian-state-media-defines-itself-through-negation">Life after facts: how Russian state media defines itself through negation</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-sidorov/how-russian-tv-propaganda-is-made">How Russian TV propaganda is made</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-arutunyan/who-ll-make-russia-great-again">Who will make Russia “great again”? </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Alexander Morozov Beyond propaganda Thu, 16 Mar 2017 09:38:45 +0000 Alexander Morozov 109472 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Goodbye, Radio Vesti https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/valery-kalnysh/goodbye-radio-vesti <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/kalnysh_0.jpg" alt="kalnysh_0.jpg" width="80" />Ukraine’s media is caught in a political crossfire. In this situation, everyone loses — journalists, citizens and the country itself. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/valery-kalnysh/bez-razgovorov">Русский</a></strong></em></p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/ArticleImage_123647.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="258" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>March 2017: Radio Vesti's main broadcasting operation comes to an end. Source: <a href=vesti-ukr.com>Radio Vesti</a>. </span></span></span>Since 4 March, you can no longer tune into Radio Vesti — Ukraine’s only talk radio station —in Kyiv. Prior to this, nearly all of the radio station’s journalists<a href="https://www.rbc.ua/rus/news/kollektiv-radio-vesti-uvolnyaetsya-radiostantsii-1487962182.html"> resigned</a>, as well as most of the station’s technical staff. Radio Vesti stopped its broadcast operation after a<a href="https://www.rbc.ua/rus/news/natssovet-otkazalsya-prodlevat-litsenziyu-1488539894.html"> decision</a> by the National Television and Radio Broadcasting<a href="https://www.rbc.ua/rus/news/natssovet-otkazalsya-prodlevat-litsenziyu-1488539894.html"> Council</a>, which regulates Ukraine’s airwaves. The management of the Vesti Ukraine media holding, which owns the station, believes that this decision is<a href="http://vesti-ukr.com/strana/228113-dobro-pozhalovat-v-totalitarnuju-ukrainu-poroshenko-olha-semchenko-o-zakrytii-radio-vesti"> direct evidence of censorship in Ukraine</a>. Everyone here is right, but, as always, no one is telling the whole truth.</p><p dir="ltr">On 3 March, the National Television and Radio Broadcasting<a href="https://www.rbc.ua/rus/news/natssovet-otkazalsya-prodlevat-litsenziyu-1488539894.html"> Council refused</a> to extend Radio Vesti’s broadcast license in Kyiv. Two weeks before, the National Council<a href="http://www.nrada.gov.ua/ua/news/radanews/34743.html"> refused</a> to issue the station a broadcast license for Kharkiv. Now only the residents of Dnipro (formerly Dnipropetrovsk) can listen to the station’s analogue broadcast — Radio Vesti had permission to broadcast only in three cities, elsewhere people listened online. But the station’s listeners won’t hear anything new: the station is broadcasting only news bulletins and programmes from its archive. Ukraine’s only talk radio station has more or less stopped working.</p><h2>Tuning out</h2><p dir="ltr">The National Council<a href="http://www.nrada.gov.ua/ua/news/radanews/34828.html"> explained</a> its decision not to extend Radio Vesti’s license by referring to the fact that the station had received four warnings. This, according to the opinion of the regulatory body, is evidence that the station is systematically violating Ukraine’s media legislation. It’s worth noting that it was the National Council that issued these warnings in the first place.</p><p dir="ltr">One of these warnings was<a href="https://lb.ua/economics/2014/07/25/274084_natssovet_prigrozil_annulirovat.html"> issued</a> on my watch. In July 2014, I was deputy editor at Vesti (later - editor-in-chief) when the words of one separatist militia leader in the Donbas made their way on air: “We have to help Orthodox Russian people clean our lands of filth and fascism.”</p><p dir="ltr">It seems I also caused the<a href="https://lb.ua/news/2015/01/29/293735_natssovet_vneplanovo_proverit_radio.html"> second warning</a> from the National Council. In December 2014, I conducted a live on-air<a href="http://vesti-ukr.com/strana/81934-portnov-cherez-neskolko-mesjacev-nikto-nikogo-uzhe-ljustrirovat-ne-budet"> interview</a> with Andriy Portnov, the former deputy head of Viktor Yanukovych’s presidential administration who fled the country after the EuroMaidan protests and was the subject of a criminal investigation for embezzlement.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Why “it seems”? Because this second warning was followed by a strange story: the National Council couldn’t receive the recording of <a href="http://vesti-ukr.com/strana/81934-portnov-cherez-neskolko-mesjacev-nikto-nikogo-uzhe-ljustrirovat-ne-budet">my interview with Portnov</a> because of a change of address. This change of address, meanwhile, did not prevent members of the National Council from appearing on air at Radio Vesti or visiting the studio. Indeed, one of the members of the National Council who issued the final decision against Radio Vesti even offered his services as a presenter for Vesti in the past, though now, it seems, he doesn’t wish to discuss this in public.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">These warnings are, of course, mere formalities. It’s no secret that Radio Vesti has been closed for different reasons</p><p dir="ltr">It would appear I’m responsible for the station’s <a href="http://detector.media/infospace/article/114769/2016-04-29-natsrada-perevirit-radio-vesti-cherez-intervyu-azarova/">third warning</a>, too. The appropriate complaint was made to the National Council regarding an<a href="http://vesti-ukr.com/strana/144628-intervju-nikolaja-azarova-radio-vesti-polnyj-tekst"> interview</a> I conducted with Nikolai Azarov, Ukraine’s fugitive prime minister, in April 2016. The National Council suspected that “doubtful information of a subjective character was apparent in the statements [of Azarov], which distort reality and create a false idea of what is happening in Ukraine among viewers [of the station].”</p><p dir="ltr">But these warnings are, of course, mere formalities. It’s no secret that Radio Vesti has been closed for different reasons. The first rumours concerning the station’s real owner began to emerge around six months after the station launched in March 2014. Later, these rumours were confirmed, and the owner turned out to be Alexander Klimenko, another member of Viktor Yanukvoych’s team who fled the country and Ukraine’s minister of revenue between 2012-2014.</p><p dir="ltr">Ukraine’s current regime couldn’t reconcile itself with the fact that a representative of the old order was the indirect owner of a popular talk radio station. Klimenko’s ownership could not be proved, because Klimenko’s name doesn’t appear anywhere in the registration documents. But even if it had, this would be an ambiguous motive for closing the station — Klimenko is a Ukrainian citizen, and there is no court decision regarding his activities. This is why the topic of Radio Vesti’s opaque ownership structure came up so often in public debate.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/^C64F69A921F858EBE94712C3E626DB20FA89E93413853618B3^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>3 March, 2017: Radio Vesti listeners protest outside Ukraine's presidential administration, Kyiv. Source: <a href=http://vesti-ukr.com/kiev/228062-vernut-radio-vesti-v-kieve-na-bankovuju-vyshli-slushateli-radiostantsii>Vesti</a>. </span></span></span>The station never confirmed its connection to Klimenko. Even when Olga Semchenko, the head of Vesti Ukraina’s board of directors, and Alexander Klimenko decided to get married. “The National Council has finally recommended itself not just as a repressive, but a regressive body,”<a href="http://vesti-ukr.com/strana/228113-dobro-pozhalovat-v-totalitarnuju-ukrainu-poroshenko-olha-semchenko-o-zakrytii-radio-vesti"> commented</a> Olga Semchenko. “The policy designed to seize, ban and punish – this is a regressive policy. This is a path to a totalitarian Ukraine. The officials of the National Council are just carrying out a political order, they don’t have any initiative of their own.”</p><p dir="ltr">There’s an element of truth in Semchenko’s statement. No one managed to influence the station’s editorial team in terms of political loyalty. The station’s journalists were neither for Ukraine’s authorities, nor against the opposition. The people who worked at Radio Vesti were a genuinely patriotic team: they travelled to the Donbas to report on the conflict, the whole editorial team gathered donations for people displaced by the conflict, and called the “war” a “war”, not an “Anti-Terrorist Operation”.</p><h2>A very patriotic problem&nbsp;</h2><p dir="ltr">Representing all points of view in today’s Ukraine is<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/oles-petik-galina-gerasym/mirotvorets-utechka"> difficult</a>. I’m not talking about criticising the authorities — president Poroshenko or the Cabinet of Ministers — you can rage against them all you want. I’m talking about criticising the general discourse and the personalised trajectory of Ukrainian politics. If you criticise the country’s values, history, national heroes, call the separatists in the Donbas “militias” or ask whether it was right to force Viktor Yanukovych out, then you’re instantly added to the list of unreliable individuals, you’ll be called an “agent of the Kremlin”. You can’t criticise public opinion. You can’t criticise where the country’s headed.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-25751119-1_3.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="310" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Criticising the general framework of Ukraine's post-Maidan discourse is becoming more difficult. (c) Sergei Chuzavkov / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Radio Vesti definitely caused problems for the authorities. The powers-that-be weren’t afraid that criticism of the government would make it onto the airwaves — there’s no problem with that. Or that the station would start promoting anti-Ukrainian attitudes — though there were concerns about this. </p><p dir="ltr">Their fear, it seems to me, was broader. The station’s audience, who rang in to speak on air throughout the day (their calls weren’t moderated, no one censored the callers), constantly expressed their dissatisfaction. This dissatisfaction continued to grow, taking various forms and charting new boundaries, but the background remained the same — people in Ukraine are unhappy with their lives. Not Ukraine’s politicians per se (that goes without saying), but the way everyday life is going.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">But there’s another truth, too. Certain people wanted to use Radio Vesti for Alexander Klimenko's return to Ukraine</p><p dir="ltr">And so Philippe Lereuth, president of the International Federation of Journalists, is right when he<a href="http://europeanjournalists.org/blog/2017/03/03/ukraine-about-100-jobs-at-risk-following-revocation-of-radio-vestis-licenses/"> says</a>: “The abrupt revocation of Radio Vesti’s license undermines the right to freedom of expression, media pluralism and diversity of media content, which are essential for the running of any democratic society. We condemn such unfair actions by the National Council and ask this body to permit to restart broadcasting immediately until there has been a thorough review of the circumstances around this decision which only succeeds in punishing the public and the station’s employees.”</p><p dir="ltr">But there’s another truth, too. Certain people wanted to use Radio Vesti for the return of Alexander Klimenko to Ukraine. There were stories written about Klimenko's<a href="http://uspishnakraina.com/ru">&nbsp;political party</a>. After a time, the station began to operate “stop list” — a secret list of guests forbidden from appearing on air. Aider Muzhdabaev and Evgeny Kiselyov, prominent journalists who were previously welcome guests, found themselves on it.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/thumb_316.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>June 2016: Alexander Klimenko appears at a Uspishna Kraina ("Successful Country:) forum on tax reform. Source: <a href=https://cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/ArticleImage_123647.jpg>Uspishna Kraina</a>. </span></span></span>According to my information, it was people who were against the station’s new management that were included in this list. And Muzhdabaev is sure that this was part of a broader scheme. </p><p dir="ltr">As he<a href="https://www.facebook.com/ayder.muzhdabaev/posts/1240335416000331"> wrote</a> on Facebook in August 2016: “This media holding is directly controlled from Moscow by a fugitive criminal, an enemy of Ukraine. That’s where they hold their planning meetings, where everything is confirmed now, including the ‘stop list’ of guests who are forbidden to appear on air or be quoted. The list includes many people whose words and actions go against [the station’s] end goal of ‘concession’ — the arrival of the ‘Russian world’ in Ukraine.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The most important point is that Ukrainians have lost what Radio Vesti gave to them — an opportunity to speak to one another</p><p dir="ltr">I’m told that I was also included in this “stop list” several months ago. But not everything here is so obvious. Of course, Radio Vesti was not controlled from Moscow. It’s not that there weren’t attempts to influence the station’s editorial policy from Moscow — but attempts to influence are not the same as successfully influencing.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">That difference — between attempts to influence and actual influence — is not one that many people understood. The station’s employees were accused of “collaborating with the enemy”. And the idea that<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/igor-burdyga/pokupat-ne-obyazatelno"> you can produce honest coverage in these conditions</a> was far from most people’s minds.</p><h2>Finding a common frequency&nbsp;</h2><p dir="ltr">The most important point, however, is that Ukrainians have lost what Radio Vesti gave to them — an opportunity to speak to one another. And that journalists have their lost jobs. In an ideal world, the station would be saved, but with another owner or with self-financing and an end to the pressure from the National Council. But that won’t happen.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The National Council, explaining its actions on completely legal grounds, has removed a good radio station from Ukraine’s airwaves. The radio station’s owners wished to use it to further their own interests. The result is that everyone loses, because Radio Vesti has little in the way of rivals in Ukraine. Can we call this a clean-up of the media market? Yes. And while there’s little in terms of certainty, we can only hope that this will be the last instance of this attitude to the country’s media. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Ukraine’s television networks — companies are owned by opponents of the current authorities — could be next. The Inter television channel is owned by the oligarch Dmitry Firtash, whom a Vienna Court recently <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/21/austria-grants-us-request-to-extradite-ukrainian-mogul-dmytro-firtash">ordered to be extradited to the US on bribery charges</a>, and Sergei Lyovochkin, one of the leaders of Opposition Bloc and once head of Yanukovych’s presidential administration. Meanwhile, the popular television channel 1+1 belongs to the powerful oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, whose PrivatBank holding, the largest bank in the country, has already been taken away. And this is only the top of the list.</p><p dir="ltr">Amid the calls for a newly patriotic media, Ukrainians must defend their access to a plurality of political views and positions. Because once they start going off air, democracy gets an even worse reception.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/igor-burdyga/where-now-for-ukraine-s-brave-new-journalism">Where now for Ukraine’s brave new journalism?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/oles-petik-halyna-herasym/critical-thinking-at-stake-ukraine-s-witch-hunt-against-journali">Critical thinking at (the) stake: Ukraine’s witch hunt against journalism</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/svitlana-zalishchuk-benjamin-ramm/ukraine-and-cancer-of-corruption-conversation-with-svitlana-zalish">Ukraine and the cancer of corruption: a conversation with Svitlana Zalishchuk</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/igor-burdyga/ukraine-s-media-plea-for-pluralism">Ukraine’s media: a plea for pluralism </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-eristavi/terror-against-ukraine-s-journalists-is-fueled-by-political-elites">The terror against Ukraine’s journalists is fuelled by political elites</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Valery Kalnysh Ukraine Beyond propaganda Mon, 06 Mar 2017 11:54:11 +0000 Valery Kalnysh 109251 at https://www.opendemocracy.net What the Russian theatre critics won’t tell you https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/elizaveta-spivakovskaya/what-russian-theatre-critics-won-t-tell-you <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>This new Moscow online journal is devoted to theatre. But it’s more like an activist project than a traditional arts magazine.<strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/elizaveta-spivakovskaya/o-chem-molchat-kritiki" target="_blank"> Русский</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Russian_stage_set_0.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Russian_stage_set_0.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="309" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Set design from the archives of the State Museum of Children’s Theatre, Moscow. Photo CC-by-NC-2.0: Elizabeth / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span><br />The first issue of<em> </em><a href="http://www.giraffee.ru/" target="_blank"><em>Giraffe</em> magazine</a>, launched in November 2016, was a manifesto. The publication sets a distinctive tone — it’s all Sunday afternoon nonchalance and self-deprecating irony. <em>Giraffe</em>’s texts are generally on theatrical themes, but they touch on much more: the time we live in, the links between theatre and other forms of art and spheres of life.</p><p>The articles published by <em>Giraffe</em> magazine aren’t strictly academic, nor are they journalistic in style. Instead, they’re connected by the environment of free-thinking that produced their authors —&nbsp;the majority of <em>Giraffe</em>’s authors hail from the faculty of theatrical history and criticism at GITIS, the Russian Academy of Theatrical Arts based in Moscow. Indeed, GITIS has been in the headlines in recent months due to a <a href="http://www.colta.ru/news/13494" target="_blank">high-profile student protest</a> after the newly appointed rector announced the merger of two faculties, the faculty of theatre history and criticism and the faculty of theatre management and production.</p><p><strong>Anya Zhuk</strong>, the chief editor (and ideologue) of <em>Giraffe</em>, is a recent graduate of the faculty of theatrical history, and told me more about the origins and aims of this magazine.</p><p><strong>I’ve seen your manifesto, but what needs to be read between the lines? What’s Giraffe’s mission?</strong></p><p><em>Giraffe</em> was created in order to listen to how we should respond to life. For me, with my background and education, that means artistic life. But I’m convinced that in some moments a person becomes more than they are.</p><p>After this recent incident at GITIS, for example, many people realised that they had to do something — and that meant breaking their personal boundaries. Before practicing absolute anonymity (for the first month we didn’t attribute authors’ texts), we simply uploaded two large portraits — that was our opinions in their purest form.</p><p>These days, in the media practically everybody writes texts in reaction to specific developments and events. It seems to me that people have grown hungry for their own rhythm, which is as necessary as news itself</p><p>The reality we live in isn’t an easy one, and I want to create a space that will react to it in a lively way. When I founded <em>Giraffe</em>, I wanted to open up a discussion that I’d like to participate in myself.</p><p><strong>How does <em>Giraffe</em> differ from all the other online publications about art and culture? What did you feeling was missing in them, as a reader?

</strong></p><p>These days, in the media practically everybody writes texts in reaction to specific developments and events. It seems to me that people have grown hungry for their own rhythm, which is as necessary as news itself. I wanted a publication with a slower rhythm… unhurried, but still productive.

</p><p><strong>Who writes for <em>Giraffe</em>? Is there some regular pool of contributors?

</strong></p><p>I want to gather people from different professions linked to art criticism under one roof. And I hope that there are enough such people that every one of them can write something personal, in their own handwriting and their own style. I’m looking for people with very different intuitions, topics of interest and rhythms — so that the reader can always find something that speaks to them. One by one, our audience will come to appreciate and trust the publication.</p><p>We have developed our own aesthetic of anonymity: when we wrote our first articles, we signed them under our own names. And then when authors contribute their second articles, we attribute them to “(first name) <em>Giraffe</em>”, highlighting their belonging to a certain community of ideas.</p><p><strong>Where do the boundaries, if any, of <em>Giraffe</em>’s interests lie?</strong></p><p>Well, in a life that revolves around theatre, there are a certain number of topics to talk about. The process of identifying an entirely new trend or theme is very tough — indeed, it can last a lifetime. A vivid example of this for me is the theatre critic Alena Karas, who brought the subjects of <a href="https://www.sakharov-center.ru/discussions/?id=2669" target="_blank">memory</a> and <a href="http://oteatre.info/russkij-nemez-i-polyak/" target="_blank">trauma</a> [links in Russian] to our theatrical discourse. Of course, these are incredibly important topics, but it was only after several years of constantly seeing her public performances that I understood how crucial they are to theatrical life.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">A Russian artist needs a home to work in. These days, it’s easier live in another country and then long to be back in your own home(land), rather than see it doesn’t care for you at all</p><p>The most important thing for me is that everybody finds their own source, their own inspiration as an author. So, we started to discuss what pains us. And that’s how the theme of the first “issue” came into being — emigration.

</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/-Москва_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/-Москва_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="275" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A giraffe at the Moscow Zoo, 2005. Photo: Dmitry Fedoseev / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>It’s a subject to be understood in the broadest possible sense — as the transition from one space to another. A Russian artist needs a home to work in. And these days, it’s much easier live in another country and then long for that home(land), rather than see how that home doesn’t care for you at all.</p><p>Our relationships with our parents and our homes are always the most complicated. I founded Giraffe with the “here and now” on my mind, and that’s what I discussed with the authors. At the moment, we’re preparing an English-language version of the site.</p><p><strong>What exactly does “issue” mean here — that the site is updated on a weekly basis?

</strong></p><p>For us, an issue is simply a topic we’ve found. We work with a lot of people connected to the theatre, cinema, music. We’ve also published a <a href="http://www.giraffee.ru/single-post/2017/01/15/%D0%BF%D1%83%D1%81%D1%82%D0%BE%D1%82%D0%B0" target="_blank">video loop</a> about graffiti, for example. The author Tanya Morales graduated from the Rodchenko Art School in Moscow, and then moved on to the British Higher School of Design. She’s experienced two attitudes to modern life that don’t combine too easily; at the British school, they’re taught that art is a product, and that if you can’t sell it successfully, you’re not worthwhile. The Rodchenko school teaches the very opposite.</p><p>One of our tasks at <em>Giraffe</em> is to create a journal that can address these various — commercial, non-commercial — art forms, but doesn’t become a product itself.</p><p><strong>

Who are “we”? Tell me a little about your fellow editors.</strong></p><p>We have two editorial boards. One is responsible for editing texts, for stylistic changes. The other is the design collective, which ensures that the essence remains unchanged. My personal example here is Amy Winehouse. When she went on stage, she just sang. She couldn’t really do anything else — that was her essence. She wasn’t able to create a product herself; her entire image was created by others — directors, choreographers, musicians. And without that form, there would have been no performance. I’d like authors from<em> Giraffe</em> to sing well, but I still spend a lot of time on giving the publication a unified form.

</p><p><strong>What’s your audience? Who are you writing for?

</strong></p><p>We founded our publication for the intuitive and intellectual reader. As I see it, there are two types of people — some understand the world through essence, others through form. I want <em>Giraffe</em> to appeal to both, to people on different wavelengths. These days, readers are tired of incessant advertisements, and of native advertising mixed in with real articles by real authors. We want to create “a zone of trust” between the reader and publication. It’s important for us to maintain independent expert opinion on the site.</p><p>We also ask that our judgements not be seen as political. When we’re critical, it means we want movements and tendencies [in art] to continue and adapt, not to die out. We work to create art anew, not to destroy the old. Our goal is simply to observe the fascinating development of art, in all its directions. We seek readers who are interested to watch that process alongside us. </p><p><strong>
The debate around the GITIS faculty of theatrical history and criticism was closely connected to the current rector’s belief that theatre criticism is a field in crisis, and is in need of renewal. What do you make of his declaration?
</strong></p><p>As I see it, the protest at the faculty of theatrical history and criticism was a reaction to the rector’s view that the faculty needs to “identify itself”, as it were.</p><p>But there’s no problem with identity here. In fact, the field faces exactly the opposite problem — theatrical criticism is extremely closed, perhaps even self-obsessed, and has shuttered itself away from change and new ideas. Any other criticism could have been made, but don’t tell theatre critics that they don’t know who they are. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/jpg_5." rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/jpg_5." alt="" title="" width="460" height="269" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Theatre students from St. Petersburg protesting in defence of their colleagues at GITIS. Photo: tvc.ru / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Producers and theatre managers are exactly the same — they know very well who they are. It’s not that the two fields and faculties have fallen out, it’s that they both need change in very different ways. In that sense, the protest was logical enough — it’s becoming clearer that the rector’s policy is more aimed at blurring disciplinary boundaries and attracting Big Names to the institution, rather than addressing existing problems.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">There’s a global division afoot between mass professions and individual jobs. The latter, where the skills and gifts required for success occur once every few years, have to survive in globalisation

</p><p>When it comes to education at the faculty, I’ve nothing to say against the theatre experts and dramatists — but I do see big problems in the press. I gathered together writers in the field who hadn’t yet been able to find proper work (or hadn’t tried to). Several had already written dissertations, so I asked them to write their thoughts. They turned out to be very impressive specialists. A cultural critic, after all, isn’t somebody who rushes around, chasing stories, but somebody who takes the time to reflect and lead a reader through their thoughts. 

</p><p><strong>What kind of place does <em>Giraffe</em> magazine give authors to find their own voice, to write about theatre or whatever their particular passion? </strong></p><p>

I saw “<a href="https://www.schaubuehne.de/en/produktionen/atmen.html" target="_blank">Lungs</a>”, Katie Mitchell’s play, in Berlin. It was a minimalist installation featuring two small black wooden tables, upon which actors sat on bicycles, pedalling and chatting to one another. They talked about ecology, giving birth to children, and any number of other topics. For the first couple of minutes I felt that I’d got the point and was already a bit bored. Over the course of the next three days in Berlin, I almost forgot that I had seen the production at all. But it seemed to me as if I was overhearing the heroes’ discussions in crowds; that I had simply taken in the chatter of this city as if by osmosis. Over four days, the play had gradually and imperceptibly opened itself up before me, and I saw that it had been a very modern, very perceptive piece of art. That’s when I understood that we shouldn’t write immediately about plays we have just seen.</p><p>Many theatre critics see a play, go back home and resume talking about whatever they want to talk about. And I’m left wondering what the authors of that play left “for themselves” after they wrote it.

</p><p><strong>Is <em>Giraffe</em> magazine a volunteer-run project?</strong></p><p>

No. All of our authors are also motivated by a financial interest. In some ways, <em>Giraffe</em> is an attempt to run a creative project as a business model. A volunteer-run creative endeavour, unsupported by a coherent internal structure, is doomed to fail — sooner or later. We’re now looking for sponsors, and although there is a commercial aspect, I still want our project to be an artistic and creative space. We’re looking for partners who value their reputation and have a high sense of creativity in their work. It’s a small project, so I think we’ll find something.

</p><p><strong>You said that you’ve already decided on the topics of the next two issues?

 </strong></p><p>Yes, we’ve identified two issues that we’re really itching to cover. One is, simply, “time”. Or rather, time as a category of time, in terms of how it’s interpreted and performed in different artistic genres; its changes and leaps. </p><p>We also want to talk about education, the transfer of knowledge. And that’s not simply about official systems of education, schools and universities — for example, we’d like to reflect on how different cultures are transmitted among populations, and different concepts of education: whether teacher-student, self-learning, or the movement towards online study. 

</p><p>In recent decades, the global need for higher education has radically altered, turning traditional structures of education upside-down. There’s a global division afoot between mass professions and individual jobs. The latter, where the skills and gifts required to be successful occur once every few years, have to survive in globalisation. 
For that, we need the state to pay attention and lend a hand in the difficult process of keeping institutions like GITIS afloat.</p><p>I believe that theatrical education can still attract the attention from government officials in Russia, especially if they’re interested in maintaining a high level of expert specialists. But the overarching theme here is freedom of choice for young people. How is tradition passed down, and how is this freedom affected? You’ll soon be able to read our authors’, our giraffes’ thoughts on this. And they’re likely to be of very different positions — we’re a very diverse crowd, and we love to argue with one another.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards-andrei-urodov/russia-without-whom">Russia without whom?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/vladimir-itkin/ordinary-yet-exceptional-people-of-russia-s-provinces">The ordinary, yet exceptional people of Russia’s provinces</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/kirill-kobrin/columnist-s-work-is-never-done">A columnist’s work is never done</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Elizaveta Spivakovskaya Unlikely Media Russia Beyond propaganda Cultural politics Thu, 02 Mar 2017 10:29:08 +0000 Elizaveta Spivakovskaya 109177 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Listening to Russia’s female migrants https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/fergana-news/listening-russia-female-migrants-gul-magazine <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>How a new multilingual magazine in St Petersburg is giving a voice to female migrants from Central Asia.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Gul_Magazine.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Gul_Magazine.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="161" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Masthead of Gul, a new St. Petersburg-based magazine written by and for female migrants from Central Asia. Illustration by Sufi Nazar Guli, courtesy of Fergana News. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span><br /><em>This article by Ekaterina Ivashchenko originally appeared in Russian at the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.fergananews.com/articles/9254" target="_blank">Fergana.News information agency</a>, a leading source of information on Central Asia. We are grateful for their permission to translate and republish it here.</em><br /><br />The first issue of <em>Gul</em> was published in St Petersburg in mid-December 2016. The newspaper, whose name translates as “flower”, isn’t just for women from central Asia — it’s produced <em>by</em> them, too. All of the publication’s founders are current or former labour migrants from the region, who are well versed in the problems faced by central Asian women arriving in Russia to work. In their words, these women face double the discrimination, due to both gender and legal status. Their need for help is twice as great. </p><p>That’s where <em>Gul </em>comes in, offering female migrants from Central Asia assistance, solidarity — and the opportunity to voice their own concerns and their own stories. As the publication’s readers are mostly from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, <em>Gul</em> is a multilingual newspaper — each issue features articles in Kyrgyz, Tajik, Uzbek as well as Russian. Below, the editors of <em>Gul</em> discuss their project and their own experiences as migrants.</p><h2>Two times a stranger</h2><p>Not only are the Gul team all women; they’re young women. Some of them aren’t yet 20. The initiator of the project, Petersburg resident Yulia Alimova, has been dealing with labour migration for several years.</p><p>“I was working for Observers of St Petersburg, a local NGO, when my colleagues decided to start free Russian-language lessons for the children of migrants. We soon found a place to hold them and began teaching in spring 2012, naming the course ‘<a href="https://vk.com/knowyourlanguage" target="_blank">Children of St Petersburg</a>.’ From the very start they were intended for kids in kindergarten or those in the earlier school grades. We soon broadened the range of courses, and began classes for migrants up to the age of 20.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“Migrant women face double the discrimination, due to both gender and legal status. Their need for help is twice as great. That’s where&nbsp;<em>Gul&nbsp;</em>comes in”</p><p>All told, over 500 people engaged with the project — some of them studied with us for just two months, other stayed for two years. Most students are emigres from Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, but lately we’ve welcomed people from Afghanistan, Syria and Ukraine. Many children who come to us already have enough basic Russian for everyday life, but not enough to enrol in a Russian-language school. Our teachers have either worked as volunteers in other projects, or they’re students or recent graduates themselves,” says Yuliya.</p><p>Soon, the team realised that for their project to be sustainable, they’d have to attract migrant volunteers. The guys were lucky; Guli, a girl from Kyrgyzstan who spoke Kyrgyz, English, Russian and Uzbek, came on board. A relative of one of the students also joined them.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Turkmen_Woman_Urgench_2.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Turkmen_Woman_Urgench_2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="283" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Turkmen woman in Khiva, Uzbekistan, 2007. CC-by-2.0: Yaluker / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>“We then decided to found a new project specifically about female labour migrants, who have to endure all the hardships of migration and then some — they are the targets of even worse discrimination. We decided to found a newspaper, though admittedly it sometimes looks more like an information pamphlet. All articles are translated into Kyrgyz, Russian, Tajik and Uzbek, and the team gets some small remuneration for writing, editing and translating the texts. The first issue had a print run of 1,000 and the second of 2,000. The third will have to depend on demand,” Yuliya explains.</p><p>The magazine is distributed free of charge at migrants’ workplaces or in the government offices where they queue to collect documents. In Yulia’s words, the editorial team are free to choose topics which they feel are closest to their audience, such as women’s health or access to local kindergartens and schools for their children. They also provide information about organisations which work with migrants. The first issue profiled Children of St Petersburg, with an invitation to Russian-language courses. A young woman from Kyrgyzstan who studies medicine in St. Petersburg prepared an article about health problems during pregnancy.</p><p>“We could have attracted more experienced journalists to our project, but we particularly wanted to work with migrant women who are directly affected by the subjects we cover,” notes Yuliya. Furthermore, in working with us they gain additional skills. We have bigger ambitions for Gul — it should become a fully-established publication, issued on a regular basis. We want to release the third edition on 8 March [international women’s day], to be distributed with postcards for women. On 1 June [children’s day], we’ll hand out paper dolls with Gul and organise a festival for the migrants’ children.”</p><h2>Sufi’s story</h2><p>One of <em>Gul</em>’s regular authors Sufi Nazar Guli recently returned to her hometown of Osh after several attempts to make things work out in Russia.&nbsp;</p><p>“I was born in Isfana, graduated from university in Osh, and then studied on a two-year master’s programme in Japan” begins Guli. “After that, I returned home and got married. I thought that with an international education and language skills I could make a career for myself in Osh, but after the events of June 2010, life there changed completely. I couldn’t teach at the university, and my husband and his two brothers lost their business. They left for St Petersburg, where they tried to survive by doing any number of informal jobs.</p><p>Having worked as a teacher at a private school, I saved up money for a plane ticket and joined my husband. We told our relatives that we wanted to get Russian citizenship for the whole family, since there was no chance of building a successful career nor finding good work at home. Life in St Petersburg was tough for me — I constantly felt belittled and was treated unpleasantly. I understand that many of those who go to Russia for work who are very poorly-educated, and so are not often accepted into Russian society. And I felt the same stereotype applied to me, too. After six months I couldn’t bear it any longer. I told my husband that I’d return to Osh and live without him, as I couldn’t ignore the local attitude to migrants.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Osh_Bazaar.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Osh_Bazaar.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="297" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A woman sells grains at a bazaar in Osh, southern Kyrgyzstan, 2009. CC-by-NC-ND-2.0: eatsworlds / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>With the coming of the economic crisis, my husband’s situation worsened. He’d work between 12 and 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for a miserly wage. We decided to go and find work in Tyumen, where my sister lived. I applied for a temporary residence permit, but we weren’t able to adapt to the Siberian winter — my child and I often fell ill. Moreover, my husband wasn’t given a salary for six months, so we again went our separate ways — he to Petersburg and I back to Osh. Russian citizenship no longer seemed the key to our problems, and I left my ambitions behind. I had become pregnant again, and wanted to return to my parents in Osh. After a long time in Russia, I suffered from culture shock in Kyrgyzstan. I also became terrified after hearing stories of fatalities in the local maternity ward.</p><p>My husband also didn’t see any prospects in returning home, particularly since Kyrgyzstan had just joined the Eurasian Economic Union and he redoubled his efforts to find a half-decent job. After the birth of my second child in Petersburg, I found a organisation where my knowledge and skills could be put to use. The main thing for me was that I could interact with people and wasn’t sitting at home all day. I understood that I had to help others in my situation. That’s how I found Yuliya and her Children of St Petersburg project, where there were not enough Russian language teachers for the children of migrants. I wrote them a letter, saying that I knew English, Russian and Uzbek, and started work as a volunteer teacher in their language courses. I arrived to the first lesson with my own children. Children of St. Petersburg is the only organisation which didn’t turn me away because of my marital status, and even allowed me to take my two-year old son to work. At the same time, I was even able to find a kindergarten for my older son.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Women from our part of the world aren’t used to sharing their experiences in public, so <em>Gul</em>&nbsp;allows them to learn that, as well as practical writing and organisational skills</p><p>After a while, we decided that the children and I had to return to Osh, which would allow my husband to save more money to buy our very own house. After years of wandering, I accepted my fate and just before new year, bought plane tickets and returned to Osh. Just then, I was offered paid work in St Petersburg, but it was already too late. I came to understand that it’s hard for central Asians to put down roots in Russia, and I wanted my children to grow up in their own country — even though they now know Russian better than Uzbek.</p><p>As concerns my work with <em>Gul</em>, Yuliya had wanted to do something for female migrants for some time. First we started a VK page [<em>a popular Russian social network - ed.</em>], and then decided to publish a newspaper. I write articles for the paper remotely, and translate other authors’ materials into Uzbek. Women from our part of the world are not used to sharing their experiences in public, so Gul is an opportunity to develop the habit, to discuss our position in society and what we feel is important. </p><p>My first article came out in the second edition of the paper. In it, I showed through the example of my own family that despite being scattered across different countries, longing for our loved ones should not lead to a disillusionment with life. My husband was supportive. He complains that he wasn’t able to achieve his career goal and become an expert in international relations, so always supports my aspiration to be a respected expert in my own country. He feels that a mother’s role is more important in a child’s upbringing than the father’s, so wants through my example to show our children the value of education, self-confidence and of never giving up” — concludes Guli.</p><h2>A little piece of land</h2><p>Another author from Gul is the 19 year-old Dilnoza Ashurova, a native of Penjikent, Tajikistan. Her father left to work in Russia when she was just three years old, returning after she turned six. He then left for Russia again, but this time took Dilnoza’s mother with him. She and her younger sister went to live with their grandmother. When Dilnoza was eight, her father passed away in Moscow, and there was nobody left to support the family. In 2007, Dilnoza’s mother and cousin left for St Petersburg, and Dilnoza joined her in 2012, studying in a Russian school for two years. The young girl couldn’t stay in St Petersburg, as she was told by her teachers that as she had no nationality, she wouldn’t receive a certificate. Dilnoza returned to Tajikistan, and finished school there instead.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“My mother is a trained gynaecologist, but now works as a saleswoman in a bakery in St Petersburg”</p><p>After receiving my certificate and passport in summer 2016, I returned to my mother and enrolled in the St Petersburg State Technical University, in the faculty of economics and management. I wanted to become a doctor, but I can’t study for the required nine years. My mother is paying for my education, but I help her out too. My mum is a trained gynaecologist, but now works as a saleswoman in a bakery. After work, I join her for a few hours and make a bit of money. She doesn’t plan on remaining in Russia forever, while I’d like to stay here. Once my little sister finishes school, we’ll also bring her over here. Our dream is to save up money for our own house in Tajikistan — and gradually, that’s what we’re doing. My mother’s already bought some land” — says Dilnoza.</p><p>Dilnoza lives with her mother in a two-bedroom flat, where they share one of the rooms with another three migrant women. The other room is occupied by an Uzbek family, a husband and wife. Everyone pays 4,000 roubles each.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_01472942.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_01472942.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Dzhurayev family from Tajikistan in their flat in suburban Moscow, which they rent with other labour migrants from Central Asia. (c) Ilya Pitalev / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Dilnoza found out about Children of St Petersburg from her mother. While working at the bakery kiosk, she was handed a flyer about the organisation. Dilnoza got in touch with Yuliya, telling her that she was 19 years old and already knew Russian well. Yuliya asked her to let them know of any migrants’ children who didn’t speak the language.&nbsp;</p><p>“That’s how we got to know each other and started talking on social media” says Dilnoza. “Yuliya told me her idea about a newspaper for migrant women, which interested me. We thought up a name and a few topics to begin with, and attended classes on layouts and formatting for publications. At first, my mother was quite cautious about the project, so Yuliya even showed up at our home to tell her about it in person and reassure her. In my first article, I looked at places in the city where migrants can go to relax on their days off. In the second, I wrote about holidays in February and March. All of us distribute the newspaper in person so see at first hand how much interest there is in our project. We’d like to take it even further.”&nbsp;</p><h2>The art of the possible</h2><p>Gulasal Bakhtierova from the Uzbek city of Urgench is also 19 years old. Her parents have worked in Petersburg for ten years. Her mother is a qualified teacher but works as a chef. Her father, a qualified lawyer, is now a sales manager. Five years ago, Gulasal joined her parents, taking her younger sister. However, she wasn’t accepted by the school due to her lack of Russian language skills. Gulasal spent an entire year with her at home, and then returned to Uzbekistan to live with their grandmother, where her sister enrolled in a local Russian-language school. One and a half years ago, the girls returned to their parents in St Petersburg. Gulasal began studies at the college of pharmacy, and her younger sister was finally accepted into high school.&nbsp;</p><p>“At the moment, I’m getting vocational training. Afterwards, I plan to continue my studies at the medical academy. My parents pay 95,000 roubles a year (£1,307) for my education, some 7,000 more than Russian citizens. I enrolled immediately — if there are no problems with documents or registration in Russia, then it’s not difficult. I’m hardly the only migrant studying in our group: there are another five from various Central Asian countries. I always wanted to become a journalist, but my parents insisted on medicine, which they felt had greater prospects” — says Gulasal.&nbsp;</p><p>Nevertheless, Gulasal’s dream lives on, and she writes texts for <em>Gul</em> with great enthusiasm. Her parents are not against their daughter’s involvement, as she gets a small fee for her articles.&nbsp;</p><p>“At first I worked for Children of St Petersburg and taught the kids Russian. That’s how I found out about the newspaper and wanted to play a part in it, writing and translating articles into Uzbek. My first article was about a woman from Tajikistan whose child had been able to learn Russian with us, so was accepted into a local school. In my second piece I told readers how to apply for a place for their children in local schools. I noticed that often migrant parents don’t even try, believing that their children will be rejected in any case. Through our family’s example, I explained that it is possible and not as daunting as it may at first seem&nbsp;</p><p>Have I encountered discrimination? Rarely. Or rather, I try not to pay attention to it. Well-brought up people don’t treat us badly. Teachers at college even make a special effort to help us. As for newspapers, we distributed the first edition at the market. When Russians hand out <em>Gul</em>, migrants are more sceptical about the project — but when we do, they show more interest. Once, I was handing out the newspaper and a young Uzbek woman noticed an article about pregnancy. She was incredulous — ‘what on earth are you giving me this for?’ I was embarrassed, but that’s exactly why we do what we do — so that migrant women overcome their shyness and learn to discuss these issues more openly.”</p><p><em>Digital versions of </em><em>Gul</em><em> magazine can be <a href="https://vk.com/gazetagul" target="_blank">downloaded from the newspaper’s VK page</a></em>.</p><p><em>Translated from Russian by Maxim Edwards.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/agnieszka-pikulicka-wilczewska/women-of-brest-station">The women of Brest Station</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach-ilya-budraitskis/dreams-of-europe-refugees-and-xenophobia-in-russia-and-ukra">Dreams of Europe: refugees and xenophobia in Russia and Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/olga-gulina/redrawing-map-of-migration-patterns">Re-drawing the map of migration patterns </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/refugee-family-s-ordeal-in-russia">A refugee family’s ordeal in Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ivan-zhilin/warped-mirror-how-russian-media-covers-europe%E2%80%99s-refugee-crisis">Warped mirror: how Russian media covers Europe’s refugee crisis </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Fergana News Unlikely Media Russia Beyond propaganda Central Asia Fri, 24 Feb 2017 09:41:32 +0000 Fergana News 109045 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Where now for Ukraine’s brave new journalism? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/igor-burdyga/where-now-for-ukraine-s-brave-new-journalism <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="normal">Three years on from the start of Ukraine’s democratic revolution, freedom of speech still isn’t valued by the authorities. And there’s only more ways to shut down debate. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/igor-burdyga/pokupat-ne-obyazatelno">Русский</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02434810.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02434810.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="298" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A protester reads a newspaper in the tent camp on the Maidan in Kyiv, 2014. (c) Maxim Blinov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><br />The start of 2017 saw Ukraine shaken by another <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/politician-makes-claims-of-vast-corruption-in-ukraine-a7452961.html">“tape scandal”</a>. Alexander Onishchenko, a Ukrainian MP who recently fled the country (and is accused of embezzling funds from a state-owned gas producer), has <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/politician-makes-claims-of-vast-corruption-in-ukraine-a7452961.html">accused </a>president Petro Poroshenko of allegedly creating a huge system of political corruption. From the safety of the UK and now Germany, Onishchenko has<a href="https://www.kyivpost.com/ukraine-politics/onyshchenko-makes-sweeping-claims-poroshenko-graft.html"> </a><a href="https://www.kyivpost.com/ukraine-politics/onyshchenko-makes-sweeping-claims-poroshenko-graft.html">claimed</a> that, at the direction of Ukraine’s president, he personally bribed parliamentary colleagues and members of the Central Election Commission, organised a smear campaign against former premier Arseniy Yatsenyuk and much else besides. </p><p class="normal">Onishchenko is yet to provide convincing evidence of these claims — the supposed audio recordings of secret negotiations involving president Poroshenko. That said, there is enough information in Onishchenko’s allegations which correspond to real events that we should at least consider them a potential version of the truth.</p> <p class="normal">On the whole, this story — in which a fugitive corrupt official accuses the head of state of even further corruption — is, despite its absurdity, all too Ukrainian. And the fact that, instead of clear repudiations, the Presidential Administration is blaming the “hand of the Kremlin” and, via lawyers, <a href="https://twitter.com/MaxRTucker/status/806767647371108352">threatening legal consequences for western media</a> that publish interviews with Onishchenko, illustrates all too well the attitude of the current Ukrainian authorities to criticism and freedom of expression.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>Pay up and shut up</strong></h2> <p class="normal">One of Onishchenko’s first statements was made at the end of September 2016, in which the people’s deputy stated that he had been involved in negotiations in summer 2015 over the sale of a popular Ukrainian TV channel, 112, on behalf of Poroshenko. Allegedly, Ukraine’s head of state thus planned to change the editorial stance of 112, a 24/7 news channel which has frequently criticised the government. To put it simply: Poroshenko’s team were allegedly going to “give them [112] money to shut up”.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">This happens in Ukraine, albeit not often. The last time was in summer 2013, when Sergei Kurchenko, a young businessman close to ex-president Viktor Yanukovych, bought Ukraine’s only large non-oligarch-owned media project, Ukraine Media Holding. This company owned numerous media, including the Ukrainian <em>Forbes</em>, which was actively investigating Kurchenko’s activities at the time.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">“The zone of freedom of expression is narrowing,” said Mikhail Kotov, editor-in-chief of Ukrainian <em>Forbes</em>, after journalists, unhappy with the first signs of censorship, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=237317939760925">began to leave outlets owned by UMH Group</a> in late 2013.</p> <p class="normal">Several months later, journalists went out onto the Maidan to protest against the winding up of democracy with precisely this slogan in mind.&nbsp;</p><p class="normal"><span class="mag-quote-center">Our outlet’s owners may have wished otherwise, but we couldn’t close our eyes to Russian aggression at that time</span></p> <p class="normal">It was at that time, the first days of EuroMaidan, that the 112 TV channel started broadcasting in Ukraine. This timing, together with the channel’s complicated ownership structure, profitable licensing and inspiring investments, gave grounds to connect the new channel with the “Family”, the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergii-leshchenko/ukraine-yanukovychs-family-spreads-its-tentacles">elite grouping around ex-president Viktor Yanukovych</a>.</p> <p class="normal">At this point, the Family, which had grown rich on corruption schemes, had been actively investing in the media business for several years. It seems that the Family, concerned with their influence at the upcoming elections, were trying to encourage competition against existing media that belonged to the “old oligarchs”.</p> <p class="normal">Channel 112 was the last such media project. Among Ukraine’s media community, people connected the new channel to Vitaly Zakharchenko, minister of interior affairs at the time. <em>Capital</em>, a business daily launched in 2013 was linked to Sergei Arbuzov, former head of Ukraine’s National Bank; and the emergent Vesti media holding was thought to be in the hands of Alexander Klimenko, Ukraine’s then-minister of revenue. It goes without saying that, with the start of the protests, the Family’s media were supposed to support the authorities — this was the task their owners gave them, based on the same tactic of “give them money to shut up”. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Onishchenko_Press_Skype_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Onishchenko_Press_Skype_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="277" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Aleksandr Onishchenko gives a press conference via Skype on corruption in Ukraine. Kyiv, December 2016. Video still: Ukrayinski Novyny / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span><br />At the time, I worked for one of the Family’s media, the magazine <em>Vesti.Reporter</em>,<em> </em>which belonged to the holding of the same name. It seems funny to recall this now, but, every week, my colleagues and I would anxiously read through the latest issue of the magazine looking for signs of censorship. Yet, throughout those three months of protest, Euromaidan remained for the magazine, and for many other “Family” media, our number one topic.&nbsp; </p><p class="normal">Indeed, perhaps it was precisely these concerns over censorship that helped us maintain the balance between our personal sympathies and the need for a professional, critical view of what was happening. At least, that’s how it seemed to us.</p> <p class="normal">From the side of the protests, though, Family media began to be targeted more and more with accusations of propaganda. Opposition journalists, who were fighting for freedom of the press and democracy, quickly learned not to notice the revolution’s shortcomings: the lack of organisation, the unjustifiable violence, the backroom deals and absence of a positive programme.</p> <p class="normal">This mutual distrust soon spread through Ukraine’s media community, splitting it into “insiders” and “outsiders”. And when, a few days before the bloody clashes of 18 February, I shared my plans to investigate the paramilitary group Right Sector with one respected editor-in-chief, he told me: “It’s a good story, but if I read it in your magazine, I won’t believe it.” A few days later, my colleague Vyacheslav Veremiy was <a href="https://www.cpj.org/killed/2014/vyacheslav-veremiy.php">murdered</a>, and this news failed to provoke even compassion from some colleagues — instead, people reminded him on Facebook of an<a href="http://vesti-ukr.com/kiev/31612-putany-s-okruzhnoj-perebralis-na-majdan"> </a><a href="http://vesti-ukr.com/kiev/31612-putany-s-okruzhnoj-perebralis-na-majdan">article</a> he’d written six weeks earlier about how prostitutes had been working on the Maidan.</p> <h2>Don’t forgive your enemies&nbsp;</h2> <p class="normal">After the revolution, the Family fled the country together with Viktor Yanukovych. Several of their media projects, including 112 and Vesti, continued to operate, receiving financing by other means. This gave them the opportunity to cover what happened after Maidan — annexation of Crimea, protests in the Donbas, the start of the Anti-Terrorist Operation — in depth.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Our outlet’s owners may have wished otherwise, but we couldn’t close our eyes to Russian aggression at that time. But at the same time, we couldn’t ignore the failings of the new authorities who had taken responsibility for the country at such a difficult moment.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">However, the idea that “criticism was unwelcome” in revolutionary conditions soon developed. For many of my journalist colleagues, it was around this time that a powerful idea crystallised: to criticise the authorities or army was <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/igor-burdyga/ukraine-s-media-plea-for-pluralism">a path to treachery</a>. Any critical remarks towards the government or army leadership was compared to the work of Russian propaganda. News of mistakes on the frontline, calls for peaceful negotiations, indignation at the corruption which went nowhere came to be perceived as mere elements in the information war.&nbsp;</p><p class="normal"><span class="mag-quote-center">Today, the drawn-out armed conflict and open foreign aggression allows the Ukrainian authorities to justify limits on press freedom on patriotic grounds</span></p> <p class="normal">All of this gave those who wanted to destroy the “Family media” a free hand. At first, patriotic civic organisations called for their boycott, then picketed&nbsp; “hostile” outlets and even attacked people distributing their newspapers.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">At the same time, the authorities searched for legal measures of influence. As the authorities investigated potential schemes of shadow financing, regular searches began to be carried out in the newsrooms of media projects “connected to the Family”. For quoting separatists in a reportage piece, a criminal case was<a href="http://gordonua.com/news/society/sbu-zavela-delo-na-vesti-reporter-i-obyavila-v-rozysk-eks-glavreda-izdaniya-85558.html"> </a><a href="http://gordonua.com/news/society/sbu-zavela-delo-na-vesti-reporter-i-obyavila-v-rozysk-eks-glavreda-izdaniya-85558.html">opened</a> against <em>Vesti.Reporter</em>, the magazine I worked for, on the basis this was equal to calling for the overthrow of Ukraine’s constitutional order. Other outlets did this too, but only our texts received the forensic linguistic treatment. The criminal case is still open, and today, a year since <em>Vesti.Reporter </em>closed, the magazine is being used to <a href="https://strana.ua/news/49846-vlasti-gotovyat-ataku-na-internet-gazetu-strana.html">put pressure on Strana.ua</a>, an online news portal created by former Vesti employees.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-24140098_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-24140098_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A journalist’s view of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, 2015. (c) Sergei Chuzavkov / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><br />Closing off Family TV channels and radio was easier still. Ukraine’s state television and radio regulator, which is under presidential control, still monitors their broadcasts closely, giving out warnings for the slightest infringement. Now it simply refuses to renew licenses on formal grounds (which are ignored in other cases). This is why, for instance, Radio Vesti hasn’t been able to expand its reach beyond the big cities for several years, or why the TV channel 112 can’t go digital, which limits its audience to viewers on satellite and cable networks. I&nbsp; </p><p class="normal">In the Yanukovych era, this kind of pressure on media would have provoked severe indignation in the professional community. But today, the drawn-out armed conflict and open foreign aggression allows the Ukrainian authorities to justify limits on press freedom on patriotic grounds. In this situation, it’s unlikely that president Poroshenko would have to purchase Channel 112 or hire Alexander Onishchenko to do so — you don’t even need money to shut opposition media up anymore.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>Forever friends</strong><strong>&nbsp;</strong></h2> <p class="normal">On 28 November 2016, on the third anniversary of TV channel 112’s launch, its audience reached 4.4m people. This is a high, albeit situative, figure for a news channel in Ukraine — it’s several times bigger than Channel 5, which belongs to president Poroshenko.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">But 112’s ratings are nothing compared to Ukraine’s big channels, which are owned by the country’s four main oligarchs — Rinat Akhmetov, Dmitry Firtash, Igor Kolomoisky and Viktor Pinchuk. According to<a href="http://tampanel.com.ua/uk/rubrics/programms/"> </a><a href="http://tampanel.com.ua/uk/rubrics/programms/">Nielsen’s TV ratings</a>, in November, the oligarchs’ channels occupied the first ten lines of the most popular programmes, with a total share of more than 67% of the population above the age of four.</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">The fight against the oligarchs has gradually evaporated from Ukraine’s media&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">The “Big Four” have formed their media empires over the past two decades, receiving an unprecedented monopoly on access to audiences. People can pick up these channels easily. Cable operators in big cities are obliged to include them in their TV packages. And all of this is more or less free.</p> <p class="normal">In Ukraine, the television business is very costly and pathologically unprofitable. However, the oligarchs are yet to grow tired of investing their money in it. They have other sources of income and can run their media holdings at a financial loss, but a political gain, thereby maintaining a powerful tool of political influence. Competing with one another for millions of viewers, oligarch media attract viewers in the first place with their entertainment content — new shows and serials, live sports and concerts.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Ukraine’s journalism, too, has gradually transformed into a well-directed show. When you watch the news, first you get the patriotic reportage from the frontline, then you get a careful measure of <em>chernukha</em> (a social or criminal segment that is <a href="http://calvertjournal.com/comment/show/57/chernukha-little-vera-cargo-200">shocking in its detail or depravity</a>),<em> </em>then comes the investigative piece that chimes with the business interests of the channel’s owner. The pluralism of expert opinions that emerges in the Sunday night talk show, as a rule, also follows the tactic of diversifying political investments.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">The <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergii-leshchenko/ukraine-s-corrupt-counter-revolution">fight against the oligarchs</a>, calls for which sounded during EuroMaidan three years ago, and which the president declared a priority, has gradually evaporated from Ukraine’s media. Ukraine’s new law on transparency of media ownership merely confirmed what everyone had known for a long time anyway. The obligatory broadcast of analogue channels by cable operators is set to end this year, but even this has played into the hands of the media groups. Now they can demand money for this service.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Of course, the oligarch’s channels still come into conflict with the authorities. For instance, last year interior minister Arsen Avakov tried to head up the battle against Dmitry Firtash’s Inter TV. (Avakov has his own score to settle with Firtash in Ukraine’s gas sector.) Avakov and members of his National Front party (which has quite a few people from the media in it) launched an aggressive campaign against the channel. Inter was accused of playing to the agenda of Opposition Bloc, a coalition of old Yanukovych-era forces, cooperating with Kremlin propagandists and separatist authorities, and broadcasting insufficiently patriotic programmes and films.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Inter_TV_Arson_0.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Inter_TV_Arson_0.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="271" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Arson at the Inter TV offices in Kyiv, September 2016. Image still: Glavnoe.ua / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span><br />Having exhausted all legal methods — appeals to the media regulator, letters to the security services — the minister resorted to a more radical approach. During a protest in September 2016, organised by veterans of volunteer battalions close to Avakov, an office of a news production company that works for Inter was <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-eristavi/terror-against-ukraine-s-journalists-is-fueled-by-political-elites">set on fire</a>. The investigation, which is being conducted by the Avakov-controlled police, still hasn’t identified the culprits. In any case, Inter TV continues to operate as if nothing has happened, but it never misses a chance to accuse Avakov of every mortal sin.&nbsp; </p><p class="normal">At the end of 2016, Igor Kolomoisky’s TV channel 1+1 started a conflict with the state. After the nationalisation of Kolomoisky’s Privatbank, the largest bank in the country, 1+1 accused the National Bank of incorrect policy and the “seizure” of a successful business. A few days later, 1+1 stated that there had been an attempt to recall its broadcast license, although after a few stressful days, it nevertheless received renewed permission.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">As we can see, Ukraine’s oligarch-owned TV channels always keep within certain boundaries in their confrontation with the authorities. The result is that they maintain their place in the airwaves. Inter TV never misses a chance to accuse Avakov of all mortal sins, and 1+1 - the chance to criticise the head of the National Bank. The Ukraina channel praises its owner Rinat Akhmetov on a daily basis for his humanitarian aid to people in the Donbas. Viktor Pinchuk’s ICTV doesn’t forget to stress the role of its owner’s father-in-law <a href="http://en.interfax.com.ua/news/general/384376.html">Leonid Kuchma</a> in the Minsk negotiations. And all of them modestly are silent about Petro Poroshenko.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">In September 2016, <em>Vox Ukraine</em> conducted a <a href="http://voxukraine.org/2016/09/07/tv-censorship-ru/">content analysis</a> of these four channels’ Sunday newscasts over the past two years. They came to a startling conclusion — of the many of mentions of Poroshenko in the news, only one to two percent of them were critical of Ukraine’s head of state. Yanukovych couldn’t even dream of this kind of approval.&nbsp;</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">Despite these disquieting stories on the failings of oligarch-controlled media, it’s clear that independent journalism in Ukraine has experienced a recovery since 2014</p> <p class="normal">The situation with Alexander Onishchenko’s <em>kompromat</em>, or “compromising material”, has once again drawn attention to this situation. Experts from <a href="http://osvita.mediasapiens.ua/view/media_sapiens/">MediaSapiens</a>, which monitors compliance with journalistic standards in Ukraine’s news, note that in broadcasts throughout December 2016, leading television channels <a href="http://osvita.mediasapiens.ua/tv_radio/1411981046/prirucheni_psi_demokratii_yak_ukrainski_zmi_zakhischayut_poroshenka/">attempted to pass over the scandal</a>. Instead, correspondents focused on the crimes Onishchenko is accused of, and his attempts to sow discord in Ukrainian politics. But almost nobody dared to broadcast the accusations levelled against Poroshenko.</p> <p class="normal">Why don’t the big television channels criticise the president? It’s hardly a matter of the owners’ and journalists’ patriotism. In Ukrainian society, with its entrenched oligarchy, loyalty in the information sphere continues to be a guarantee of keeping your business and political influence — everything that the Family lost back in 2014.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>The struggle for independence</strong>&nbsp;</h2> <p class="normal">Despite these disquieting stories on the failings of oligarch-controlled media, it’s clear that independent journalism in Ukraine has experienced a recovery since 2014. By fleeing their gilded cages, some Ukrainian journalists are benefitting from the experience of international colleagues and foreign grants, joining forces to work on new projects.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">However, these new projects are mostly limited to the internet, which does not give them access to anything like the same audience as television channels.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Great hopes were put into the launch of Public Television, a state TV channel with large terrestrial coverage. The establishment of an independent public broadcaster was the one of the first tasks set by the media community for Ukraine’s new authorities. The reform of the country’s archaic and cumbersome public broadcaster, which had served as a mouthpiece for the authorities for years and had a complex regional structure, was launched in 2014.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">For two years, the new head of Channel One, Zurab Alasania, willingly broadcast anti-corruption investigations as well as documentary films by independent journalists, and patiently heard the complaints of offended politicians on the side. This autumn, Alasania <a href="http://www.mediaport.ua/preview/313714">resigned</a> from his post, complaining of wide resistance to reforms. The recently adopted state budget for 2017 has confirmed his suspicions: the funding allocated to the channel isn’t enough for fully-fledged broadcasting.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Gerashchenko_Ostrovsky_Myrotvorets_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Gerashchenko_Ostrovsky_Myrotvorets_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="267" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Journalists believe that the publication of their personal details on the Myrotvorets website is a violation of their constitutional rights. Here, Simon Ostrovsky takes part in a heated debate with Rada deputy Gerashchenko, on the Shuster.Live programme. Image still: Oleg Petrichenko / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span><br />Trying to find their way to their audience through social networks, independent journalists have come up against a counterproductive, even hysterical, consumption of information. The revolution and war in the Donbas have <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/oles-petik-halyna-herasym/critical-thinking-at-stake-ukraine-s-witch-hunt-against-journali">conditioned people to seek out simple answers</a>, — they have less patience to listen to opposing points of view.&nbsp; </p><p class="normal">Today’s real opinion-makers are “patriotic” activists and politicians, the commanders of auxiliary battalions and volunteers. The stories they peddle are not only far from objective analysis — they’re far from the truth, too. The incessant back-and-forth between<em> </em><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/igor-burdyga/ukraine-s-media-plea-for-pluralism"><em>zrada</em></a><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/igor-burdyga/ukraine-s-media-plea-for-pluralism"> (treachery) and </a><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/igor-burdyga/ukraine-s-media-plea-for-pluralism"><em>peremoha</em></a><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/igor-burdyga/ukraine-s-media-plea-for-pluralism"> (victory)</a> as people try to make sense of the news has infected many in mainstream media. Quick to follow the “opinion-makers” were the “opinion-hawkers” — bloggers who put out easily-accessible, half-baked messages for a tidy profit.</p> <p class="normal">Fittingly, a new word appeared in the lexicon of Ukrainian journalists this year, “Porokhobot” (a portmanteau of “Poroshenko” and “robot”). Attacks by Porokhobots, floods of aggressive online comments from little-known users, <a href="http://longread.strana.ua/territoriya_botov">first appeared</a> after the Panama Papers in April 2016, when investigations began into the offshore holdings of Ukraine’s head of state. It’s difficult to establish conclusively how these attacks are carried out, but their goal is obvious — to distract attention from the subject at hand, destroy trust in journalism and simply trolling. Unfortunately, these objectives coincide with the interests of many those in power.</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">For the authorities, any criticism comes from enemies of Ukraine — from the Kremlin and its agents, hell-bent on destabilising the country&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">In May 2016, the website <a href="https://myrotvorets.center/">Myrotvorets</a>, which is linked to Arsen Avakov’s advisor Anton Herashchenko, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/anton.gerashchenko.7/posts/1049751055111741">published</a> the personal details of journalists accredited in the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic”. The list, including some 4,000 names, contact details and passport numbers of Ukrainian and international correspondents by hacking the emails of separatist officials.</p> <p class="normal">The list was accompanied by a commentary by Myrotvorets’ staff, who accused the journalists featured of collaborating with terrorists and demanded that they be deprived of the right to work in Ukraine. Almost immediately, Herashchenko, members of Avakov’s staff — and eventually the minister himself — voiced their support. Social networks joined in, with users <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/oles-petik-halyna-herasym/critical-thinking-at-stake-ukraine-s-witch-hunt-against-journali">accusing the journalists of treason</a> and making open, and not so open, threats against them.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Nevertheless, many Ukrainian politicians, western embassies and international organisations leapt to the journalists’ defence. The president called the event a mistake, though he denied all ties between Myrotvorets and the authorities. Investigations by the police, which operates under the remit of the interior ministry, into the publication of personal details and threats against journalists have so far been fruitless. Myrotvorets continues to publish new lists of journalists, threatening their ability to perform their professional duties.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>Damocles over the Dnieper</strong></h2> <p class="normal">Ukraine’s coalition government received an unprecedented level of trust at the 2014 elections, and this gave Poroshenko and his team confidence that they had chosen the right policies.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">This confidence, however, has gradually turned into an inability to accept any criticism — whether it’s about the lack of progress towards a visa-free regime with the EU, a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the Donbas, Poroshenko’s unfulfilled promises to sell his interests in the Roshen confectionary concern or the rise in utilities tariffs. There are enough real reasons.&nbsp;</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">These are turbulent and volatile times for Ukraine. But “destabilisation” is gradually becoming a trump card against which there cannot be any counter-arguments&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">The president’s entourage, chief among them the coalition partners from the “war party” led by Arsen Avakov, seem to have only nurtured this confidence, transforming it into paranoia. For the authorities, any criticism comes from enemies of Ukraine — from the Kremlin and its agents, hell-bent on destabilising the country.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Of course, these fears aren’t groundless. These are turbulent and volatile times for Ukraine. But “destabilisation” is gradually becoming a trump card against which there cannot be any counter-arguments. And journalism is becoming destabilisation’s most popular target.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Sheremet_Funeral_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Sheremet_Funeral_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="286" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Kyiv says farewell to Pavel Sheremet. The famous journalist was assassinated in a car bomb last June. Image still: Radio Svoboda / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span><br />Have you worked on a story about corruption in Ukraine’s interior ministry? Perhaps shown dead soldiers on the front line? You’re destabilising the country. Are you investigating allegations of <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/08/28/ukraine-new-research-corroborates-secret-detentions">secret prisons</a> run by the security services? You’re destabilising the country. You covered students <a href="https://www.kyivpost.com/multimedia/photo/students-protest-demand-scholarships">protesting the cancellation of their scholarships</a>? You’re playing into the hands of those who are destabilising the country. &nbsp; </p><p class="normal">On the morning of 20 July 2016, the celebrated journalist Pavel Sheremet was <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/serhiy-kudelia/what-does-murder-of-pavel-sheremet-say-about-contemporary-ukraine">assassinated in a car bombing in Kyiv</a>. A couple of hours later, Arsen Avakov called the murder an attempt to destabilise Ukraine.</p> <p class="normal">Five months on, the investigation conducted by the Avakov-controlled police is yet to yield results.</p> <p class="normal"><em>&nbsp;</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/otar-dovzhenko/media-in-ukraine-set-free-to-be-slaves">Media after Maidan</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/oles-petik-halyna-herasym/critical-thinking-at-stake-ukraine-s-witch-hunt-against-journali">Critical thinking at (the) stake: Ukraine’s witch hunt against journalism</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/igor-burdyga/ukraine-s-media-plea-for-pluralism">Ukraine’s media: a plea for pluralism </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ian-bateson/turning-our-backs-on-ukraine">Turning our backs on Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/sergii-leshchenko/ukraine-s-corrupt-counter-revolution">Ukraine’s corrupt counter-revolution</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Igor Burdyga Beyond propaganda Mon, 30 Jan 2017 12:46:02 +0000 Igor Burdyga 108440 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The whole pravda about Russian propaganda https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/moritz-gathmann-colleagues/whole-pravda-about-russian-propaganda <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Are articles about Russian propaganda now more widely read than Russian propaganda itself? A roundtable discussion. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/propaganda-chistaya-pravda-krugly-stol" target="_blank">Русский</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02525199.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02525199.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="325" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Dmitry Kiselev gives a presentation about the Sputnik news agency in 2014. (c) Alexey Filippov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><em>Russian engineers prepare to <a href="https://sputniknews.com/science/201701091049412041-russia-lunar-satellite/" target="_blank">investigate whether the Americans really landed on the moon</a>. Sergey Lavrov declares that <a href="https://www.rt.com/news/373911-lavrov-us-recruit-russia/" target="_blank">US diplomats were frequently among the protesters on Moscow’s streets</a>. These claims aren’t from the draft of a forgotten Tom Clancy novel – they’re the reality of today’s newsfeeds.</em></p><p><em>Over the past few weeks, the Russian word <em><a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/01/kompromat-trump-dossier/512891/" target="_blank">kompromat</a></em> [incriminating material] has entered the English language alongside <em>babushka</em>, <em>vodka</em> and <em>sputnik</em>. Alongside the scandal of “fake news”, European states are even more wary of Russian interference on their electoral processes. How should Europe respond? How should any state approach pro-Kremlin propaganda being broadcast to its citizens? And aren’t we exaggerating the force of the “Kremlin’s hidden hand”?&nbsp;</em></p><p><em>To address these questions and more, a roundtable discussion was held in early January at the Stereoscope journalists’ club, moderated by Moritz Gathmann (Ostpol, RTVD, Spiegel Online) and featuring:&nbsp;</em></p><p><em>Alexey Kovalev (<a href="https://noodleremover.news/?gi=52b98ce09240">Noodleremover</a>, Russia), Vladimir Soloviev (<a href="newsmaker.md">NewsMaker</a>, Moldova),&nbsp;</em><em>Gemma Pörzgen (independent journalist, Germany) and&nbsp;</em><em>Vitautas Bruveris (<a href="http://www.lrytas.lt/">Irytas</a>, Lithuania).</em></p><p><strong>Moritz Gathmann</strong>: Everyone has their own opinion on the extent of Russian media influence on your countries. How strong do you think it is? Can it be measured?</p><p><strong>Gemma Pörzgen</strong>: I don’t think you can generalise. It’s different in every country. In the case of Germany, for example, I think the problem is grossly exaggerated. Some so-called “experts” have blown it up out of all proportion. There’s a lack of proper research on the subject, that could provide an objective view. There’s a lot of propaganda around propaganda, if you see what I mean.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">There’s a lot of propaganda around Russian propaganda</p><p><strong>Vytautas Bruveris</strong>: The Lithuanian political establishment and media sphere all agree that it is an “information war” or “information aggression”. And they’re not using the terms “war” and “aggression” metaphorically – for them, it’s literal. The Russians are getting ready for armed aggression, “preparing the ground”. And this “war” will be total, 24/7, and waged not only through the airwaves, but everywhere – from social media to any vehicle for cultural influence. And that implies that, potentially at least, the effect will be very dangerous. I must say I don’t share their view: I think it’s been exaggerated in psychological, ideological and political terms. In the first place, you can’t regard either the quality or the quantity of Russian propaganda in Lithuania or aimed at Lithuania as “war” – its real influence on the government and population is marginal.</p><p>It’s not hard to measure this influence, although the measurements are, of course, fairly relative. The most obvious one is public opinion polls and observation of what proportion and elements of the public hold pro-Kremlin and anti-Lithuanian, anti-European and indeed anti-democratic views on the main political questions of the day. I believe it’s between a quarter and a third of voters. That’s a lot, of course. But how much can be put down to Russian propaganda? I think the main thing behind this pro-Kremlin mood is a lack of government policy on integration and dialogue with those social and ethnic groups who are least loyal to Lithuania and the west in general, so give their loyalty to the Russian regime.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Luhansk_Demotix.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Luhansk_Demotix.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="331" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Graffiti near the regional headquarters of the Ukrainian Security Services (SBU) in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, April 2014. (c) Igor Golovniev / Demotix. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><strong>Alexey Kovalev</strong>: “Its real influence on its government and people is marginal” – that’s a really important point. I’m a close observer of how propaganda works in Russia itself and I can say that since 2014 its intensity has fallen rather than increased. Nonetheless, 2016 was the year when Russian propaganda became a global phenomenon, feared by everyone. Although at the same time, whenever it’s subjected to objective assessment – TV ratings, say – it’s clear that it has no real influence on public opinion. The UK rating for RT [a Russian international television network funded by the Russian government – ed.] hasn’t, for example, moved from its previous figure of a few hundredths of one percent. It’s an absurd situation; more people are reading articles about the danger of Russian propaganda than are reading the propaganda itself. </p><p><strong>Vytautas Bruveris</strong>: I wouldn’t agree about the situation in Russia itself. On the contrary, I have the impression that this real struggle between the regime and the public for keeping it in a state of mobilisation and aggressive isolation is hotting up. And it is also intensifying in the most influential countries of the west, the Kremlin’s real targets. But I agree that its propaganda influence is exaggerated. Why is that the case? The answer is simple: it’s has become a convenient way for western political elites (who are scared to death of "the rise of populism and far-right extremism") to discount their own failures, crises and impotence. There: we have the enemy and chief culprit! We fight [Russian propaganda] and all our problems will be over.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">It’s an absurd situation; more people read articles on the danger of Russian propaganda than the propaganda itself</p><p><strong>Alexey Kovalev</strong>: I’m just talking about the figures – state TV channel budgets, both domestic and international, are being cut, projects are being wound down and so on, although RT has just had an increase in its funding for French Language broadcasts. But it’s important to distinguish here between channels serving a purely domestic audience (where the amount of propaganda is indeed absurd) and those targeted at Russian speakers (not necessarily ethnic Russians) living in other parts of the world, or foreign language broadcasting aimed purely at international readers and viewers. This last category, however, throws up some interesting figures: if you look at RT’s site, you will see that its largest visitor group consists of people living in Russia itself.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00857834.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00857834.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Television presenter Tina Kandelaki speaks to Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of RT, at a “Pionerskaya Chteniya” meeting in 2011. (c) Ekaterina Chesnokova / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><strong>Moritz Gathmann</strong>: But what’s the situation in Moldova?</p><p><strong>Vladimir Soloviev</strong>: The most popular TV channels in Moldova are Russian ones: Channel One, RTR Moldova and NTV, in that order. I don’t have any up to date figures for specific programmes, but when I looked into it a couple of years ago, the most popular were “Pole Chudes” [literally, Field of Miracles – ed.], based on the U.S. game show Wheel of Fortune, the “Let them Talk” talk show and other entertainment programmes. I don’t think anything’s changed since.</p><p><strong>Moritz Gathmann</strong>: But I heard that the [Russian] channels themselves aren’t available, and are even banned, in Moldova. Moldovan channels just rebroadcast part of the content, most of it entertainment, right? </p><p><strong>Vladimir Soloviev</strong>: Yes, local channels do rebroadcast Russian ones. But it’s not all just entertainment. Here, for example, is the schedule of Prime, Moldova’s most popular channel, which <a href="http://www.prime.md/rom/schedule/" target="_blank">rebroadcasts Russia’s Channel One</a> (Romanian link). </p><p><strong>Alexey Kovalev</strong>: What’s happening with Russian language broadcasting on Moldovan State TV? I ask because at the start of 2016, German journalists kept phoning me about <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/nikolai-klimeniouk/how-operation-liza-failed" target="_blank">the “Operation Liza” case</a> and evidently I was the first person to disclose that there were hundreds of thousands or even millions of Russian speakers living in Germany and that they all watched Channel One and had no contact with German media. Not all of them, of course – I wouldn’t want to exaggerate. I’ve watched Russian language forums on German TV, and the most common question asked on them was how to access Russian TV channels (“my granny / mother-in-law wants to know”). The usual answer was – don’t bother watching them, just sit your granny in front of the National Geographic channel and the atmosphere at home will be much healthier.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">If your granny asks how she can watch Russian TV channels, just sit her in front of the National Geographic channel – the atmosphere at home will be much healthier</p><p><strong>Vladimir Soloviev</strong>: Here we have the Moldova 1 public TV channel where you can watch the news and some other programmes in Russian, all locally produced. </p><p><strong>Moritz Gathmann</strong>: but as far as I know, it also shows Romanian channels, doesn’t it? But just business news?</p><p><strong>Vladimir Soloviev</strong>: Yes. The amusing thing is that Prime, the most popular channel - the one that rebroadcasts Russia’s Channel One – is owned by <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maria-levcenco/vlad-plahotniuc-moldova-s-man-in-shadows" target="_blank">Vlad Plahotniuc, the country’s most prominent oligarch</a> and leader of the ruling Democratic Party. He and his party colleagues talk a lot about “Russian propaganda” and the lack of an alternative to joining the EU. But this doesn’t stop them rebroadcasting this notorious “propaganda” and earning money for it. </p><p><strong>Alexey Kovalev</strong>: But doesn’t Moldovan state TV’s take on controversial issues – Crimea, for example – sometimes contradict Russian channels’ output? </p><p><strong>Vladimir Soloviev</strong>: If I bothered to pay close attention to their content, I could tell you. But I don’t. If you want to know Moldova’s official position on things like Crimea, I would say that it’s not unanimous, because the recently elected president Igor Dodon regards Crimean as Russian, whereas the PM doesn’t.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">In Moldova, all the channels are run by people directly or indirectly connected with politics, and (whether pro-western or pro-Russian) used as weapons in internal political battles</p><p>But I also need to say that Moldova doesn’t have any state owned TV. There’s a public TV channel. But in general all the channels are run by people directly or indirectly connected with politics, and are used as weapons in internal political battles. And both the “Russian tanks”, spewing diesel fumes on the outskirts of Chișinău and the “Gayropean paedophiles” are equally active in this battle for hearts and minds. </p><p><strong>Alexey Kovalev</strong>: It’s also important to stress the fact that there isn’t any state-owned TV, just a public TV channel, because no one in Russia seems to understand the difference between state and public media. Even many educated liberals think the BBC is the same kind of animal as Channel One – a propaganda mouthpiece that receives direct instructions from the British government. But how does this Moldovan public channel work – to be blunt, how closely does it reflect the public mood and discussions on controversial issues? How much does the government interfere, openly or otherwise, in its work?</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/4647862501_4c8d5aee53_o.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/4647862501_4c8d5aee53_o.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Russian media outlets are watched across the world. Opinion remains divided as to their real influence on political developments.</span></span></span></p><p><strong>Vladimir Soloviev</strong>: It interferes, but… it’s tactful about it. At NewsMaker, we recently <a href="http://newsmaker.md/rus/novosti/issledovanie-nm-kak-podelen-moldavskiy-telerynok-22680" target="_blank">published in detail on how Moldova’s TV market works</a> (Russian link). </p><p><strong>Moritz Gathmann</strong>: But if the influence of Russian language media is not as great as we think, who’s hyping it up, and why? And what’s the result? As far as I know, Lithuania has continued its ban on Russian media.</p><p><strong>Vytautas Bruveris</strong>: I’ve already told you why this “battle” is intensifying in the west and even turning into a new trend. Of course, there’s nothing new about that – it happens each time the west is facing a crisis, whether internal or external. Military and political circles have their own interests, while the media recognise the public’s need for an overarching explanation for everything and/or is simply sexy. It’s just the same in Lithuania, except that here you also find a provincial need to be in the front line of the battle for civilisation and have a decisive historic mission, just like 25 years ago.</p><p><strong>Alexey Kovalev</strong>: Because the battle with “Russian propaganda” has already turned into a fully-fledged industry in which many people, including myself, have had successful careers. It would be stupid to give them up because of the negligibility of our field of study. That’s one reason.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">The battle with “Russian propaganda” has turned into a fully-fledged industry in which many have had successful careers</span></p><p><strong>Vladimir Soloviev</strong>: I also see it as an industry, with budgets that need to be spent. In Moldova the subject is a best seller on the internal political market. In 2015 the current mayor of Chișinău (and deputy chair of the right wing Liberal Party) won his third election thanks to the fact that he spent most of his election campaign fighting Russian tanks. But there’s nothing new about the city looking like the site of some kind of urban warfare. </p><p><strong>Gemma Pörzgen</strong>: You’re right there, Alexey. There are so many people in the market who used to cover security issues and have now lost their jobs. But now they’ve seen the chance to get back into business. There are also lobbying groups such as the <a href="http://atlanticcouncil.org" target="_blank">Atlantic Council</a>, who have started running conferences all over Europe on the same subject: “The rising influence of Russian propaganda”.</p><p><strong>Alexey Kovalev</strong>: The second reason is that Russia’s standard reaction to anything is to ban something, so it’s really amusing to observe from Russia how the most anti-Putin governments behave in exactly the same way as Putin himself. A ban is such a simple response to complex questions that no one wants to answer. </p><p><strong>Vytautas Bruveris</strong>: Yes, they do that, but let’s be clear and accurate in our interpretation of it. Media? What media? This is the propaganda of a dictatorship. But I’m still against a total ban on it. I don’t even know why, it’s just an instinctive thing. I would prefer for all these channels just to be punished as and when – they break the law, they get a clobbering. So far, that is what’s happening, but the pressure just to ban the lot is of course constantly increasing.</p><p><strong>Alexey Kovalev</strong>: “a clobbering” – isn’t that what dictators do?</p><p><strong>Vytautas Bruveris</strong>: Don’t twist my words. If propaganda spreads lies and foments ethnic and social hatred and war and clearly breaks Lithuanian media law (which is among the most liberal in Europe) in other ways, then it should be penalised. By legal means.<br /><br /><strong>Alexey Kovalev</strong>: But then Russian propaganda says exactly the same thing about the Lithuanian (Latvian, Estonian) media.</p><p><strong>Vytautas Bruveris</strong>: But that’s ridiculous and, in any case, totally outside the bounds of our discussion. Are we now going to discuss whether Russian state-owned media are right about their Baltic counterparts and what they consider illegal about them?</p><p><strong>Alexey Kovalev</strong>: Why not? Even the most blatant propaganda is not 100% fabricated (<a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/07/15/there-s-no-evidence-the-ukrainian-army-crucified-a-child-in-slovyansk.html" target="_blank">the famous “crucified boy” hoax</a> was a rare exception). And it doesn’t invent issues and contradictions – it merely presents those that already exist, albeit through a distorting mirror. So if Channel One or “Vesti Nedeli” [a popular round-up of the week’s news – ed] is telling viewers about horrifying infringements of Russian-speakers’ rights in the Baltic states, neo-Nazi marches and NATO incursions, and their Russian speaking viewers take all this in and agree with it, it might be a good idea to understand their motivation.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">A ban is such a simple response to complex questions that no one wants to answer</p><p><strong>Vladimir Soloviev</strong>: I find the question of our home-grown Moldovan propaganda much more relevant. It sidetracks public debate towards “bloody Putin”, the “damned Yankees” and “Gayrope” and away from our real problems. And everyone’s happy – each politician has their own furrow to plough. Pro-Russian left wingers fight with Brussels to defend the traditional family; pro-western right wingers fight with the treacherous Kremlin over European integration. And it’s all been going on for ages. </p><p><strong>Alexey Kovalev</strong>: It’s interesting how “bloody Putin” and “Gayrope” somehow go together in people’s minds. In Russia, you have to choose who to fight – either “bloody Putin” or “Gayrope” – and we would recommend you to choose the former. </p><p><strong>Vladimir Soloviev</strong>: Interesting isn’t the word. Everything’s interesting here. And there’s no problem with freedom of speech. The only people with problems are the independent media, who are really short of cash. The marketplace has turned into a monopoly, and that includes advertising. NTV Moldova (owned by the Russian socialists) has traditional family values. Prime (owned by Channel One) has “bloody Putin”. It’s what’s called balance.</p><p><strong>Alexey Kovalev</strong>: Speaking of which, I’ve just been looking at the traffic on three versions of Sputnik [an international media brand owned by the Russian government-controlled news agency Rossiya Segodnya – ed.] – Moldovan, Latvian and Lithuanian. The Moldovan site is getting the most hits – 700,000 a month (very few for Russia, but a lot for Moldova). The Lithuanian site gets 250,000 a month – a direct consequence of the ban (it was getting less than 100,000 before), and there’s evidently something wrong with the Latvian one, because all their traffic measurement figures are showing statistical inaccuracies.</p><p><strong>Moritz Gathmann</strong>: And what’s that about?</p><p><strong>Vladimir Soloviev</strong>: Well, its content is pretty tabloid. Take a look at <a href="http://m.ru.sputnik.md/society/20170105/10644897/kirtoakje-otdyhaet-v-otele-hilton-vmeste-s-zagadochnoj-blondinkoj.html" target="_blank">this</a>. Or here’s <a href="http://ru.sputnik.md/moldova/20160917/9052957.html" target="_blank">another example</a>. How can you not measure the traffic?</p><p>But if you look at the number of subscribers to the Moldovan Sputnik on Facebook, there are very few – only 3,000. I don’t know about Odnoklassniki [a popular Russian social media site – ed.] – I’m not on that. But Facebook is really popular in Moldova – more popular than Twitter.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Stillman_TV.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Stillman_TV.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The content of television newscasts over the past few years has rapidly deteriorated into garbage on the air. Photo CC-by-SA-2.0: David Stillman / Flickr. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span></p><p><strong>Alexey Kovalev</strong>: That’s cool – so it’s pure clickbait, with no connection to promoting a political position.</p><p><strong>Vladimir Soloviev</strong>: No, there is a connection. But I’m afraid that if you compare the clickability of political material with articles about prostitutes, the prostitutes will always come out on top.</p><p><strong>Moritz Gathmann</strong>: So then I’m interested in the question, “What is to be done?” Nothing? There are a number of options: the well-known <a href="https://euvsdisinfo.eu/" target="_blank">EU Disinformation Review</a>; there’s also the proposal by the <a href="https://www.democracyendowment.eu/ru/" target="_blank">European Endowment for Democracy</a> (EED) to create a content generation factory and build a Russian language rival to Russia’s state media on the basis of existing independent media, or there’s simply a ban on Russia media, from Sputnik to Channel One. </p><p><strong>Gemma Pörzgen</strong>: Some of the ideas in the European Foundation for Democracy’s report made good sense. It seems to me that our first priority is to support journalism and media criticism, which is not yet very well known in many countries. The general public should be able to use the media wisely and distinguish between facts and bullshit. The media themselves should also be more honest and, for example, control their use of PR material, including “<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/media-network-outbrain-partner-zone/native-advertising-quality-scalability" target="_blank">native advertising</a>”, which is also propaganda. In other words, the war on propaganda should be about more than just denouncing one lobbying group and ignoring others.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">In today’s world it’s impossible to “prohibit” any information, as its prohibition will only make it more enticing</p><p><strong>Alexey Kovalev</strong>: To the question “What is to be done?” I would firstly like to answer “start by taking a look at myself” and asking myself whether I am blameless in this respect, or whether I sometimes try to make inadequate facts fit into a previously arrived at conclusion and so on. I’m not pointing the finger, I’m literally talking about myself – I had a look at the contents of my own site over a year and realised why people were saying that “it’s the same old propaganda, only the other way around”. So if that doesn’t change, no “content factory” can be of any use. The ideologisation of fact checking is only leading to a wider gap between the talkers and the listeners, and people will just be constantly accusing one another of “propaganda” and “fake news” (as is already the case). </p><p>I can certainly tell you what shouldn’t happen, and that’s option No 3. In today’s world it’s impossible to “prohibit” any information, as its prohibition will only make it more enticing, as happened with the Latvian Sputnik site. And then there is the side effect, that any ineffective ban just plays into the hands of Russian propagandists. As it is, the editor in chief of RT and Russia Today Margarita Simonyan meticulously collects every article on “the dangers of Russian propaganda”, translates them and publishes them accompanied by triumphant commentaries of the “see how scared they are of us” type, and I have no doubt that her budget for next year will depend on the number of hysterical articles published about RT, and her personally. </p><p><strong>Moritz Gathmann</strong>: What do you mean by “the ideologisation of fact checking”?</p><p><strong>Alexey Kovalev</strong>: It’s about how sites like EU Disinformation or <a href="http://www.politifact.com/" target="_blank">Polifact</a> rate Trump and Clinton’s answers to the same question, and give Clinton a “mostly true” and Trump a “mostly false”, although they both gave more or less the same answer. </p><p>Or you can take a British example – the Brexit story was covered by two fact checking sites, <a href="https://infacts.org/" target="_blank">infacts.org</a> and <a href="https://fullfact.org/" target="_blank">fullfact.org</a>, the first clearly “partisan” (i.e. it supported the “Remain” faction) and the second more neutral and objective. The first failed both in terms of traffic and in general, because its side lost. And I know why that happened – it should have been trying to sway the other side’s supporters, but instead it portrayed pro-Brexit politicians as goblins sitting on dustbins and so on. And the audience it was trying to reach was naturally put off by this. That’s what I meant by the ideologisation of fact checking – the supposition that “our side” couldn’t be wrong.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">If you’re accused of being the mouthpiece of the FSB and the CIA at the same time, it means you’re doing everything right</p><p><strong>Vladimir Soloviev</strong>: I can give you another example – our NewsMaker site. Initially it was openly funded by the US State Department, then by the EED and now also by the <a href="http://www.ned.org/" target="_blank">National Endowment for Democracy</a> (NED). Unlike Sputnik, we can’t boast of 700,000 visits to our site per month, but we know that we are a source of information that people believe. And we just go on doing our job – to inform. There is a demand for authenticated information. Every now and then we do a kind of <a href="http://www.stopfake.org/" target="_blank">StopFake</a> exercise, or a critique, if you like: we take a high-profile but untrue story and explain what is wrong with it. And our readers always thank us for it.</p><p><strong>Moritz Gathmann</strong>: But can such a project be commercially successful?</p><p><strong>Vladimir Soloviev</strong>: Let’s start at the end. We’ve had very little commercial success so far. We’ve been going for two years. We launched ourselves into the height of the regional crisis on all fronts in August 2014, and are still there. Also, as I have written before, the marketplace has turned into a monopoly, and that includes advertising. Of course there is a chance. And they do regularly read us. </p><p><strong>Moritz Gathmann</strong>: But surely the (supposed) fact that “they are bankrolled by the State Department” doesn’t mean that your readers see you as pro-West and “for hire”?</p><p><strong>Alexey Kovalev</strong>: In Russia that would certainly be a discrediting factor. Even amongst our loyal readership, let alone those who are less loyal. I’m funding the project out of my own pocket and all I hear every day is that I’m “a State Department whore”. </p><p><strong>Vladimir Soloviev</strong>: To some extent that’s the case here. Commentaries on our work regularly end with the remark, “well, we know where they’re coming from; they have the State Department behind them”. But I start from the fact that, in the first place, no State Department has anything do with our editorial policies. When Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/eleanor-knott-mihai-popsoi/our-man-in-moldova-plahotniuc" target="_blank">gave our villain-in-chief the red carpet treatment</a>, we wrote about it – they were playing a “he may be a bastard but he’s our bastard” game. And in the second place, no one with the facts at their disposal has ever been able to justify any accusation of bias at us. The proof of that is we get flak from both sides – we’re run now by Moscow, now the State Department, or sometimes by Moscow on State Department money. </p><p><strong>Alexey Kovalev</strong>: Thanks for your answer – now I can be sure that when you’re accused of being the mouthpiece of the FSB and the CIA at the same time, it means you’re doing everything right.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Perhaps our only hope is in the Russian dictatorship itself – that in the end, it will fall apart, screw itself up and collapse</p><p><strong>Moritz Gathmann</strong>: Vytautas, what’s your take on your Lithuanian “elves’” “battle with the trolls” that we recently read about in the Washington Post? </p><p><strong>Vytautas Bruveris</strong>: That was a bit of private enterprise. I suspect, of course, that it couldn’t have happened without help from state and security structures, but still, anyone living in a free country can amuse themselves as they wish. Yes, we have bots and trolls in our FaceBook and comments on our main portals. And they obviously do their job. But their effect, so far as I can see, is minimal, as is the “fight” with them. But that’s not what we’re here for today. It’s just a bit of showing off, exhibitionism. </p><p>I’ve got three points to make. The first is that all Ministries of Truth and other state bodies supposedly combating propaganda but in fact spreading it are bullshit, a meaningless waste of taxpayers’ money and a way for politicians, state officials, military and other propagandists to indulge in self-aggrandisement. And so are the “correct” media. And the main thing is that this is a direct infringement of the basic principles of democracy. </p><p>The second is that there is a problem, albeit one less apocalyptic than it is presented. The Kremlin will continue its attempts, both open and covert, to influence the internal social and political processes of the principal Western countries, and in the first place exploit these countries’ internal problems – chiefly migration and terrorism – to meet these ends. That much is obvious, and must be resisted. And strong independent media remain our best means of directly deconstructing and analysing both Russian propaganda and Russia’s regime as a whole. After that, we need a strong and independent political elite, and a critically and democratically minded society. And so on, from A to Z. </p><p>And my third point: I realise that we can’t expect any positive change of that kind in our societies in the near future. It will probably only get worse. Which means that our only hope is in the Russian dictatorship itself – that in the end, as always, it will fall apart, screw itself up and collapse. There’s no alternative!</p><p><strong>Moritz Gathmann</strong>: Thank you all for this frank discussion.<br /><br /><em>Translated from Russian by Liz Barnes.</em>&nbsp;</p><p><em>Enjoyed this article? Want to share your own thoughts on Russian propaganda (or indeed, the propaganda about Russian propaganda?) <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/about-odr" target="_blank">Read our submission guidelines and join the discussion</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/nataliya-rostova/in-russia-s-media-censorship-is-silent">In Russia’s media, censorship is silent </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/kirill-kobrin/columnist-s-work-is-never-done">A columnist’s work is never done</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dominik-k-cagara/disappearing-journalists-of-north-caucasus">The disappearing journalists of the North Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/crimea-s-unfreedom-of-speech">Crimea: freedom of speech turns to freedom of silence</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilya-yablokov/why-are-russia-s-journalists-so-prone-to-conspiracy-theory">Why are Russia’s journalists so prone to conspiracy theory?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alexey-kovalev/life-after-facts-how-russian-state-media-defines-itself-through-negation">Life after facts: how Russian state media defines itself through negation</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Moritz Gathmann & colleagues Russia Beyond propaganda Thu, 19 Jan 2017 13:38:29 +0000 Moritz Gathmann & colleagues 108210 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Kazakhstan’s thin red line https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/amirzhan-kosanov/kazakhstan-s-thin-red-line <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">How the trial of veteran journalist Seitkazy Mataev heralds an even bleaker future for freedom of speech in Kazakhstan. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/amirzhan-kosanov/tonkaya-krasnaya-linia-kazakhski-mataev">Русский</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/RIAN_00525024.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Seitkazy Mataeva at the Forum of European and Asian Media, Moscow, 2009. (с) Ruslan Krivobok / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>These days, there’s no shortage of worrying news reports on the repression of activists and independent journalists in Kazakhstan. If current trends continue, we can expect many more — a full chronicle of the destruction of freedom of speech in our country would require an article in itself. The case against Seitkazy Mataev and his son Aset sums up the contempt for freedom and legal rights which have characterised Kazakhstan’s politics since independence. As the director of the popular KazTag news agency and chairman of the country’s Union of Journalists and National Press Club, Seitkazy Mataev is a high-profile figure. In February, Seitkazy and Aset were charged with tax evasion and embezzling funds from their organisations’ budgets.</p><p dir="ltr">During the trial, the defence presented reams of legal documentation and materials published by KazTag as part of a state contract. The court was provided with 30 volumes of financial records, collected by an independent auditor, attesting to the legality of the Mataevs’ business practices. Neither the police investigators, prosecutors nor the court bothered to review these materials. All the papers are there — proof of work undertaken and payments made, undersigned by officials at the Ministry of Information and KazakhTelekom. </p><p dir="ltr">Nevertheless, employees of these organisations are under pressure from the financial crimes unit to accuse the Mataevs of crimes they did not commit. In fact, KazTag and the National Press Club have been awarded state tenders for over five years — yet this is the first time we’ve heard of any wrongdoing.</p><h2>We don’t want your pity</h2><p dir="ltr">The case against the Mataevs has, understandably caused quite a stir. Public figures, journalists, legal experts in Kazakhstan and abroad came to his defence, as did European human rights defenders and voices in international media.</p><p>The trial continued, and the verdict was given.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Never before in Kazakhstan have journalists been given such a long prison sentence as a result of their work</p><p dir="ltr">On 4 October, the court found Seitkazy Mataev guilty of fraud and tax evasion, sentencing him to six years’ imprisonment with confiscation of property. His son Aset was also found guilty of fraud, and was handed five years and confiscation of property. It should be stressed that Mataev senior, who is 62 years old, suffers from serious health problems. On several occasions throughout the hearings, he needed urgent medical assistance. There’s a strong likelihood that he will not survive his incarceration.</p><p dir="ltr">Never before in Kazakhstan have journalists been given such a long prison sentence as a result of their work. As Mataev senior put it in a remarkable speech to the court:</p><p dir="ltr">“Don’t pity me or my son. We considered ourselves innocent, and still do. I have always said that dissent must exist in Kazakhstan. Without dissent, there is no democracy. I don’t consider myself a member of the opposition, but instead somebody who always tried to stand up for justice.”</p><p dir="ltr">With these words in mind, the sentencing of the Mataevs is proof that in Kazakhstan today, you don’t need to be a strident member of the opposition in order to go behind bars. It’s enough to be an honest and free-thinking individual.</p><p dir="ltr">On Friday, Kazakhstan’s supreme court rejected an the appeal against the verdict. There was one silver lining: instead of the initial lifelong ban on holding leading positions in “commercial or public organisations”, the Mataevs are instead forbidden from occupying “executive or materially responsible positions” for 10 years.</p><h2>Cleaning up town</h2><p dir="ltr">To understand what’s happened to the Mataevs, we need to understand Kazakhstan’s current political realities.</p><p dir="ltr">They say that “every century has its middle ages”. But this dark age appears to have lasted for all of Kazakhstan’s modern history. In recent years, that history has seen a relentless struggle by the authorities to crush any form of dissent — including independent media.</p><p dir="ltr">Over several years, this ruthless war has been waged consistently, methodically, and on several fronts.</p><p dir="ltr">Firstly, legislation regulating the media sphere has taken on an <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/luca-anceschi/kazakhstan-limits-of-authoritarian-crisis-management">utterly repressive character</a>. Luckily for the authorities, Kazakhstan has a pliant parliament which answers to the government’s beck and call. There are no genuine opposition politicians among its ranks.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Kazakhstan’s authorities have found another justification for intensifying their crackdown on media. They’ve often hidden behind the need to “combat extremism and terrorism”</p><p dir="ltr">The reality is that the current laws regulating media not only limit freedom of speech, but present a real and immediate danger to every journalist who dares to cross the thin red line. This is true if they critically report on the activities of the authorities in general, or on particular officials.</p><p dir="ltr">In recent months, Kazakhstan’s authorities have found another justification for intensifying their crackdown on media. They’ve often hidden behind the need to “combat extremism and terrorism”, a slogan which has come in handy given falling living standards and protests on the rise.</p><p dir="ltr">Similarly, a poorly thought-out land reform <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-36163103">prompted peaceful protests in cities across the country</a>. Last month, activists Max Bokaev and Talgat Ayan were sentenced to five years each for participating one such event in Atyrau, Kazakhstan’s “oil capital” in the west of the country. Their case shows that apart from jailing activists, the authorities haven’t any solutions to these pressing economic and social problems.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/13164431_1710300395919508_3497455287268593926_n_1_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="348" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Talgat Ayan at a land reform protest in Atyrau. Source: <a href=https://www.facebook.com/talgat.ayan?fref=ts>Facebook</a>. </span></span></span>In an atmosphere ripe for protest, independent media outlets and civic organisations prove their value to society at large — to the great irritation of the authorities.</p><p dir="ltr">Secondly, in any authoritarian society, laws are one thing, and their implementation is quite another. Thanks to legislative loopholes, the authorities are trying to tame the media even more — either with the carrot or with the stick.</p><p dir="ltr">The authorities already have plenty of leverage over the media, including administrative resources. This pressure can be informal, and editors make it public at their own peril. Meanwhile, the rewards for those who play along have become more enticing. These can be as simple as a lucrative offer to purchase a media outlet, or they can be the fruits of hidden forms of cooperation, well-hidden from the public eye. Editors who refuse to submit to all forms of censorship find the sword of Damocles hanging above their heads.</p><p dir="ltr">Finally, the powers that be have also learnt from past mistakes, including political ones. Inconvenient media outlets once faced criminal cases for overtly political reasons (such as for “insulting the honour and dignity of the president”). Nowadays, these troublemakers can be shut down for entirely banal reasons: they could find some everyman, for example, who could bring a case against the publication for offending his honour and dignity. And on it goes.</p><h2>Bureaucratic creativity</h2><p dir="ltr">Given that the president personally appoints judges at all levels, it doesn’t take a genius to work out whose side the court was on. But some choose to mince their words about this, saying that the authorities are irrelevant here, and that the dispute is between, say, a media outlet and one particular individual. This attitude isn’t rare — indeed, many independent media organisations have experienced it themselves. Due to a sense of inertia or perhaps plain ignorance, these independent organisations are frequently called “oppositional”, simply because they practice robust, honest criticism of the authorities.</p><p dir="ltr">For example, Tribuna, a popular independent publication, was also <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/79621">compelled to pay immense fines</a> after a claim raised by one government-affiliated individual who accused the newspaper of libel. Once again, the court did not take the journalists’ arguments into account. The intimidation is ongoing — this week, chief editor Zhanbolat Mamay’s car was vandalised next to his front door. Observers believe this attack was connected not simply with critical articles published in the newspaper, but with its initiative to call Bokaev and Ayan “national heroes”.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“These laws and bylaws all form part of a compliant, docile legal system. They’re tools for cracking down on troublesome publications and journalists”</p><p dir="ltr">The well-known journalist Rysbek Sarsenbayuly also notes a growing tendency towards intimidation. Sarsenbayuly is editor-in-chief of Zhas Alash, an acclaimed Kazakh-language newspaper founded nearly 100 years ago. The publication was hit with a fine of 40m tenge (£95,500) for apparently insulting the honour and dignity of one citizen of Kazakhstan, a businessman trading in pharmaceuticals. It was clear to everybody that Zhas Alash had been targeted due to its independent position.</p><p dir="ltr">“These laws and bylaws all form part of a compliant, docile legal system. They’re tools for cracking down on troublesome publications and journalists,” notes Sarsenbayuly. “And independent media are forced to operate under these conditions! The case against the Mataevs is a continuation of this negative trend.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/RIAN_02894761.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>18 July: after five people were killed in the centre of Almaty, TV stations underwent a self-imposed blackout to control the government narrative. (c) Anatoly Ustinenko / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In this sense, the Mataevs were faced with a quintessential case of cynical “bureaucratic creativity”. Seitkazy Mataev &nbsp;is one of the country’s most authoritative journalists and always defended independent media and critics of the government. Dealing with him meant the authorities used not only familiar methods, but new innovations, too.</p><p dir="ltr">This concerned Kazakhstan’s “state tender”, by which the government doles out part of its budget to fund its information and media networks. Of course, there are plenty of opportunities for officials to creatively interpret the process of granting tenders — what the resulting funds are spent on, and whether they’ve been put to good use.</p><p dir="ltr">Essentially, the Mataevs have been found guilty of carrying out a state contract. At the same time, government officials publicly recognise the imperfections in the mechanisms by which state contracts are awarded, and even intend to amend legislation concerning it.</p><h2>Cheques and balances</h2><p dir="ltr">The court’s bias against the Mataevs was visible to the most impartial of observers. As such, developments were followed with interest across Kazakhstan and abroad.</p><p dir="ltr">Importantly, both the Mataevs and their lawyers filed some 60 petitions to the Astana court’s appeals panel. All of these were rejected without any basis during the course of legal proceedings. Among other things, these petitions demand careful, forensic examination of all physical evidence available, such as documents pertaining to KazTag and the National Press Club. It also calls on the court to recognise that important evidence stored by the prosecutor remains inaccessible, and that certain forensic examinations be declared inadmissable due to the experts’s lack of qualifications.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Kazakhstan is waiting with bated breath to see what will happen once 76-year old president Nursultan Nazarbayev passes away</p><p dir="ltr">The Mataevs’ prosecutors stressed the case against them was not political, and had no bearing on freedom of speech whatsoever. This is a bizarre claim to make for a man who founded the National Press Club and heads the country’s Union of Journalists. Under Mataev’s leadership, the press club became a space for open discussion between the authorities and media. He also resurrected the former KazTag news agency, transforming it into one of the country’s most popular and successful media outlets. </p><p dir="ltr">Seitkazy Mataev is truly a public person, who has always stood up in defence of the fundamental principle of freedom of speech. In his own way, he was a bridge between society and the authorities, a moderator of a dialogue so necessary in today’s Kazakhstan.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2016-12-12 at 10.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="282" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Seitkazy Mataev. 4 October 2016. Source: <a href=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LykJZ0YqoD0>Youtube / Azattyq</a>.</span></span></span>Powerful private interests may also be playing a role behind the scenes. Everybody in Kazakhstan is waiting with bated breath to see what will happen once 76-year old president Nursultan Nazarbayev passes away. Various clans and influential groups in the government are already jockeying for interest, the better to seize control of the situation once “Operation Successor” begins. They’re collecting administrative resources, such as financial assets and control of key businesses. They’re putting their own people in influential positions — and they’re making sure the media is on side. Seitkazy Mataev may have fallen victim to their intrigues.</p><p dir="ltr">“Over many years, political loyalty and business-as-usual became the only way for members of Kazakhstan’s elite and their circles to protect themselves from persecution,” noted Evgeny Zhovtis, a well-known human rights defender and director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law. “As long as the country continues to be ruled by personal decree, then the fate of this or that businessman, public figure or high-ranking government official depends entirely on the decisions of somebody up above.”</p><p dir="ltr">According to Zhovtis, the current political system in Kazakhstan is one of clientelism and patronage. Against the backdrop of a deteriorating economy and the beginning of a transition to the post-Nazarbayev period, he is convinced that a struggle has broken out among the elite. As influential players weaken or strengthen their position, that has a knock-on effect to all of those who benefit from their protection.</p><p dir="ltr">“Whatever Seitkazy Mataev and his son are accused of, the criminal case against them primarily reflects this intra-elite struggle,” concludes Zhovtis. A good example is that of the journalist Bigeldi Gabdullin, who was <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/81291">detained on 15 November</a>. &nbsp;After Gabdullin’s departure from the opposition and making amends with the president, he successfully worked his way into influential circles close to the government and pro-government media. Gabdullin too is accused of fraud on a mass scale — and his approach was to address a letter personally to Nazarbayev, pleading that he be released from detention.</p><h2>“No news” means…</h2><p dir="ltr">Next year, Astana will host the international EXPO-2017 forum, which is dedicated to renewable energy policies. The government has spared no efforts in inviting high-profile guests from across the world. How might officials respond to their questions about the fate of the head of the Union of Journalists? What if they’re interested in meeting him? These aren’t impossible scenarios — after all, Seitkazy Mataev is recognised and respected by many of his colleagues in journalism overseas.</p><p dir="ltr">In its most recent report on internet freedoms across the world, Freedom House (FH) <a href="https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/2016/kazakhstan">ranked Kazakhstan 50 out of 65 countries surveyed</a> — a drop from last year. Internet freedom in the country received 63 of 100 points (where zero indicates “free” and 100 a “not free” status). Meanwhile, FH’s latest freedom of the press report gave Kazakhstan 84 points. Both scores have dropped since last year — it seems likely to me that the case against the Mataevs played a part.</p><p dir="ltr">There’s another journalist in the Mataev family, too. Bayan Ramzanova, Seitkazy’s wife and Aset’s mother, is a famous Kazakhstani journalist who has worked in many national media outlets and in the parliamentary press service. She’s since become a civic activist, raising awareness of the case cooked up against her husband and son.</p><p dir="ltr">“How are you feeling these days?” I asked Bayan. Looking back, I understand that it was a pointless question. “You’re asking me how I feel?” she responded, incredulously. “How else could a woman in my position possibly feel; a woman whose husband and son have been smeared as crooks and criminals, had their reputation ruined and sentenced to prison for five and six years?”</p><p dir="ltr">She describes to me the many merits of her husband and son:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“My son is not a murder and not a thief; they sentenced him to five years simply because Seitkazy is his father! In our country, anybody can be accused of theft. All you need to do is build up a successful business, and ideally expand overseas. And then, if that business, those offices, apartments and cars take the fancy of those with power, you should hand it over to them. Otherwise, you’ll go behind bars. But I don’t tell any of this to my grandchildren. I love them too much, and want to protect them from the misery and hardships of the world. Because hope is the thing that dies last.”</p><p dir="ltr">All I can do is end with these words, from Seitkazy’s wife. I have nothing to add to them.</p><p><em>Translated from Russian by Maxim Edwards</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/luca-anceschi/kazakhstan-limits-of-authoritarian-crisis-management">Kazakhstan: the limits of authoritarian crisis management</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/nataliya-rostova/in-russia-s-media-censorship-is-silent">In Russia’s media, censorship is silent </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/vasiliy-gatov-over-the-barriers">Over the barriers</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/viktor-muchnik/happy-25th-birthday-tv-2-or-rise-and-fall-of-independent-russian-tv">Happy 25th birthday, TV-2, or the rise and fall of independent Russian TV </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dominik-k-cagara/disappearing-journalists-of-north-caucasus">The disappearing journalists of the North Caucasus</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Amirzhan Kosanov Beyond propaganda Kazakhstan Mon, 12 Dec 2016 10:35:07 +0000 Amirzhan Kosanov 107580 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Bulgaria: how not to mistake Russian propaganda for Russian policy https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tom-junes/bulgaria-how-not-to-mistake-russian-propaganda-for-russian-policy <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Bulgaria’s recent presidential elections are a case study in the power of disinformation, but not in the way you think. <strong><em><a href="http://www.transmedia.bg/2016/12/03/българия-как-да-не-объркаме-руската-пр/ ">Bulgarian</a></em></strong>,&nbsp;<em><strong><a href="http://www.anti.media/medijska-mreza/analize/kako-ne-brkati-rusku-propagandu-sa-ruskom-politikom/">Serbian</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/RIAN_02969606.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="314" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Monument to Soviet soldiers, Sofia. (c) Alexey Vitvitsky / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Two weeks ago, retired air force general Rumen Radev was elected president in Bulgaria. Certain Russian commentators such as obscurantist Aleksandr Dugin proclaimed <a href="http://sofiaglobe.com/2016/11/13/opposition-socialist-candidate-radev-in-landslide-win-in-bulgarias-presidential-elections/">Radev’s landslide win</a> a breakthrough triumph for Russia — the general had been typed beforehand as a “pro-Russian” candidate. In response, western media went into a near-hysterical tailspin, producing sensationalist headlines implying Bulgaria had “fallen” to the Kremlin.&nbsp;</p> <p>In the era of “post-truth politics”, Bulgaria’s presidential election appeared foremost a victory for the Kremlin. “Post-truth”, recently named <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/nov/15/post-truth-named-word-of-the-year-by-oxford-dictionaries">word of the year</a> by Oxford Dictionaries, has been associated with the instrumental use of disinformation or the “weaponisation of information” in what has been termed <a href="http://www.neweasterneurope.eu/articles-and-commentary/2160-new-perspectives-on-russian-disinformation">Russia’s new propaganda war</a>. Moscow uses propaganda outlets such as RT and Sputniknews as well as a multitude of other often dubious internet outlets, together with an “army of trolls”, to spread subterfuge, and divide and sway public opinion in order <a href="https://themoscowtimes.com/news/putin-congratulates-state-media-after-european-parliament-passes-resolution-against-russian-hybrid-war-56276">to destabilise the west and undermine the European Union</a>.</p> <p>But propaganda can, in fact, serve as a distraction to conceal Russia’s pursuit of its interests with or without the complicity of local actors and even elites. Most of the time, Moscow does not even need to steer the propaganda game — western media outlets and commentators often do the groundwork upon which the Kremlin can simply prey. Bulgaria and its recent presidential elections are an illustrative example. Here, the media hysteria masks an uncomfortable reality: a story of state capture that has been in progress for years. &nbsp;</p> <h2>Bulgaria elects a “pro-Russian” president</h2> <p>After the election triumph of alleged <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/09/putin-applauds-trump-win-and-hails-new-era-of-positive-ties-with-us">Russian favourite Donald Trump</a> stunned the world, analysts have been looking at the presidential elections in Moldova and Bulgaria where <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/13/pro-russia-presidential-candidates-tipped-to-win-in-bulgaria-and-moldova">“pro-Russian” candidates' victories</a> would top off a <a href="http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/blog/hannah-thoburn/vladimir-putin%E2%80%99s-best-week-ever">very satisfying week for Vladimir Putin</a>.&nbsp;</p><p>Radev’s win thus provoked headlines such as “<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/14/world/europe/pro-russia-candidate-appears-likely-to-win-bulgarian-presidency.html?_r=0">Pro-Russia Candidate Appears Likely to Win Bulgarian Presidency</a>”, “<a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/us-bulgaria-election-results-idUSKBN1390DC">Russia-friendly Radev wins Bulgarian presidency</a>”, “<a href="http://www.euronews.com/2016/11/13/bulgarian-pm-borisov-to-resign-after-presidential-vote-defeat">Pro-Russia candidate wins Bulgaria's Presidential Run-off</a>”, “<a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/11/pro-russia-rumen-radev-wins-bulgarian-presidency-161114042425986.html">Pro-Russia Rumen Radev wins Bulgarian presidency</a>” around the world.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Most press coverage failed to elaborate on the complexities and intrigues of Bulgaria’s domestic politics. Instead, the focus was on the seemingly increasing geopolitical confrontation between Putin and the west&nbsp;</p><p>The message was clear: Bulgaria had elected in favour of Russia and, by implication, against Europe and the west. Bulgaria is known for its deep historical and cultural ties with Russia, as well as its Soviet-era loyalty to Moscow. So most press coverage failed to elaborate on the complexities and intrigues of Bulgaria’s domestic politics. Instead, the focus was on the seemingly increasing geopolitical confrontation between Putin and the west, in which <a href="http://www.politico.eu/article/russia-is-preying-on-bulgarias-next-president-tsetska-tsacheva-rumen-radev/">Russia had its eye on Bulgaria</a>.<br /> &nbsp;<br />More <a href="http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2016/11/14/rumen-radev-bulgaria-russia-president/">sober analyses</a> point to the fact that Radev is not more “pro-Russian” than the country's prime minister Boyko Borisov, who tendered his government's resignation in the wake of “his” electoral defeat — Radev’s opponent had been Borisov’s hand-picked candidate. Borisov did, however, succeed in projecting Radev as the pro-Russian “Manchurian candidate”, a depiction the western media happily picked up on — with <a href="http://www.dnevnik.bg/sviat/2016/11/14/2863144_svetovnite_medii_izborut_na_proruski_prezident_hvurli/">Bulgarian media in turn relaying western headlines with even more urgency</a>.<br /> &nbsp;<br />As I have written about previously, brandishing one’s opponent as “pro-Russian” to ensure western backing has become a <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/tom-junes/trap-of-countering-russia">trait of Balkan politicians to outfox their opponents</a>. Radev’s image as “pro-Russian” was nonetheless strengthened by the contrast of his campaign rhetoric with that of Bulgaria’s outgoing president Rossen Plevneliev, <a href="http://www.politico.eu/article/bulgarian-president-rosen-plevneliev-russia-aims-to-weaken-europe/">one of the few vocal critics of Moscow</a> in the region.</p> <h2>Pro-Russian propaganda and Bulgaria&nbsp;</h2> <p>Bulgaria has featured from time to time in Russia media and propaganda outlets over the past years. As a rule this has been for the consumption of the Russian audience with tabloid media appearing to be more active in this regard. Nevertheless, the main source of pro-Russian propaganda lies not in Russia, but in Bulgaria itself.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/799px-Meeting_of_PP_ATAKA_02.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>March 2011: meeting of ATAKA at Alexander Nevsky Square in Sofia. CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons / Ivan. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Various political parties such as the Bulgarian Socialist Party or the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/euro-elections-you-tell-us/nikolay-nikolov/whats-left-when-you-are-far-right-in-bulgaria-0">far-right ATAKA</a> and groups such as the <a href="http://rusofili.bg/">National Movement of Russophiles</a> foster pro-Russian sentiments or Soviet-era nostalgia. More significantly, there exists a homegrown pro-Russian current in various media outlets such as <a href="http://a-specto.bg/">A-specto</a>, <a href="http://duma.bg/">Duma</a>, <a href="http://www.rusiadnes.bg/bg/">Rusia Dnes</a>, <a href="https://bg.rbth.com/">Ruski Dnevnik</a> and many more which regularly agitate and spread disinformation.</p> <p>In addition, certain Russian “dignitaries” have featured provocatively in Bulgarian media. In February, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, stated that Russia would buy all Bulgaria's vegetables and provide it with cheap gas if the country would leave NATO. But Zhirinovsky, a notoriously raving vulgar lunatic, merely fulfils the loyal function of the court jester in Russia\s Duma, the rubber-stamp parliament in Putin’s system of “managed democracy”.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">A core problem of the Bulgarian media reporting on Russia has been its tendency towards sensationalism instead of in-depth analysis — not a surprise in a country where&nbsp;oligarchic interests&nbsp;control much of the media landscape</p> <p>In September, another Russian MP, Pyotr Tolstoy, stated on Bulgarian National Television that <a href="https://www.euractiv.com/section/europe-s-east/news/russian-mp-we-will-buy-bulgaria-we-already-bought-half-of-the-coast/">Russia “will just buy out” Bulgaria wholesale</a> since Russians already owned “half the coastline”. The comment sent shockwaves through the country despite the fact that Russia's economy, battered by sanctions and dwindling oil prices, is in no state to “buy out” anything — let alone a prime piece of real estate in the Balkans like the whole of Bulgaria.</p> <p>What Bulgarian media failed to point out was that Duma MPs like Zhirinovsky and Tolstoy hardly make policy in Russia. The Kremlin and, more precisely, Putin’s inner circle does. A core problem of the Bulgarian media reporting on Russia has been its tendency towards sensationalism instead of in-depth analysis — not a surprise in a country where <a href="http://sofiaglobe.com/2014/04/22/bulgarias-media-landscape-the-more-things-change/">oligarchic interests</a> control much of the media landscape, which is subjected to increasing <a href="http://ejc.net/media_landscapes/bulgaria">tabloidisation</a>.</p> <h2>A freak sideshow</h2> <p>Even the few independent quality media outlets in Bulgaria tend to be disoriented when it comes to Russia. This became clear in the immediate aftermath of the presidential election. The Bulgarian daily <em>Dnevnik</em> ran <a href="http://www.dnevnik.bg/bulgaria/2016/11/14/2863118_aleksandur_dugin_sofiia_e_nasha/?ref=rss">an article about Dugin reacting to Radev’s victory</a> and deliriously rejoicing on Facebook that “Sofia is ours”. Dugin was presented as one of Putin's key ideologues propagating the philosophy of Eurasianism and who coincidentally has been targeted by American sanctions in relation to the Ukraine crisis. Dnevnik’s article went viral on social media among rightfully concerned Bulgarians.</p> <p>Yet, the article got its basic facts wrong. The reason Dugin has been targeted by western sanctions is because members of his Eurasian Youth Union are fighting in the war in Donbas. But Dugin himself, for all intents and purposes, has never met Putin, is not part of his inner circle, and has <a href="https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/russian-federation/2015-03-25/scared-putins-shadow">no formal ties to the Kremlin</a>. </p><p>To describe him as “Putin's ideologue” is a distortion of reality, a “post-truth”. Dugin is on the political fringe and wields about as much influence on Russian policy as Mickey Mouse on US policy. But the media spin has nevertheless served to aggrandise and even mythologise him.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">To assume that Dugin, Reshetnikov, and TsarGrad TV are representative of the Kremlin’s policies is a fallacy</p> <p>Other <a href="http://www.faktor.bg/novini/balgariya/87076-l-reshetnikovda-bade-prochistena-balgariya-ot-zapada-ste-e-trudna-bitka-no-tryabva-da-proichstim-i-prozapadniya-elit.html">outlets then started reporting on an interview</a> that “Kremlin political analyst” Leonid Reshetnikov, gave <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PUsrgFVfEBw">on Russian television</a>. In it, Reshetnikov claimed that the envisioned early parliamentary elections will be a referendum on Bulgaria’s NATO membership. The interview again went viral provoking outrage on social media. While the media cited Reshetnikov as the head of the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, a Kremlin-affiliated think tank, they did not mention that <a href="http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/53190">he had been retired</a> prior to the Bulgarian election.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2016-11-30 at 09.42.14.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="295" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>"West's failure in Bulgaria: Russophile and patriot becomes president": TsarGrad TV reports on Radev's win. Source: YouTube.</span></span></span>Neither was it noted that the channel in question, TsarGrad TV, was not a “mainstream” Kremlin-controlled outlet, but a <a href="http://russia-insider.com/en/christianity/gods-tv-russian-style/ri11622">fringe setup owned by the media oligarch Konstantin Malofeev</a>, an Orthodox Russian nationalist monarchist who sponsors Dugin.&nbsp;</p> <h2>The real game of shadows</h2> <p>To assume that Dugin, Reshetnikov, and TsarGrad TV are representative of the Kremlin’s policies is a fallacy. The official reactions from Moscow to Radev's election have been less vocal and strikingly cautious.</p> <p>There is hope for “constructive relations” — a rather vague statement — but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov even stated that Moscow does not regard Radev as “pro-Russian”. It would indeed be ridiculous for any Kremlin official to publicly state that Radev, a <a href="https://www.mod.bg/en/doc/biography/ba_vvs_zam.pdf">US-educated former NATO general</a>, would pull Bulgaria out of NATO.&nbsp;</p> <p>Putin <a href="https://themoscowtimes.com/articles/putin-is-not-a-nationalist-36704">is not a nationalist</a> like Dugin. The latter merely serves as a useful idiot spawning cheap “agitprop”. This function is often strengthened by panic-ridden analyses by western commentators and media who pick up on these quotes. They do so in search of an ideological frame through which to present the Kremlin's actions. More so, western commentators often substitute a Kremlin-instigated plot for what are otherwise domestic developments. This phenomenon goes well beyond Bulgaria.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Russia holds an economic footprint of about one quarter of Bulgaria’s GDP, ranging from the energy sector — oil, gas, nuclear power — to the finance, telecommunications, real estate and media sectors</p> <p>In fact, the more the western media are complicit in this, the more room for maneuver they potentially give to the Kremlin. For there certainly is Russian influence in Bulgaria, and it is no small matter.&nbsp;</p> <p>Recently, two in-depth reports, one authored by <a href="http://europeanreform.org/files/ND-report-RussiasInfluenceInBulgaria-preview-lo-res_FV.pdf">Bulgarian political analyst Dimitar Bechev</a> and another <em><a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/kremlin-playbook">The Kremlin Playbook</a></em> by the <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-security-usa-idUSKCN12D13Q">Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and the Center for the Study of Democracy in Sofia</a>, have examined the degree of penetration of Russian interests (which are mainly economic) in Bulgaria. In these reports a story of literal “state capture” is revealed.</p> <p>Russia holds an economic footprint of about one quarter of Bulgaria’s GDP, ranging from the energy sector — oil, gas, nuclear power — to the finance, telecommunications, real estate and media sectors. More than three quarters of Bulgaria’s imports from Russia consist of hydrocarbons. Gazprom dominates Bulgaria’s gas sector, while Lukoil, which owns the country’s only refinery, channels investments through its trading companies in the Netherlands, Austria or Switzerland. Russian individuals and entities hold stakes in more than 4,600 companies in Bulgaria.&nbsp;</p> <p>To maintain this position, Russia relies on a complex and murky network of contacts and intermediaries from oligarchs and businessmen to officials and politicians. Through this network, Russia can influence policy in Bulgaria in its favour. The existence of this network precedes Radev’s election, and the mechanism through which Russia can exert influence on Bulgarian politics has been in place for years. This network does not depend on ideology: it spans the whole political spectrum and is underpinned by corruption.&nbsp;</p> <p>In order to understand the nature of Russian influence in a country like Bulgaria, you have to look at the domestic factors first. Recognising how Russian interests manifest themselves in this situation means less attention should be paid to the kind of Duginesque variété theatrics. It is not Eurasianism or any kind of transnational fascist authoritarianism that poses the most serious threat, although there are certainly some political forces that embrace such ambitions.&nbsp;</p> <p>In Bulgaria, with its dearth of fact-checking media, the “post-truth” reality is one that is self-inflicted and egged on by alarmism in western media. This media distraction conveniently covers up the shady dealings of Bulgaria’s elites and the very real Russian interests at play.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/tom-junes/trap-of-countering-russia">The trap of “countering Russia”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/vassilis-petsinis/putin%E2%80%99s-%27useless-idiots%27-or-signs-of-deeper-pathology-russophil">Putin’s &#039;useless idiots&#039; or signs of a deeper pathology? Russophilia and national populism in Greece</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anton-shekhovtsov/kremlin%E2%80%99s-marriage-of-convenience-with-european-far-right">The Kremlin’s marriage of convenience with the European far right</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/russia-theme/who-is-alexander-dugin">Who is Alexander Dugin? </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tom Junes Russia Beyond propaganda Wed, 30 Nov 2016 09:23:06 +0000 Tom Junes 107241 at https://www.opendemocracy.net In Russia’s media, censorship is silent https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/nataliya-rostova/in-russia-s-media-censorship-is-silent <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A new survey of 100 Russian journalists reveals their perceptions of professional challenges, objectivity and freedom. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/natalia-rostova/censorship-silence">Русский</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/RIAN_02824387.LR_.ru__0_1 (1).jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="242" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>April 2016: journalists at a Moscow newspaper watch "Direct Line with Vladimir Putin". (с) Aleksandr Vilf / VisualRIAN. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>The idea of conducting a survey of Russian journalists came to me after seeing something similar in </span><em>New York</em><span> magazine, </span><a href="http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/07/media-survey.html">which earlier this year polled 113 people working in the US media</a><span> on the problems and challenges they face. I thought it’d be interesting to compare the responses of journalists working on opposite sides of the Atlantic. On the one hand, you have the experience of a country where every schoolchild feels pride in the First Amendment, which forbids Congress to pass any legislation limiting freedom of speech and the press, and, on the other, experience from a country where censorship was officially banned only 26 years ago.</span></p> <p>My survey of Russian journalists showed that 72% of respondents had encountered instances of censorship in their work; 87% agreed that it exists in Russia and 92% that the majority of Russian mass media outlets were biased. Eighty two percent see the post-2012 period as the worst for Russia’s media (and another 11% see Vladimir Putin’s first two terms in the same light), while 73% of respondents saw Boris Yeltsin’s presidency as the most positive for their work. Almost a quarter of respondents believe that <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/nataliya-rostova/could-trade-union-do-anything-to-protect-russian-journalists">there is no one to help them assert their rights</a>. </p> <h2><strong>Who are these people?</strong></h2> <p>I invited potential respondents to participate on Facebook — most of the people who got back to me were journalists working for the quality press and media. </p><p>The survey was carried out via email, and 100 respondents took part. Eighty of them worked for privately owned media, 15 for state owned companies and seven for other types of media (the Colta.ru internet platform, Radio Liberty and BBC). Three people worked for a news agency; 51 in online publications; 47 in print publications and 10 each in radio and TV. Some respondents work in more than one media outlet, so the number of responses was higher than the number of respondents. </p> <p>I limited respondents to people with 10 or more years experience in journalism. The largest group (44 people) began their careers under Yeltsin (1991-1999); 39 - during Putin’s first two terms (2000-2008). The rest had longer experience under their belts: 12 had started work under Mikhail Gorbachev (1985-1991); two under Yuri Andropov (1982-4) and two went back to the Brezhnev years (1964-1982). </p> <h2><strong>What were their responses?</strong></h2> <p>I asked 11 questions from the <em>New York</em> poll, and another nine with specific relevance to Russia (you can read the American results <a href="http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/07/media-survey.html">here</a>). Some questions just required an answer; others allowed respondents to add comments. </p> <p>My published results exclude narrowly specific questions about the influence of the internet and social media on journalism. It’s interesting, however, that the American and Russian journalists gave completely opposite responses to the same questions. 76% of the Americans said that the internet had been bad for journalism; the same percentage of Russians saw its influence as positive. There were less extreme differences in responses to the question of the influence of social media on their profession: 53% of the Americans and 74% of the Russians saw it as positive. I also excluded responses to a question about why people distrust the media — according to the independent <a href="http://www.levada.ru/eng/">Levada Center</a>, a majority of Russians trust their country’s media. </p> <p>My survey also showed that the Russian journalists who took part in the survey were much more likely than their American counterparts (68% as opposed to 37%) to believe that media standards had improved over the last 10 years. Both groups, however, agreed about the main function of journalism: 86% of US respondents and 83% of Russian journalists believe it lay in “telling its readership/audience what it needs to know, without fear of offending its interests”. The rest believed their role was to “respond to readership/audience demand”. &nbsp;</p> <p>As for the specifics of journalism in Russia, it was telling that more than half of respondents felt that government-owned and -controlled media should only exist under certain conditions, and 26% - that they should not exist under any circumstances. Opinions also differed on Deputy Communications Minister Aleksey Volin’s <a href="http://latitude.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/11/russias-deputy-minister-of-communications-defends-propaganda/?_r=0">belief that the function of journalists was to work for “your owner”</a>. Thirty eight percent of those polled thought that this position could be explained by his personal biography; 17%, that it reflected wishful thinking on his part and almost a third that his pronouncements mirrored the objective conditions in which the Russian media have to work. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p><em><strong>You can read the full qualitative survey in Russian <a href="https://medium.com/opendemocracy/%D1%86%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B7%D1%83%D1%80%D0%B0-%D0%B2%D0%BE-%D0%BC%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%B3%D0%B8%D1%85-%D1%81%D0%BC%D0%B8-%D1%81%D1%83%D1%89%D0%B5%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B2%D1%83%D0%B5%D1%82-%D0%BF%D0%BE-%D1%83%D0%BC%D0%BE%D0%BB%D1%87%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%B8%D1%8E-c2f946bc4d4a">here</a>.&nbsp;</strong></em></p><p><em><strong><br /></strong></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/nataliya-rostova/could-trade-union-do-anything-to-protect-russian-journalists">Could a union do anything to protect Russian journalists?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alexey-kovalev/life-after-facts-how-russian-state-media-defines-itself-through-negation">Life after facts: how Russian state media defines itself through negation</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilya-yablokov/why-are-russia-s-journalists-so-prone-to-conspiracy-theory">Why are Russia’s journalists so prone to conspiracy theory?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/elisabeth-schimpfossl/reporting-on-russian-television">Reporting on Russian television</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/nataliya-rostova/regulating-moscow-hack-pack">Regulating the Moscow hack pack</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ilya-yablokov/russian-media-s-double-white-lines">Russian journalism’s double white lines</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Nataliya Rostova Russia Beyond propaganda Wed, 23 Nov 2016 15:30:32 +0000 Nataliya Rostova 107068 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Crimea: freedom of speech turns to freedom of silence https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/crimea-s-unfreedom-of-speech <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="normal">Crimea has had no independent media for two and a half years now —&nbsp;a Crimean journalist speaks out about the situation on condition of anonymity. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anonym/krym-bez-massmedia">Русский</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="normal"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/jpg_4." alt="" title="" width="460" height="304" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>2 November 2016: activists hold rally near the Russian Embassy in Kyiv, demanding to close criminal cases against Ukrainian journalists. Source: <a href=https://humanrights.org.ua/en>Human Rights Information Center, Ukraine</a>.</span></span></span></p><p class="normal"><em>The author, a Crimean journalist, has requested that we publish this article anonymously.&nbsp;</em></p><p class="normal">In March 2014, after the referendum on Crimea’s “unification” with Russia that was not recognised beyond the latter’s borders, Ukrainian legislation was gradually squeezed out by Russian law. The official transition period was supposed to end on 1 January 2015, but there were exceptions in some areas. Free registration for Crimea’s media companies by Russian media watchdog Roskomnadzor was, for example, extended to 1 April of that year. Crimean media could effectively continue to function up until then, but many found their access to government bodies already closed and officials refusing to talk to them.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">By 1 April, some Crimean print publications had successfully re-registered without any problems or bureaucratic delays, although admittedly they had all supported the referendum. Meanwhile, the editorial teams at major newspapers, internet platforms and TV channels that had worked in the peninsula for the previous year, but had a different perspective on the so-called “Crimean spring”, and were still desperately trying to get Russian licences — but trying in vain.&nbsp;</p> <h2>The exodus to Kyiv</h2> <p class="normal">A good example of this state of affairs is the case of ATR, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/andrii-ianitskyi/crimean-tatar-tv-back-on-air">Crimea’s first Tatar language TV channel</a>, which had been operating since 2005. In February-March 2014 the channel covered events in the peninsula practically around the clock, giving representatives of all political groups the chance to air their views. ATR’s editorial policy was based on the interests of its core audience, Crimean Tatars, most of whom opposed the referendum and the presence on their territory of the euphemistically so-called “polite people” who were later unmasked as Russian troop formations. Within a few days, the channel achieved global fame as one of the main sources of objective information coming out of Crimea.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">However, when ATR management sent four separate registration applications to Roskomnadzor, the government agency’s staff found an excuse to return them every time, so denying the channel registration. At midnight on 31 March 2015, ATR was forced to go off the air, to avoid breaking the law by broadcasting without a licence.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">The channel’s founders decided to move to Kyiv, and resumed broadcasting two and a half months later from “mainland” Ukraine. Some members of the team were forced to leave Crimea. Journalists, camera operators, directors and other employees moved to the Ukrainian capital with their families. ATR has now been based in Kyiv for a year and a half, but its staff have more than once discussed the possibility of closing down or moving to an EU country: the channel receives no funding from the Ukrainian government.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">It is no surprise to learn that ATR is owned by Lenur Islyamov, a Russian businessman of Crimean Tatar extraction who for a short time was acting prime minister of the Russian government of Crimea, though even that didn’t help the channel with its Roskomnadzor registration. Islyamov, who headed<a href="http://uatoday.tv/politics/ukraine-activists-to-mark-crimea-blockade-anniversary-752928.html"> </a><a href="http://uatoday.tv/politics/ukraine-activists-to-mark-crimea-blockade-anniversary-752928.html">the food and energy blockade of the peninsula</a>, is also now resident in Ukraine, and has been charged by Russia’s investigative organs with “public incitement to activity designed to breach the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation”.&nbsp;</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">Dozens of well-known journalists have left Crimea after two and a half years of moral and physical pressure</p><p class="normal">A similar fate has befallen the popular<a href="https://translate.google.co.uk/translate?hl=en&amp;sl=ru&amp;u=http://blacksea.tv/&amp;prev=search"> </a><a href="https://translate.google.co.uk/translate?hl=en&amp;sl=ru&amp;u=http://blacksea.tv/&amp;prev=search">Black Sea TV and Radio Company</a>, owned by Crimean associates of Yulia Tymoshenko. After searches and the impoundment of its equipment, the channel could no longer continue to operate in Crimea and its owners took the decision to relocate to Kyiv.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Other well known Crimean internet platforms such as the <a href="http://investigator.org.ua/">Center for Journalistic Research</a>, <a href="http://15minut.org/">15 Minutes</a>, <a href="http://ru.krymr.com/">Crimea.Reality</a>, <a href="http://www.blackseanews.net/">Blackseanews</a>, <a href="http://www.sobytiya.info/">Events in Crimea</a> and the Crimean Tatar-language<a href="http://qha.com.ua/tr"> </a><a href="http://qha.com.ua/tr">“Qirim Haber Ajansi”</a> have also moved to the Ukrainian capital, as have Crimea’s only Ukrainian-language newspaper Krymska Svetlitsa and its only Crimean Tatar-language radio station, <a href="http://www.meydan.fm/">Meydan</a>. It must of course be said that the number and quality of articles about Crimea is noticeably affected by their being researched and written hundreds of kilometres from the peninsula.</p> <p class="normal">Crimean editorial teams in Kyiv are unable to get accreditation for journalists inside the “Russian” republic and can’t guarantee their safety in Crimea. Other media outlets are in an even worse situation. The popular Crimean weeklies <em>Republic</em> and <em>Events</em>, once printed in their thousands, have had to fold, as have the much-loved Leader and Assol radio stations.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>The harassment of those who remain</strong>&nbsp;</h2> <p class="normal">Dozens of well-known journalists have left Crimea after two and a half years of moral and physical pressure.</p> <p class="normal">Many now live and work in Kyiv, and some have brought their families, afraid to leave them behind. Some have even left their profession to avoid risking their lives. Those who have decided to continue their independent journalism in the peninsula, despite their fears, have been subject to unprecedented levels of harassment from the security services, and they face continual searches of their homes, arrests, interrogations, “invitations” for chats with the police, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Investigative Committee and the FSB.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">The security services in “Russian Crimea” have opened three criminal cases of “public incitement to activity designed to subvert the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation”. Andrey Klimenko, editor-in-chief of the<a href="http://www.blackseanews.net/en"> </a><a href="http://www.blackseanews.net/en">“Blackseanews” online platform</a>, the journalist Anna Andriyevskaya and RFE/RL's freelance Crimean correspondent Nikolai Semena are the targets. </p> <p class="normal">At various times, material published under their names or pseudonyms has been seen by the Russian security services as incitement to separatism.</p><p class="normal"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/download.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Crimean journalist Nikolai Semena, pictured here, has been charged with separatism. Source: Personal archive / <a href=http://www.crimea.kp.ru/daily/26518/3535317/>Komsomolskaya pravda</a>.</span></span></span>Two of them have managed to escape actual prosecution by settling in Kyiv, but Nikolai Semena is still on the peninsula. He has been banned from leaving Crimea and is held under house arrest. Semena is also registered on the Russian Federation’s list of people allegedly connected with terrorism and extremism. In addition, he has only limited access to his bank accounts.</p> <p class="normal">The Crimean authorities openly refer to Semena and his colleagues as “enemies of the republic” and “agents of the CIA and the State Department”. “I know these people well,” the Crimean parliament’s speaker Vladimir Konstantinov announced after criminal charges were filed against Semena. “They are our enemies. They are enemies of Russia, enemies of Crimea. And whatever they write, they have only one aim — to hurt us and bring us down.”&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Registering with Roskomnadzor is far from a guarantee of safety from prosecution. At the start of October, the Investigative Committee brought a criminal case against Aleksey Nazimov, the founder and editor of <em>Your paper</em>, a weekly published in the resort town of Alushta. Nazimov, who is known for his opposition to the local authorities, is alleged to have blackmailed a local politician over information that would have tarnished the latter’s reputation. A court in Alushta has placed Nazimov in detention for two months (<a href="http://www.sobytiya.info/news/16/67239">link in Russian</a>).&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">This situation allows senior Russian officials to talk about democracy and freedom of speech on the peninsula, but the real picture is somewhat different</p> <p class="normal">Crimea is often compared to Chechnya, with parallels drawn between the republic’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov and the peninsula’s head Sergey Aksyonov. In fairness I should point out that Crimea still has information sources that will, occasionally at least, criticise its rulers — usually on socio-economic issues, contentious projects and controversial official decisions. But most media outlets prefer to avoid outspoken political commentaries and judgements, which can have unpleasant consequences. Official republic-level and state media are unable to do this by definition, since they are funded by the authorities. And non-government publications are controlled by business people or commercial structures, vulnerable to pressure from various inspection authorities.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Immediately after the closure of ATR, the Crimean government set up its own Crimean Tatar-language TV channel <a href="http://trkmillet.ru/">Millet</a> (Crimean Tatar for “nation”). But this state-funded company does not report on the numerous searches, interrogations, arrests and criminal cases to which Crimean Tatars are subjected.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">This situation allows senior Russian officials to talk about democracy and freedom of speech on the peninsula, but the real picture is somewhat different. The Ukrainian government, including president Petro Poroshenko, is forever pointing out the harassment suffered by journalists in Crimea and demanding an end to their persecution.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">European structures are also vocal in their criticism. In October, French diplomat Hugues Mingarelli, who heads the EU’s delegation to Ukraine, <a href="http://qha.com.ua/en/politics/eu-calls-to-stop-harassment-of-journalists-in-crimea/139173/">called on Russia to stop persecuting Nikolai Semena</a>, as well as Crimean Tatar journalists. “We are very concerned about violations of freedom of speech in Crimea,” Mingarelli stated. “We all know that Nikolai Semena is only under house arrest because he allegedly incited people to ‘breach the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation’. This must be a joke!” According to Mingarelli, Crimean Tatar journalists “are a particular target”. “We know their houses are constantly searched. This must be stopped, and we need to put every effort into getting it stopped.”</p> <p class="normal">Pronouncements of this kind rarely have any practical effect&nbsp;— Russia just ignores them. At the same time, Crimea, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/disappearing-journalists-of-north-caucasus">along with Chechnya</a>, is an important focus of international attention, as it is from these countries that we hear most frequently about crackdowns on freedom of speech and violations of journalists’ rights. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p class="normal">&nbsp;</p><p class="normal"><em>Translated by Liz Barnes.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dominik-k-cagara/disappearing-journalists-of-north-caucasus">The disappearing journalists of the North Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ksenia-babich/crimea-is-pushed-to-limit">Crimea needs a cure</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/oles-petik-halyna-herasym/critical-thinking-at-stake-ukraine-s-witch-hunt-against-journali">Critical thinking at (the) stake: Ukraine’s witch hunt against journalism</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Anonymous in Crimea Ukraine Russia Beyond propaganda Wed, 16 Nov 2016 16:17:17 +0000 Anonymous in Crimea 106829 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The disappearing journalists of the North Caucasus https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dominik-k-cagara/disappearing-journalists-of-north-caucasus <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>My Cheche<img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/IMG_2095.JPG" alt="IMG_2095.JPG" width="80" />n colleague Zhalavdi Geriyev has been imprisoned. How many more journalists will join him behind bars?</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="normal"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/20140912_160101.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Zhalavdi Geriyev in Itum‐Kali, Chechnya in September 2014. Image: Dominik Cagara. </span></span></span>There are people who are much closer to Zhalavdi Geriyev — we only kept in touch sporadically — but most of them<a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/10/chechnya-no-longer-help-foreign-journalists-ramzan-kadyrov"> </a><a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/10/chechnya-no-longer-help-foreign-journalists-ramzan-kadyrov">won’t be able to speak up</a>. I will, no matter the consequences, because speaking up about the plight of journalists in the North Caucasus is the only thing left to do.</p> <p class="normal">In September this year, Geriyev, 23, who worked as a journalist in the Russian republic of Chechnya, was sentenced to three years in a penal colony on the absurd charge of drug possession, an accusation which is commonly used to silence journalists in countries like Russia or Azerbaijan.</p> <p class="normal">Indeed, Memorial Human Rights Centre has recognised Geriyev as a political prisoner, being certain that he suffered as a result of his professional activity as a journalist.</p> <p class="normal">On 16 April 2016, three armed men <a href="http://www.hrw.org/news/2016/09/06/russia-journalist-punished-chechnya-reporting">dragged him out of a bus traveling to Grozny</a>, hit him on the head and drove him, with his hands tied, to a forest for “questioning”. They repeatedly beat him and threatened they would kill him and bury in the forest. When another car arrived, a man pulled a plastic bag tightly over his head almost to the point of suffocation. He was forced to sign a confession in a cemetery in Kurchaloy, his native village.</p> <p class="normal">I first met Zhalavdi in 2014, when he was 21. He was participating in a training on peace and conflict studies which I had organised. We discussed in depth the concept of structural violence: forms of violence embedded in societal and institutional structures, which prevent people from fulfilling their basic needs. Zhalavdi was a very attentive and inquisitive participant, despite the fact that he had only recently started to learn English. “I changed my mind about many things,” he told me after the training. “Now I am aware of even more violence in Chechnya than I could notice before.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Chechen journalists are too terrified to report anything that doesn’t put the authorities in a good light. They fear not only for their own lives, but possible reprisals against their relatives</p> <p class="normal">Zhalavdi invited me to stay at his apartment in Grozny, where he confided that he worked undercover for <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru">Caucasian Knot</a>, an online news outlet operating in the North Caucasus. He never published under his real name; he signed his reports with a generic <em>nom de guerre</em>, a common Chechen name and surname. I know he went to rallies, conducted <em>vox pops</em>, and followed court cases. He never criticised Chechnya’s president Ramzan Kadyrov explicitly, even in private conversation.</p> <p class="normal">Zhalavdi is a pious young man. He never touched alcohol or drugs and often spoke up against doing so. Before he was sentenced last month, he used his final word to swear on the Quran, retracting his previous confession, that he was innocent and that he “wrote nothing defamatory about the Chechen Republic or its authorities, wrote only the truth, as the president [Kadyrov] requires from journalists.”</p> <p class="normal">That didn’t help much. Zhalavdi is currently serving his sentence in Chernokozovo, a notorious penal colony located in the north of Chechnya, which earned its infamy during the second Chechen war. Back then, the prison served as a part of the filtration camp system, and it was known for torture and summary executions. Today, the conditions in the colony are still so bad that three years ago the prisoners organised a rebellion and a hunger strike.</p> <p class="normal">Zhalavdi’s friend told me that at home everybody is happy — at least he’s alive.</p> <p class="normal">In the North Caucasus, everybody still remembers the <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2014/aug/05/journalist-safety-russia">case</a>&nbsp;of Timur Kuashev, a Circassian journalist who cooperated with the Chechen journal <em>Dosh</em> (“Word”). In August 2014, Kuashev was found dead in a suburb of Nalchik, in Kabardino–Balkaria. He had been under surveillance, which was switched off exactly around the time of his death. Investigators concluded that he died as a result of acute coronary insufficiency, despite widely voiced claims that he could have been poisoned. The perpetrators were never identified.</p> <p class="normal">The worst feeling about these cases is powerlessness. An<a href="http://www.change.org/p/%D1%82%D1%80%D0%B5%D0%B1%D1%83%D0%B5%D0%BC-%D0%B1%D0%B5%D1%81%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%B8%D1%81%D1%82%D1%80%D0%B0%D1%81%D1%82%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%B3%D0%BE-%D1%81%D1%83%D0%B4%D0%B0-%D0%BD%D0%B0%D0%B4-%D1%87%D0%B5%D1%87%D0%B5%D0%BD%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%B8%D0%BC-%D0%B6%D1%83%D1%80%D0%BD%D0%B0%D0%BB%D0%B8%D1%81%D1%82%D0%BE%D0%BC"> </a><a href="http://www.change.org/p/%D1%82%D1%80%D0%B5%D0%B1%D1%83%D0%B5%D0%BC-%D0%B1%D0%B5%D1%81%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%B8%D1%81%D1%82%D1%80%D0%B0%D1%81%D1%82%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%B3%D0%BE-%D1%81%D1%83%D0%B4%D0%B0-%D0%BD%D0%B0%D0%B4-%D1%87%D0%B5%D1%87%D0%B5%D0%BD%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%B8%D0%BC-%D0%B6%D1%83%D1%80%D0%BD%D0%B0%D0%BB%D0%B8%D1%81%D1%82%D0%BE%D0%BC">online petition</a> demanding an impartial trial for Zhalavdi was launched (it now has almost 24,000 signatures), but I can’t imagine that a state which doesn’t hesitate to murder its own citizens would care.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">With no systemic solution to address people’s grievances in the North Caucasus, people are going to increasingly channel their activism into radical ideologies</p> <p class="normal">Zhalavdi’s trial was needed for the Russian authorities to show that genuine civic activism and journalism won’t be tolerated. These activities hit right at the heart of the system, which stands strong with injustice, repression and control. I write Russian, because nothing in the Chechen Republic, or any other place in Russia, happens without the approval of the federal authorities. </p> <p class="normal">Chechnya serves as an example for the rest of the country. Ramzan Kadyrov has never “gone rogue”, which was often claimed by experts at the time of Boris Nemtsov’s murder in February 2015. Kadyrov is a direct product of Russia’s policy of intimidation against the brightest in society, who would be able to bring about genuine grassroots-led challenge to the system. That’s something Russian society needs now more than ever.</p> <p class="normal">This policy results in a situation where Chechen journalists are too terrified to report anything that doesn’t put the authorities in a good light. They fear not only for their own lives, but possible reprisals against their relatives — a common weapon which is now used to further intimidate the population and prevent people from speaking up against the regime.</p> <p class="normal">There is only so much a person can take. With no systemic solution to address people’s grievances in the North Caucasus, people are going to increasingly channel their activism into radical ideologies, often with religious inspirations. In this year alone, almost 200 people fell victim to the armed conflict in the North Caucasus between the authorities and Islamic rebels. The insurgency is <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/varvara-pakhomenko/russia-s-north-caucasus-lesson-in-history">fuelled by Russia’s hard-line policy</a> in the region and the conflict has no end in sight.</p> <p class="normal">Tellingly, Zhalavdi was accused by his kidnappers of being a member of Islamic State, showing how, for the authorities at least, there’s little between a journalist and a terrorist.</p> <p class="normal">While strolling through the hollow streets of Grozny in autumn 2014, Zhalavdi told me that, when he was a child, he didn’t know that there were places in the world where there was no war. The wars from his childhood continue, despite all the PR stunts trying to depict Grozny as a phoenix rising from the ashes, the forefront of a new brand of peacebuilding — the same kind Russia is deploying in Aleppo today.</p><p class="normal">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/varvara-pakhomenko/russia-s-north-caucasus-lesson-in-history">Between dialogue and violence: the North Caucasus&#039;s bloody legacy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/big-government-is-back-in-dagestan">Big government is back in Dagestan</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dominik-k-cagara/way-down-in-pankisi">Way down in Pankisi</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Dominik K. Cagara Beyond propaganda Chechnya Wed, 26 Oct 2016 16:54:10 +0000 Dominik K. Cagara 106283 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Forced limbo: how Azerbaijan prevents journalists from leaving the country https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/gulnar-salimova/forced-limbo-how-azerbaijan-prevents-journalists-from-leaving-country <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Many authoritarian regimes would banish troublemakers. But in Azerbaijan, dissidents and critical journalists are prevented from leaving the country.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-26438493.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="316" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Khadija Ismayilova, center, a reporter for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, has become a symbol of defiance during after her ordeal with Azerbaijan's authorities. (c) Aziz Karimov / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“1937 is back again with a vengeance.” These words, written in 1988 by a popular local singer to describe Stalin-era repressions, are on the lips of many in Azerbaijan once again. They’re often quoted on social media as a comment on the country’s latest round of arrests. A recent opposition rally in Baku on 17 September against the country’ recent constitutional referendum is a good example — the authorities <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/az/site/news/17496/">used the opportunity to detain journalists alongside political activists</a>.&nbsp;</p><p>The authoritarian regime of president Ilham Aliyev has a large toolkit of repression — from arrest to surveillance, harassment and deportation. Yet in some cases, the Azerbaijani authorities don’t directly arrest troublesome activists and journalists. Instead, they simply ban them from leaving the country.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Many journalists run into trouble with the authorities in Azerbaijan, who continue to harass them regardless of criticism of international human rights organisation</p><p>Over 15 people are in this situation. Usually, they are faced with other charges, such as tax evasion. It’s a common tactic against freelance journalists. Earlier this year Meydan TV, <a href="meydan.tv/en">an independent online media outlet based outside Azerbaijan</a>, was investigated for tax evasion and “illegal entrepreneurship”. The names of 15 journalists <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/news/13829/">were mentioned in the criminal case which followed</a>.&nbsp;</p><p>These same charges were levelled against Khadiya Ismayilova, the acclaimed freelance journalist and contributor to the Azerbaijani service of RFE/RL. In 2014, Ismayilova was sentenced to seven and a half years imprisonment on charges of tax evasion, abuse of power and incitement to suicide, and soon became a cause celebre among Azerbaijani dissidents. Since Ismayilova was released in May 2016, she has set down to work on her unfinished investigative reports — in an even more oppressive environment for critical journalists.</p><p>Many journalists run into trouble with the authorities in Azerbaijan, who continue to harass them regardless of criticism of international human rights organisations. The stories of Aynur Elgunesh, Natig Javadly, Guler Mehdizade and Sevinj Vagifqizi are just some of many.</p><h2>Keeping it domestic</h2><p>“It was about 1:30am when our plane landed in Baku airport,” Sevinj Vagifqizi, a reporter for MeydanTV, writes to me over e-mail. “We’d just returned from Ukraine, where we had attended a training programme for journalists. When I reached passport control, I was informed by the Department for Combating Organised Crime (DCOC) that I am banned from leaving Azerbaijan.” Two other freelance journalists on assignment with MeydanTV, Aytan Farhadova and Izolda Aghaeva, were also present. They were told exactly the same.</p><p>“I told them that actually I was entering the country, not leaving it,” Vagifqizi says. She and her colleagues were then searched and handed over to the police, though the border guards presented no documents or warrants in the process.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/get_img (1).jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="258" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>September 2015: Sevinj Vaqifqizi, Izolda Aghayeva and Ayten Farhadova are detained at Baku's Heydar Aliyev International Airport. Source: <a href=https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/news/8162/>MeydanTV</a>.</span></span></span>Vagifqizi says that the police later took her and her fellow journalists’ money and mobile phones. At roughly 4am they were delivered to the DCOC. “At 11am, the deputy chief of the investigations department came and said that we had been brought here because of the criminal case against Meydan TV. As we had been called as witnesses in this case, we had been banned from leaving the country.”</p><p>“I suspected that I was the subject of the same ban,” Natig Javadly, another reporter, tells me. He was informed about the ban when called as a witness in the case against MeydanTV. “It was last September when an inspector gave me clear information that I was banned from leaving the country.”&nbsp;</p><p>While several of the Meydan journalists sought legal advice, Javadly, together with his lawyer, made an official application to Azerbaijan’s General Prosecutor’s office to reverse the ban.&nbsp;</p><p>Yet Javadly has little hope of a reprieve. “The court said that the reason for this ban is the criminal case against MeydanTV,” he says. His appeal was logged, but he doesn’t expect any positive results. “I don’t seriously expect anything, because there were similar appeals which were unsuccessful.”</p><p>After being banned from leaving Azerbaijan, Vagifqizi also tried to get the authorities to explain themselves. She sent a request to Azerbaijan’s State Border Service and DCOC, though the latter said they were not responsible. According to them, the decision was taken by the General Prosecutor’s Office. With the help of a lawyer, Vagifqizi filed a court case. To date, the Nasimi District Court in Baku has kept this ban in effect. “We believe the ban is illegal,” says Javadly, “and will take the case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)”.&nbsp;</p><h2>Life in the waiting zone</h2><p>This ban on free movement is taking its toll on journalists’ morale. “I can’t take any trips, including training workshops which are important for every journalist,” Vagifqizi tells me. “I have invitations, but I can’t do anything with them […] I feel like I’m in a cage, with my hands tied.”</p><p>“It’s possible to live with this,” reflects Aytan Farhadova, another freelance journalist working with Meydan, “but before my flight to Baku, I informed my family about the time of arrival. When we were detained in Baku airport, I wished that they didn’t know about my situation. Then at least I could just tell them that my flight was delayed.”</p><iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/VoUC2Y3UUWc" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe><em>17 September, 2016: activists and journalists are detained during a protest against <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dominika-bychawska-siniarska/azerbaijan-s-unconstitutional-future">Azerbaijan's planned constitutional reforms</a>. Source: <a href="www.meydan.tv">MeydanTV</a></em><p>When Azerbaijan’s ANS TV reported on Farhadova’s case, an official from the southwestern Zangilan region informed her family that Farhadova had been arrested. “That’s why everyone was panicking. I always try and keep my family away from such things… but since then, everybody has known,” she sighs.&nbsp;</p><p>Farhadova also contested the ban, but Baku’s Nasimi district court upheld it. Like other journalists, Farhadova plans to bring the case to the European Court of Human Rights.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The Azerbaijani authorities’ approach seems confusing. From their perspective, it would be a better idea to let critical journalists leave the country</p><p>Aynur Elgunesh, another freelance journalist, has faced problems at the border since 2014. According to Elgunesh, on every trip she has run into delays at passport control as border guards call their colleagues to check information about her. “Every time, they let me cross the border after a long wait and series of telephone calls. During these calls, I was identified as ‘person number five’. When I asked for the reason, they never answered.”</p><p>Elgunesh has written many letters to Azerbaijan’s General Prosecutor’s Office, the Border Guard and Ministry of Internal Affairs, but they answered that she was not subject to any ban.</p><p>Finally, on 6 December, 2015, on route to Sweden, Aynur was informed that she does not have permission to leave the country. Once again, the court case against MeydanTV was the central factor. Once again, the Nasimi district court in Baku rejected all appeals, and Elgunesh sent the case to the ECHR.&nbsp;</p><h2>To banish or to ban?&nbsp;</h2><p>The Azerbaijani authorities’ approach seems confusing. From their perspective, it would be a better idea to let critical journalists leave the country, rather than keeping them in the country where they can more easily dig up investigative stories.&nbsp;</p><p>In any case, distance is less of an obstacle these days. Farhadova says that recent investigations into organised corruption cases show that even journalists based abroad can continue their work and still have a real impact on Azerbaijani society. “Nowadays,” she says, “social networks are stronger than any media outlet. I think that this ban is just to intimidate. It’s to let us know that they’re keeping an eye on us.”&nbsp;</p><p>“Sometimes I joke that the government loves us so much that it doesn’t want to let us go,” says Vagifqizi. “I believe that this ban is because of my work at MeydanTV. The issues we deal with irritate the authorities. They want us to behave as pro-government media outlets do, or to shut up. But they’re not able to do that.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Prospects for media freedom in Azerbaijan are getting bleaker, even compared with the situation over the past three to four years</p><p>Javadly sees the travel ban as a symptom of Azerbaijan’s wider political culture. On 26 September, Azerbaijan held a referendum on 29 proposed constitutional amendments, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dominika-bychawska-siniarska/azerbaijan-s-unconstitutional-future">which hands even more power to president Ilham Aliyev</a>. The country’s Constitutional Court approved the proposal in a hurry, without any legal consultation or any parliamentary or public debate. “So, banning journalists from leaving the country is not so unusual,” Javadly tells me. “The government isn’t interested in developing free media. There’s no need to search for some paradox in these cases.”&nbsp;</p><p>Aynur Elgunesh believes the travel ban is not only a way to intimidate journalists, but to remind them that ultimately their work depends on the goodwill of the state. “The state reminds us that we are face-to-face with danger at every single moment [of our work]”, she concludes.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Es622UKnpY8B_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A flashmob held by <a href=https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/exclamation-mark-that-terrified-azerbaijani-authorities>N!DA</a>, whose members have also faced travel bans. Source: <a href=www.nidavh.org>N!DA</a>.</span></span></span>Guler Mehdizade, a Baku-based journalist, compares this situation to <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/azerbaijan%27s-failed-rebranding">the image Azerbaijan’s authorities promote in international PR campaigns</a>. The end result, Mehdizade thinks, is that journalists simply work even harder.&nbsp;</p><p>Alongside Azerbaijan’s long-suffering journalists, there are also cases of other dissidents being denied permission to leave, from members of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/rebecca-vincent/meet-ilgar-mammadov-azerbaijan-s-prison-president">Ilgar Mammadov’s Republican Alternative</a> (REAL) to young activists from the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/exclamation-mark-that-terrified-azerbaijani-authorities">N!DA youth movement</a>.&nbsp;</p><h2>“And finally, I crossed over”</h2><p>Mehdizade received her travel ban in July 2015. The same procedures happened to her. It wasn’t completely unexpected — she’d heard of other journalists’ facing similar problems.</p><p>On 13 February, Mehdizade decided to test the ban by attempting to cross the Azerbaijani-Georgia border. Her suspicions were confirmed, and she appealed to the authorities. The ban was upheld (a result of the criminal case against MeydanTV). Mehdizade also plans to bring the case before the ECHR.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/get_img_0.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="310" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Journalist Shirin Abbasov was arrested in September 2015 as part of the authorities' campaign against MeydanTV. Source: <a href=https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/politics/8226/>MeydanTV</a>.</span></span></span>As somebody fond of travel, Mehdizade was very depressed. “It really hurts when you hear at the border: ‘Lady, what have you done to get you the ban?’ There are special checking procedures — they open your luggage and drop everything on the floor in front of the people. The way these people are looking at you, it’s awful.”&nbsp;</p><p>Mehdizade’s ban has also affected her husband’s travel plans. Even if it were lifted, she adds, the authorities’ harassment and questioning of critical journalists wouldn’t necessarily stop. In fact, poor communication between government agencies could lead to it lasting longer. “It’s really a weird feeling to not be able to leave the country,” she reflects. “I could live and work there happily for decades and never leave the country. But when you know about the limitation, you get depressed. You feel like you’re in prison.”&nbsp;</p><h2>Behind closed borders&nbsp;</h2><p>The release of Khadija Ismayilova in May 2016 may have been widely celebrated, but it wasn’t necessarily cause for optimism. As Ismayilova put it herself, <a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/corruptistan/azerbaijan/2016/05/27/interview-with-khadija.html">Azerbaijan’s political prison has a revolving door</a> — on the day of Ismayilova’s release, the Baku authorities <a href="http://www.contact.az/docs/2016/Social/052500157262en.htm#.V-qAP5MrKRs">detained blogger Amid Seleymanov and photojournalist Elnur Mukhtarov for 10 days</a>.&nbsp;</p><p>Prospects for media freedom in Azerbaijan are getting bleaker, even compared with the situation over the past three to four years. Mehdizade speaks of a noticeable increase in arrests, bans and threats against journalists over the past year.&nbsp;</p><p>With president Aliyev newly emboldened after yesterday’s rigged constitutional referendum, the picture can only worsen. Meanwhile, journalists under threat will experience these defeats at close quarters, from behind closed borders.</p> <p><em>Want to know more about Azerbaijan's opposition politics? Read Rebecca VIncent's <a href=https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/rebecca-vincent/meet-ilgar-mammadov-azerbaijan-s-prison-president>profile of Ilgar Mammadov</a>, the head of the country's REAL movement who's currently in prison. </em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/rebecca-vincent/meet-ilgar-mammadov-azerbaijan-s-prison-president">Release Ilgar Mammadov</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/exclamation-mark-that-terrified-azerbaijani-authorities">Meet N!DA, the exclamation mark that terrified the Azerbaijani authorities</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dominika-bychawska-siniarska/azerbaijan-s-unconstitutional-future">Azerbaijan’s unconstitutional future</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sabir-akhundov/azerbaijanism">“Azerbaijanism”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/gabriel-levy/break-silence-on-azerbaijan-oil-workers-deaths">Break the silence on Azerbaijan oil workers’ deaths</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mike-runey/nardaran-affair">Azerbaijan&#039;s Nardaran affair </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Gulnar Salimova Beyond propaganda Azerbaijan Tue, 27 Sep 2016 14:36:59 +0000 Gulnar Salimova 105625 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The terror against Ukraine’s journalists is fuelled by political elites https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-eristavi/terror-against-ukraine-s-journalists-is-fueled-by-political-elites <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/13640714_1111597985577751_6152925088005036304_o.jpg" alt="13640714_1111597985577751_6152925088005036304_o.jpg" hspace="5" width="80" align="left" /><span>The inaction of Ukraine's law-enforcement institutions and unrestricted hate speech by top officials is enabling further violence against the country's journalists.</span></p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/RIAN_02928582.LR_.ru (1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>4 September: the Kyiv headquarters of Inter TV, a major Ukrainian broadcaster, suffers an arson attack. (с) RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>Watching a video of journalists <a href="https://twitter.com/MaximEristavi/status/772918437165293569">running for their lives amid choking smoke</a> in a building set ablaze in Kyiv is horrifying. It is even more chilling to realise that some of these people are colleagues and close friends you have known for years.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>We would disagree on many political issues, but it is still shocking to see where the exercise of freedom of speech in post-revolutionary Ukraine can lead you. At the same time, the <a href="http://www.rferl.org/content/ukraine-attacks-on-journalists-media-landscape-press-freedom/27923284.html">increasing violence against Ukraine<span>’s</span></a><span><a href="http://www.rferl.org/content/ukraine-attacks-on-journalists-media-landscape-press-freedom/27923284.html">&nbsp;journalists</a> brings powerful voices at home and abroad together in the expanding uprising against Soviet mentality, which has plagued the country for the last 25 years.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><h2>Culture of impunity<span>&nbsp;</span></h2><p>This Sunday, usually a very busy day for the Inter team producing the country’s most popular weekly news show, <a href="https://twitter.com/Hromadske/status/772725308030128128/photo/1">ended with one person suffering spinal injuries</a> and dozens escaping a building set ablaze by far-right paramilitaries.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Some journalists were trapped inside Inter’s burning headquarters and prevented from leaving by the attackers, who were from different far-right paramilitary groups. Eventually, fire-fighters and police secured a safe escort of all journalists outside the site. Six attackers were even detained. But the Inter news team stayed defiant and did a live broadcast outside the torched newsroom that night anyway. This was in the true spirit of Ukrainian journalism, which has survived multiple hostile regimes and numerous public executions and attacks on its brightest journalists over the past 25 years.</p><p>This arson attack on the biggest TV channel in Ukraine is hardly a surprise for anyone. <a href="http://www.rferl.mobi/a/ukraine-fire-at-inter-tv-threat-to-media-freedom/27968557.html">Months of threats and vandal attacks on the Inter headquarters</a> in Kyiv were followed by zero arrests, investigation or public condemnation.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Moreover, top Ukrainian officials were engaged in enabling hate speech against the TV-channel’s journalists. Arsen Avakov, Ukraine’s interior minister, has publicly criticised the channel for months, and in&nbsp;<a href="https://www.facebook.com/arsen.avakov.1/posts/1120221481401290">a recent Facebook post on 31 August</a>&nbsp;called it “anti-Ukrainian, anti-state”.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">The Soviet mentality of treating journalism as either “good” or “bad” just by the amount of positive coverage it devotes to the government is unfortunately alive and well among Ukraine’s political elites&nbsp;</p><p>The Ukrainian president<span>’s official statement</span><span>&nbsp;following the attack </span><a href="http://www.president.gov.ua/en/news/prezident-doruchiv-generalnomu-prokuroru-vzyati-rozsliduvann-38071">was more like a double-edged sword</a><span>. Within the space of a single text, president Petro Poroshenko demanded an investigation into the attack and at the same time indirectly blamed journalists for “destabilising the political domestic situation in Ukraine”. The <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/igor-burdyga/ukraine-s-media-plea-for-pluralism">Soviet mentality of treating journalism as either “good” or “bad”</a> just by the amount of positive coverage it devotes to the government is unfortunately alive and well among Ukraine’s political elites.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>The chances that an investigation into the attack on Inter <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/serhiy-kudelia/what-does-murder-of-pavel-sheremet-say-about-contemporary-ukraine">will produce any results are microscopic</a>. The well-publicised incompetence of the General Prosecutor’s office is jaw-dropping when you consider its inability to put anyone from the previous kleptocratic regime behind bars. Inter journalists report scattered evidence at the attack site <a href="https://www.facebook.com/MaximEristavi/posts/1150819298322286">has been left completely unattended,</a>&nbsp;illustrating why hardly anyone believes in a successful investigation. All the detained attackers <a href="http://podrobnosti.ua/2129764-zaderzhannyh-podozrevaemyh-v-podzhoge-intera-perekvalifitsirovali-v-svidetelej.htm">were released right after getting charged on the same day</a>. Two days after the attack, in his parliamentary address, president Poroshenko <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/us-ukraine-crisis-poroshenko-idUSKCN11C0PV?utm_campaign=trueAnthem:+Trending+Content&amp;utm_content=57ce8dc604d301691383b2cd&amp;utm_medium=trueAnthem&amp;utm_source=twitter">failed to mention the dramatic spike of violence against journalists even once</a>. </p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">Journalists were some of the first victims of Russia’s rising authoritarianism. We can’t make the same mistake with Ukraine</span></p><p>The open indifference of the current Ukrainian officials towards violence against journalists is nothing new. In May this year, officials failed to condemn a series of data leaks <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/oles-petik-halyna-herasym/critical-thinking-at-stake-ukraine-s-witch-hunt-against-journali">exposing the personal information of dozens of war reporters with assignments on the territories</a> covertly invaded by hybrid Russian troops, and no serious attempt at shutting down the law-breaking website in question has been made. Moreover, some members of the parliament and government, including interior minister Arsen Avakov, <a href="http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21703196-pavel-sheremets-murder-threat-ukraines-fearless-activists-assassination-ukrainian">praised the leaks</a>, despite wide international condemnation. </p><p><span>Lack of official reaction has only fueled more hate and death threats towards Ukrainian journalists. My Hromadske colleague Ekaterina Sergatskova received a death threat targeting her toddler son following the journalist data leak.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Moreover, many female reporters at our network have faced gendered hate speech <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/27/kremlin-style-troll-attacks-are-on-the-rise-in-ukraine-hromadske">in what Hromadske’s CEO believes is an organised online bullying campaign</a> with ties to Ukraine’s corrupt elites. In recent months, I have also faced a number of similar online bullying attacks and death threats after speaking out against the leaks. All of them showed a clear, well organised dynamic and tended to intimidate me based on my status as the only openly gay journalist in Ukraine.</p><p>These violent attacks on Inter TV journalists have taken place just weeks <a href="https://www.coe.int/en/web/kyiv/-/statement-on-the-murder-of-pavlo-sheremet">after the murder of Pavel Sheremet</a>, a high-profile media personality known for his critical views of Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian governments. The Ukrainian police <a href="http://en.interfax.com.ua/news/general/367597.html">has recently admitted lack of progress in the investigation</a>.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Now, playing the devil’s advocate, it is worth mentioning that Inter hasn't been a beacon for Ukrainian independent journalism of any sorts. Owned by the oligarchic groups of Dmytro Firtash, Inter has pivoted towards pro-Russian programming choices for several years now. And we shouldn't underestimate <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EVyZUwnJMdo&amp;feature=youtu.be">the damage Russian-financed information warfare has on national security of east European countries</a>.</p><p>As we can see in eastern Ukraine, propaganda kills, literally. News distortion, fabrication and manipulation are as effective in hybrid warfare in the region as actual weapons, if not more so. Still, this does not mean we should not allow local officials, often plagued by Soviet mentality towards the media, to have the power <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/oles-petik-halyna-herasym/critical-thinking-at-stake-ukraine-s-witch-hunt-against-journali">to declare who is a“real journalist” and who is a “national security threat”</a>.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">Ukraine should follow recent OSCE recommendations and move the process of confronting propaganda and hate speech to the courts, preferably international ones&nbsp;</p><p>Ukraine and other states affected by Russia’s information assault <a href="http://www.osce.org/fom/203926">should follow recent OSCE recommendations</a> and move the process of confronting propaganda and hate speech to the courts, preferably international ones. If you are a government official and confident that an individual pretends to be a journalist and works as a spy instead, opt for a open court hearing rather than deciding it behind closed doors.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Frankly, I would assign partial blame for increased violence on Ukrainian journalists themselves — the lack of solidarity and communal support is disturbing. When Hromadske journalists faced recent government bullying for war reporting, many of our Ukrainian colleagues sided with the officials, including some journalists from Inter. During the arson attack on the latter on Sunday, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10205652621033091&amp;set=a.1116385688115.15345.1781187626&amp;type=3&amp;theater">several local reporters took selfies in front of the burning building</a> — an outrageous expression of their disagreement with the channel<span>’s</span><span>&nbsp;editorial policy.</span></p><p>Still, the past couple of days have shown that many in the country have decided to speak out against the disturbing tendency of assaults on freedom of speech. Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s ambassador to the Council of Europe, <a href="https://twitter.com/DmytroKuleba/status/772482747977924608">strongly condemned the attack</a>, pointing out that extrajudicial revenge against people with different opinions only makes things worse.</p><p>The Hromadske network, the largest independent newsroom in the region, has covered the story of the arson attack non-stop in three languages. Prominent human rights defenders and reformist politicians have also joined the condemnation camp.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>On the day after the arson attack in Kyiv, we learned that Zhalaudi Geriev, my colleague from Caucasian Knot, one of the last fortresses of independent journalism in Russia, had been <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/288749/">sentenced to three years in a penal colony</a> essentially for his investigative reporting (officially on drug charges, clearly trumped up). This fresh attack on freedom of expression in the Russian republic of Chechnya brings unfortunate grim parallels.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>The international community didn’t stand up for Russian democracy in the 1990s. We often ignored rising assaults on journalists, who were jailed and murdered as “national security threats” or “traitors”.</p><p>We failed to support a free and stable Russia largely because we didn’t care enough to extend a hand of solidarity to its struggling democratic institutions — journalists were some of the first victims of Russia’s rising authoritarianism. We can’t make the same mistake with Ukraine.</p><p><em>In Ukraine, critical thinking is at stake — read more about <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/oles-petik-halyna-herasym/critical-thinking-at-stake-ukraine-s-witch-hunt-against-journali">how hybrid war feeds nationalism and attacks on freedom of speech</a>.&nbsp;</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/igor-burdyga/ukraine-s-media-plea-for-pluralism">Ukraine’s media: a plea for pluralism </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tymofiy-mylovanov-mykhailo-minakov/ukraine-s-authoritarian-signals">Ukraine’s authoritarian signals</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/thomas-rowley-maxim-edwards/in-ukraine-it-s-not-only-heroes-who-deserve-justice">In Ukraine, not only heroes deserve justice</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/otar-dovzhenko/media-in-ukraine-set-free-to-be-slaves">Media after Maidan</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/oles-petik-halyna-herasym/critical-thinking-at-stake-ukraine-s-witch-hunt-against-journali">Critical thinking at (the) stake: Ukraine’s witch hunt against journalism</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ian-bateson/turning-our-backs-on-ukraine">Turning our backs on Ukraine</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Maxim Eristavi Beyond propaganda Tue, 06 Sep 2016 12:16:14 +0000 Maxim Eristavi 105146 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Who do I call if I want to speak to "pro-Russian forces" in Georgia? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/archil-sikharulidze/who-do-i-call-if-i-want-to-speak-to-pro-russian-forces-in-georgia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">In Georgia, whether you're in opposition or in power, you can always call your opponent an agent of the Kremlin.</span></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-25784777.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="292" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>In recent years, Georgia's political discourse has been reoriented around the figure of "Russia". (c) Shakh Aivazov / AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">The August 2008 war, events in Ukraine and role in Syria have raised concerns in the west that Russia seeks to reshape the post-Cold War international system and regain once lost positions around the world. “Deterring” Russia has become a crucial issue for NATO and its allies. But Georgia, where Russia is a crucial pillar of both domestic and foreign political narratives, has taken on this topic to a whole new level.</span></p><p>Russia may be <a href="http://www.tradingeconomics.com/georgia/balance-of-trade">actively involved in the Georgian economy</a>, but our foreign policy narrative represents Russia as an existential threat. With Georgia's status as a “beacon” of democracy in the South Caucasus taken as standard, the country finds itself under a continuous phantom threat from outside. </p><p>This is where Georgia's domestic political narrative comes in. Ever since Mikheil Saakashvili <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7084357.stm">divided society into “patriots” and “non-patriots” in the post-revolutionary years</a>, the Georgian state has publicly searched for “enemy agents” in the form of “pro-Russian forces” and “fifth columns” — these groups are “traitors” who try to undermine Georgia’s sovereignty and aspirations to become a member of the civilised world.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">This tactic has been transformed into an approved pre-election campaign to marginalise opponents and mobilise further support from Georgian society</p><p>Indeed, these exact terms have been used to abuse, oppress and libel various Georgian opposition groups and political parties by the political elite. Fast forward to 2016, this tactic has been transformed into an approved pre-election campaign to marginalise opponents and mobilise further support from Georgian society and the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/tom-junes/trap-of-countering-russia">country’s strategic partners</a>. </p><p>In fact, there is no clear definition of Georgia’s “pro-Russian” phenomenon. Instead, there are various interpretations that make it easy to deploy this term against “undesirable” elements and thus legitimise the use of questionable methods against them.</p><h2>Saakashvili’s rise, fall and rise again</h2><p>Russia’s involvement in its southern neighbour’s political life is an old story. During the 1990s, the Russian state contributed to the unrest in Abkhazia and South Ossetia (separatist regions recognised by Russia) and Georgians were fully aware of that. </p><p>Still, there was no public obsession with Russia in Georgia. Russia wasn't the focus of discussion locally or internationally. Eduard Shevardnadze, Georgia's president from 1992 to 2003, did not push the idea of Russia as an enemy, instead trying to maintain good relationships with both the west and the north.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Saakshvili’s government managed to make it acceptable for Georgian society to use questionable methods against so-called “pro-Russian forces” and the “fifth column”</p><p>Everything changed dramatically after the Rose Revolution in 2003. The newly elected political trio of Mikhail Saakashvili, Zurab Zhvania and Nino Burjanadze assured the international community that they will put the state on a democratic “path”. After the death of Zhvania in 2005, Saakashvili and his political team in the United National Movement (UNM) became the undisputed leaders of Georgia. Saakashvili tried to “restart” Georgian-Russian relations, <a href="http://www.tabula.ge/en/story/72022-the-first-steps-of-their-administrations">but failed</a>. </p><p>After the events of August 2004, <a href="http://reliefweb.int/report/georgia/three-georgian-soldiers-killed-breakaway-region-clashes">when Saakasvhili’s government clashed with separatists in South Ossetia’s Tskhinvali region</a>, it became clear that there was little ground for political dialogue between Georgia and Russia. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-5187522_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="267" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>September 2007: thousands of opposition supporters rally in Georgia's capital to demand Saakashvili's resignation. (c) Shakh Aivazov / AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">At the same time, the situation in Georgia itself also became more strained. Saakashvili’s aggressive rhetoric and authoritarian attitudes gave way to a political system with a “firm hand” and one dominant political party in parliament. Lacking balance, Saakashvili’s government </span><a style="line-height: 1.5;" href="http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=27858">made a few critical mistakes</a><span style="line-height: 1.5;">. By 2007, Saakasvhili’s popularity had seriously declined, which was reflected in a permanent protest that gathered thousands of people.</span></p><p>It was obvious that Saakashvili’s enormous support had melted away. In November of that year, Saakashvili ordered the dispersal of this peaceful protest, <a href="http://www.transparency.org/news/pressrelease/20071107_transparency_international_georgia_comments_on_events_of_november_">which led to mass riots, the closure of opposition TV broadcaster Imedi and the declaration of an emergency situation</a>. </p><p>After Saakashvili was&nbsp;<a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7084357.stm">forced to resign and announce new presidential elections</a>, it was clear&nbsp;Saakashvili was in need of a new political campaign that could <a href="http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=20218">consolidate Georgian society around him and legitimise his actions</a>.&nbsp;<span style="line-height: 1.5;">He found it in Russia.</span></p><h2>From November to November</h2><p>The people who gathered in downtown Tbilisi in November 2007 <a href="http://georgica.tsu.edu.ge/files/02-Economy/Political%20Economy/Macfarlane-2011.pdf">came out against authoritarianism, abuse of rights and corruption</a>. But prominent figures from UNM initially labelled it as a “pro-Russian rally” that aimed to dismantle Georgia, its sovereignty and overthrow the democratically elected pro-western government. </p><p>Saakashvili told local news agencies that <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/7084357.stm">“high-ranking officials in Russian special services are behind this”</a>. Givi Targamadze, the former chairman of the parliamentary defense and security committee, warned protesters that the government would not let the Russian flag be raised on Rustaveli avenue, Tbilisi's central thoroughfare. Moreover, Targamadze argued, the participants of these events would <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kuTnBRlBmGY ">“drown in blood”</a>. This was the first case in which a high-ranking Georgian official directly accused a foreign country of an attempt to overthrow the government. </p><p></p><iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/og1zc2UTcrU" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe><em>From November to November, released by Georgia's Public Broadcaster, alleged that the organisers of the 2007 protests were involved in a Russian plot.</em><p></p>Later on, under the direct patronage of the government, Georgia's Public Broadcaster released a documentary called <em><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=og1zc2UTcrU">From November to November</a></em>, in which Nika Gvaramia, Georgia's then deputy state prosecutor, argued that Georgian opposition forces were in a direct contact with the Russian security agencies. <p>Step-by-step, and using “secret recordings”, Gvaramia explained that the leaders of Georgia’s main opposition forces, such as Levan Berdzenishvili of the Republican Party, Giorgi Khaindrava of the Equality Institute, Konstantine Gamsakhurdia, leader of the Freedom Party and Shalva Natelashvili, the leader of the Labor Party, directed the 2007 protests under the guidance of foreign agents. <em>From November to November</em>&nbsp;thus introduced the concept of “pro-Russian forces” and “fifth column” into Georgia’s domestic political culture, justifying the government’s actions as a “necessary evil”. Despite these allegations, no one was arrested or with treason or the organisation of an attempted coup. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">By the end of Saakashvili’s rule, every single individual, group of people or political opponents who had alternative approaches had been labeled “pro-Russian” and “non-patriotic”</p><p>Saakshvili’s government managed to make it acceptable for Georgian society to use questionable methods against so-called “pro-Russian forces” and the “fifth column”. As Koba Turmanidze, the director of Caucasus Research Resource Center, argued, <a href="http://liberali.ge/articles/view/24048/dabruneba-tsarsulshi">an openly “pro-Russian” position could provoke a “harsh response”</a>. This “response” was revealed several years later on 26 May 2011, when <a href="ttp://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=23478">protesters led by Nino Burjanadze in Tbilisi</a> were accosted by security officers and brutally beaten. <a href="http://www.democrats.ge/images/stories/0report26mayeng.pdf">Four people were later found dead</a>.</p><p>The government <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-13554828 ">called this protest “pro-Russian”</a>, and easily justified its actions while members of Georgian society — afraid of the same fate — turned a blind eye to this “punitive” operation. By the end of Saakashvili’s rule, every single individual, group of people or political opponents who had alternative approaches had been labeled “pro-Russian” and “non-patriotic”. </p><h2>Russia, again</h2><p>Even though Georgia’s post-Rose Revolution government tried hard to stay in power, it lost parliamentary elections to the “pro-Russian” political party Georgian Dream in 2012. </p><p>Saakashvili’s attempts to represent Bidzina Ivanishvili, the oligarchic leader of Georgia’s opposition movement, <a href="http://freshnews.ge/ge/specialuri-reportaji/rusuli-gegma-2016-aleqsandre-chachias-vaji-kremlis-sqemas-shifravs.page">as a close ally of Vladimir Putin failed</a>. As soon as these “agents of foreign states” came to power, they assured Georgian society they would normalise Georgian-Russian relations. </p><p>But while there were hopes that the new government would dismantle the dubious concept of “pro-Russian forces”, Georgian society was deceived. Saakashvili’s legacy remained strong. Just like UNM in the past, Georgian Dream <a href="https://www.ndi.org/March-2016-Public-Opinion-Issues-Press-Release-Georgia">slowly haemorrhaged support thanks to its frequently illogical and ineffective reforms in various fields</a>, including the extremely sensitive judicial and electoral systems. And on top of that, the failure of the Georgian-Russian “reset” <a href="https://www.ndi.org/files/NDI_June_2016%20poll_Public%20Issues_ENG_VFF%20(1).pdf">intensified dissatisfaction among the electorate</a>, on the one hand, and positions of anti-Russian groups, on the other.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">So, who do I call if I want to speak to “pro-Russian forces” in Georgia? It seems the addresses are growing exponentially.</p><p>By September 2015, one year before parliamentary elections in October 2016, and <a href="https://www.ndi.org/node/19854 ">in the wake of Georgian Dream’s falling approval ratings</a>, Russia became relevant again. In a BBC interview, Tina Khidasheli, Georgia’s defence minister at the time, <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/n3csy4sk">urged western states to support Georgia on its way toward NATO and EU integration</a> — otherwise pro-Russian forces would be represented in the new parliament. Funnily enough, it was a colleague of Khidasheli's who appeared in the secret recording with a Russian intelligence operative in&nbsp;<em>From November to November</em> that “proved” Russia's involvement in the November 2007 events.</p><p>It is a paradox that Tina Khidasheli, an active participant of the “Russian-led” events in November 2007, <a href="http://freshnews.ge/ge/specialuri-reportaji/anonsi-rusuli-fuli-saqartveloshi.page">began a search for “Russian spies”</a> among opposition members in the lead-up to this year's parliamentary elections. Nowadays, both the government and opposition use the concept to corral votes and marginalise one another other. </p><p>For instance, take July's <a href="https://www.oscepa.org/meetings/annual-sessions/2016-tbilisi-annual-session">OSCE parliamentary assembly annual meeting in Tbilisi</a>. During the session, OSCE members should have voted for a new president. The UNM presented its own candidate Gigi Tseretely, while the ruling party opposed. By the end of the day, the dispute was not about Tseretely’s candidacy, but <a href="http://rustavi2.com/en/news/50855">rather about which side was cooperating with the Russian delegation</a>. It should be noted that while the Bush administration was previously keen to trust Saakashvili on “pro-Russian forces”, nowadays, <a href="http://dfwatch.net/interview-how-has-georgia-changed-since-2012-36947">it is a less popular topic abroad</a>.</p><p>Russia is both an important trade partner and a threat to Georgian security, but Mikheil Saakashvili managed to transform the country into a popular political method to marginalise his political opponents and oppress them.</p><p>Now, two months before Georgia’s parliamentary elections, the Georgian Dream ruling coalition, which is unable and unwilling to crack down on opponents, is also using the concept to consolidate the electorate. </p><p>So, who do I call if I want to speak to “pro-Russian forces” in Georgia? It seems the addresses are growing exponentially.</p> <em> Want to know more about how politicians use "anti-Russian" and "pro-western" positions to shore up support in Europe? Check out Tom Junes on <a href=https://opendemocracy.net/tom-junes/trap-of-countering-russia>the trap of "countering Russia"</a>.</em><p></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/tom-junes/trap-of-countering-russia">The trap of “countering Russia”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/ossetians-in-georgia-with-their-backs-to-mountains">Ossetians in Georgia, with their backs to the mountains</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards-thomas-rowley/why-we-don-t-publish-articles-about-putin">Why we don’t publish articles about Putin</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/oles-petik-halyna-herasym/critical-thinking-at-stake-ukraine-s-witch-hunt-against-journali">Critical thinking at (the) stake: Ukraine’s witch hunt against journalism</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/georgia-exiles-election">Georgia: the exiles’ election</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/bakar-berekashvili/georgia-s-grotesque-democracy">Georgia’s grotesque democracy</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Archil Sikharulidze Politics Georgia Beyond propaganda Wed, 31 Aug 2016 08:32:56 +0000 Archil Sikharulidze 105030 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Listening to the “voices” in August 1991, or the media we need today https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mikhail-kaluzhsky/listening-to-for-voices-in-august-1991-or-media-we-need-today <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/MK_oDR-1_0_0.jpg" alt="MK_oDR-1_0_0.jpg" hspace="5" width="80" align="left" /></p><p>The events of August 1991 weren’t just an unexpected win for democracy. They were a reminder of the role of mass media for people who suddenly lost access to information. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mikhail-kaluzhsky/media-kotorykh-nam-ne-khvataet">Русский</a></strong></em></p><div><span><br /></span></div> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Boris_Yeltsin_19_August_1991-1 (1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>19 August: Boris Yeltsin speaks outside the White House in Moscow. CC-A 4.0 / ITAR-TASS. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">The friends who spent the night at my apartment on 18 August, 1991 woke up in dribs and drabs the next day — lazily beating back the collective hangover with coffee. We were in our early 20s, most of us were about to graduate from Novosibirsk state university, and the world was changing all around us. Life was exciting in a way it hadn’t been before. We read a lot and talked nonstop.</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Someone turned on the wireless — a fairly useless device used for short news reports and finding out the time. My wife, the only one of us even listening to the plastic box’s incoherent mumbling, suddenly said: “It seems Gorbachev’s been murdered.” We cranked up the volume. The announcer — who spoke in tones that had disappeared from the airwaves a few years ago — was halfway through a statement on Mikhail Gorbachev’s ill health and the creation of a State Committee on the State of Emergency in the USSR. The TV said exactly the same thing.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">We found the radio. It turned out that Gorbachev was alive, but “ill”, and the government in the country had changed overnight</span></p><p>We started to look for the radio — a proper one, not connected to any wires in the wall — which was in a closet somewhere. We hadn’t used it for some time. We no longer needed foreign radio stations: Soviet mass media now broadcast real news reports. </p><p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">By the end of the 1980s, Soviet TV and newspapers had become so interesting that radio was, in effect, marginalised. In 1989, I remember a music video for a song “Radio” in which the musicians broke apart old radios and sang energetic nonsense you could dance to. There was nothing ideological about it. It was absurd and fun.</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/5HDIjigMZuU" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe><p></p>At last, we found the radio. It turned out that Gorbachev was alive, but “ill”, and the government in the country had changed overnight.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span><h2>Hearing “voices” on the radio</h2><p>I don’t remember, when the silver-and-black VEF radio appeared in our home — it’s as if it was always there. I later found out that the radio model was the same age as me: the VEF-12, made by Riga’s Valsts Elektrotehniskā Fabrika, was first produced in 1967.</p><p>This radio was great for shortwave frequencies — the same frequencies that western radio stations used to reach the USSR. Soviet mass media did not provide enough information about world affairs. My grandfather subscribed to two newspapers, Pravda and Izvestiya, and they seemed identical. Later, when the fateful word “perestroika” was announced, but nothing had yet changed, the rock band Televizor (literally: Television) sang: <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-lat5O5pKTw">“The evening won’t bring anything / The programme remains the same.”</a></p><p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">During the Brezhnev era, when I was a schoolboy in Novosibirsk, I began to get a sense of reality not just from conversations between adults, but also <em>Literaturnaya gazeta</em> (which didn’t just write about literature), the foreign press digest <em>Za rubezhom</em>, and the <em>Mezhdunarodnaya panorama</em> programme. In any case, Soviet newspapers and shows were only good for learning to read between the lines.</span></p><p>This is why starting at age 12 I began to listen to the “voices” — the Soviet slang term for foreign broadcasters such as the BBC, Voice of America and Radio Liberty. They had jazz, as well as news you actually wanted to listen to — incredible news of Soviet losses in Afghanistan, arrests of dissidents, martial law in Poland, the Falklands war, terrorism.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>On a July night in 1980, Voice of America announced that the popular singer and actor Vladimir Vysotsky, who had a difficult relationship with the authorities, was dead. The next day, my friends wouldn’t believe me, Soviet radio and TV hadn’t said a word.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-11498061_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="304" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Radio Liberty, originally a project of the CIA, operated out of Munich for much of the 1970s and 1980s. (c) AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">This isn’t to say my parents encouraged my desire to take the radio to my room for the night, but the habit of listening to banned stations was a kind of unspoken norm in our house — as well as criticism of Soviet power.</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Of course, there were things we didn’t say out loud. But I understood the code phrases. When grandma said: “So and so has got a trip over the ocean coming up,” I understood that “so and so” was not going on a business trip to Cuba, but emigrating to the United States. I wasn’t surprised: our eighth floor neighbours, who spent years asking for permission to travel to see relatives in West Germany, asked for political asylum as soon as they were allowed to leave. Their apartment, which had a grand piano and all the other attributes of Soviet prosperity, was simply left abandoned.</p><p>I was lucky with school, which was, for the early 1980s, very liberal. I wasn’t afraid to discuss what I heard from the “voices” with some of my classmates. For us, finding a new radio station to listen to was a competition. Everything depended on how dedicated you were and how good your radio was. You could listen to Chinese station on our enormous valve radio at the dacha — they praised their leaders even more fervently than ours praised Brezhnev, and they played unusual music. Others were even able to listen to Canadian radio.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>A friend of mine insisted that he heard Russian-language programmes on “Philippines Christian Radio”, but I’m still certain that he either made this up or made a mistake (maybe it was Radio Vatican instead). My Minsk-based grandmother told me while I stayed with her that she was able to listen to Voice of Israel. In the European part of Soviet Russia, the various voices could be heard much better. I could never get a hold of Radio Liberty or Deutsche Welle in Novosibirsk, and only occasionally could I listen to the BBC.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Bits of news were exchanged the way samizdat publications were exchanged. The fact that this could be dangerous went unnoticed by us teenagers.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">I was thrown out of the Komsomol and from med school for “violating the social norms of socialist life by sharing bourgeois enemy propaganda”&nbsp;</p><p>The ease with which I discussed news I heard in the night changed my life radically. After graduating from high school, I went to medical school, and continued to share news that I picked up via Voice of America. It was 1984, and many of my classmates were eager to discuss what I heard. One of them turned out to be an informer, and my medical career was suddenly over. I was thrown out of the Komsomol (the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League) and med school for “violating the social norms of socialist life by sharing bourgeois enemy propaganda.”</p><p>My attachment to my VEF-12 radio didn’t lessen after. But I didn’t know that in four years, censorship in the USSR would practically disappear and western radio stations would no longer be jammed. In Novosibirsk, the old jamming base, otherwise known as “Station Three,” was turned into a facility for the city’s first local independent TV company in August 1991.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><h2>Radio’s return</h2><p>On the first morning of the coup, the VEF-12 worked superbly. The antenna was falling apart, but somebody was smart enough to stick a metal wire into the jack, and tie the other end of the wire to the radiator. The sound quality was even better than it was a decade before.</p><p>Within an hour, we learned from Voice of America, the BBC and Radio Liberty that Gorbachev was trapped in his dacha in Crimea, that tanks were headed to Moscow, and that Muscovites were gathering next to the monument to Yury Dolgoruky and the Supreme Soviet, better known as the White House.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>We wanted to know what was happening in Novosibirsk. The radio was helpful here too — via local frequencies and Microforum, the region’s most popular radio programme. Microforum was a classic product of glasnost. Some young journalists founded it in March 1987 and it went on to share the waves with various meaningless news programmes about how much milk local cows were producing.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/10 Feb 1991.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="242" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>10 February 1991, Novosibirsk: people demonstrate in honour of the 74th anniversary of the February Revolution. (с) <a href=blog.visart.biz>Dmitry Margolin</a>. </span></span></span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">On 19 August, the second day, Microforum announced that a group of deputies from the city council would rally against the State Committee on the State of Emergency, the coup organisers, on the evening of 20 August in front of Novosibirsk’s biggest library.</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>The situation with Novosibirsk’s local media was unclear, and this lack of clarity was the natural extension of the country’s political chaos.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Panorama, the main local news programme, which didn’t strike us as the sort of programme that would be sympathetic to the democrats, did not air that evening. By contrast, the Evening Novosibirsk newspaper, considered to be “democratic”, suddenly published the statement of the State Committee on the State of Emergency.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">The Novosibirsk city council said it supported Yeltsin, refused to obey the putschists and flew the Russian tricolour flag over city hall. The regional council asked everyone to stay calm and said that the harvest was what was really important now. The newspaper of the Siberian branch of the Academy of Sciences came out with a big white space on its front page, and we could only guess what kind of article the journalists could not or would not publish there.</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p><span style="line-height: 1.5;"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/1 May 1991 1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="539" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>1 May 1991, Novosibirsk. (с) <a href=blog.visart.biz> Dmitry Margolin</a>.</span></span></span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">Two newspapers, the Komsomol’s </span><em>Youth of Siberia</em><span style="line-height: 1.5;"> and the independent </span><em>Siberian newspaper</em><span style="line-height: 1.5;"> decided to come out with special joint publications to inform people on what was happening, but the printing house, which belonged to regional and party leadership, refused to print them. </span><em>Youth of Siberia</em><span style="line-height: 1.5;"> and </span><em>Siberian newspaper</em><span style="line-height: 1.5;"> had to go back to samizdat traditions. On 20-21 August, they published two semi-legal special editions, which were printed at some research institute.</span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></span></p><p><em>Red prospect</em>, Novosibirsk’s first tabloid, which had several journalists with dissident pasts, was the most radical. Every hour, it published flyers with constantly updated information as it came in via local and national sources.</p><h2>Soldiers and news from Moscow<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></h2><p>On 19 August, nothing special was happening in Novosibirsk, but people began to gather in the city centre, on Lenin square. When a bunch of us came to rally against the putsch the next day, we saw soldiers from the internal troops stationed at street crossings.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Many bystanders came up to the soldiers to ask what’s going on. The soldier we spoke to was shy, and said that he was there to regulate military traffic, that military hardware was on its way, that he didn’t know anything. We had a small radio that we let him listen to. He was grateful, but said he would obey his orders.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>The military hardware did arrive, as did trucks full of soldiers, but they didn’t go to the centre, they went north. Some young people went to picket the headquarters of the Siberian military district. We went too, and saw a lot of people gathering. There news from Moscow and other towns were read aloud in between calls of protest against the coup. There was still little information.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">What should we do if the putsch is successful? Will there be martial law? Censorship again?&nbsp;</p><p>We spent the last day of the coup, 21 August, sitting around the radio and on the phone with friends. What should we do if the putsch is successful? Will there be martial law? Censorship again? We’d have to emigrate then, for sure. Maybe it won’t be as bad as before perestroika? Toward the evening it became obvious that the putsch had failed and troops were withdrawing from Moscow.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>On the morning of 22 August, the TV showed Gorbachev returning to Moscow, while my great uncle in Leningrad, whom I called to say happy birthday, screamed: “What birthday, what are you talking about?! Just look at what’s happening!” He also spent a lot of time out of the loop, but didn’t have the habit of listening to various “voices.”</p><p>It was overcast in Novosibirsk that day. Lenin square was blocked off for traffic — thousands turned out to support the government, which had withstood the putsch.</p><p>A similar “rally of the winners” in Moscow was shown on Soviet Channel One. We returned to normal life. Cigarettes were still scarce, there were lines in front of the beer kiosks. In a week’s time, I would start my final year at university.</p><p>We decided to keep the VEF forever. We also kept the radio wires, just in case.</p><h2>Life after news</h2><p>The last time we had to turn on the VEF-12 was during Russia’s constitutional crisis in October 1993. But this was done mostly out of curiosity, not necessity.</p><p>By autumn of 1993, a new information age was upon us. The story of the internet and mobile would soon begin.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Gathering around the VEF-12 in August 1991 could have been just a sentimental memory of youth long passed, of a story that was over. But the experience of trying to get information is more relevant now than we could have imagined back in 1991, when the coup failed and journalism seemed to have arrived.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">For Russian news consumers today, there is a lot of news out there. But there is little in the way of good opinion</p><p>Analogies are often misleading. Today’s authoritarian Russia is far more open than Brezhnev’s USSR. You can get around internet censorship easily. Information is relayed by many media outlets and bloggers.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>The residents of the former USSR are better at foreign languages, while finding out news of the world in Russian is easily done via the constantly updating InoSMI site. Nowadays, Russian-speaking media outlets exist all over the place.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>For Russian news consumers today, there is a lot of news out there. But there is little in the way of good opinion. And when I think about the reader that I work for, I think of a person from a town like Novosibirsk, who needs those same “alternative sources of information”.<span style="line-height: 1.5;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Today, “alternative sources of interpretation” would be more accurate. We need them now more than ever.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-konradova/usenet-coup">The Usenet coup: how the USSR discovered the internet in 1991 </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alexey-kovalev/life-after-facts-how-russian-state-media-defines-itself-through-negation">Life after facts: how Russian state media defines itself through negation</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tom-junes/where-does-key-to-political-change-in-post-soviet-space-lie">Where does the key to political change lie in the post-Soviet space?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Mikhail Kaluzhsky Russia Beyond propaganda Thu, 25 Aug 2016 14:13:27 +0000 Mikhail Kaluzhsky 104952 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Over the barriers https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vasiliy-gatov-over-the-barriers <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">Think-tanks, newspapers and state agencies make it their work to ratchet up superpower tension. For Russia and the US, it’s time to transcend these intermediaries and speak face-to-face. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vasiliy-gatov-poverh-barierov-2">Русский</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/559247/PA-7380280-1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="303" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Discussing the future of USIA in 1987: Edward B Williams, Rupert Murdoch and USIA director Charles Week. (c) Ron Edmonds / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><em><span>As part of our series “25 years of change”, we publish part two of Vasily Gatov’s long essay on the history of “mediation” between Russia and the US. You can read the first part&nbsp;</span><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vasily-gatov/over-barriers-in-us-russian-discourse">here</a><span>.</span></em></p><p dir="ltr">After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian and American media intermediaries that had smoothed the way for superpower dialogue fell on hard times — from effective liquidation, as in the case of the international departments of the Communist Party Central Committee and the KGB in 1991, to total reorganisation and fragmentation, as was the fate of the United States Information Agency (USIA) in 1999.</p><p><span>But although the USA didn’t start formally dismantling its “cold war forces” immediately, the USIA’s decline began much earlier. The agency’s budget was cut, for the first time in its history, as early as 1989, and in 1993 the cuts went deeper after Bill Clinton, who supported Boris Yeltsin and regarded USIA as a Cold War hangover, was elected US president. Politically, the heads of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and the Clinton-era Voice of America were “doves”. Even Radio Liberty was no longer an instrument of the CIA, leaving its fortified headquarters in Munich for Prague.</span></p><p><span>While Russia’s “Cold War information forces” pyramid was decapitated and left without formal leadership for a decade, its US counterpart retained its “cloud logic”, distributing USIA’s functions among a number of agencies. Information management was gradually reduced to a minimum.</span></p><p><span>In both the USA and the former Soviet Union, the communities of international journalists and “political commentators”, the individuals who had brought the pronouncements of the Kremlin and the White House to the public, fell apart. New writers and experts, young and often without any previous knowledge, appeared on the scene. What remained of the old guard switched to educational and regional analysis journalism, explaining the actions of their old enemies without ideological clichés, but also without love.</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">What remained of the old guard switched to educational and regional analysis journalism</p><p><span>These organisational changes and respective governments’ refusal to engage in these operations created a radical change of habitat for media outlets, especially in the former USSR. To use the language of media ecology, not only were they no longer “fed”, they were forced to make big changes in their diet.</span></p><p><span>Russia’s Institute of USA and Canada Studies survived the 1990s on grants and exchange programmes with American universities and research centres. Within the US media sphere, Sovietologists and specialists in the “taming” of the USSR looked for employment in the businesses that had sprung up between the two economies, providing advice to their former objects of study.</span></p><p><span>The systems, forced to mutate, changed and adapted — curtailing their numbers, necessity and aggressive ethos. But at the end of 1990s, Russia, or more precisely prime minister</span><a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/28/yevgeny-primakov"> Yevgeny Primakov</a><span>, needed the services of the “old guard” once again. And by the mid-2000s, so did Vladimir Putin. Even the green shoots of ideology in Russian soil provided food for this beast, which had indeed turned out to be able to survive in the most unfavourable of conditions.</span></p><p><span>As we can see a decade later, these lean years of humiliation left their mark.</span></p><h2><span>Munich and after</span></h2><p><span>The first years of Putin’s rule, as is clear in retrospect, were a time of strange and contradictory processes — especially where foreign policy is concerned.</span></p><p><span>History played into the USA’s hands, confirming the existence of what</span><a href="http://wakeupfromyourslumber.com/full-text-of-putins-speech-in-munich/"> Putin described in his speech</a><span> to the Munich Security Conference in 2007 as a “unipolar world”. America’s economic and political domination coincided with a number of proxy wars being waged thousands of miles from Washington. Russia, personified by Putin, not only supported the US War on Terror after 9/11, but provided it with some of its military infrastructure.</span></p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/559247/RIAN_00022231.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="318" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>1999: Vladimir Putin and defence minister Igor Sergeev observe test flights. (c) Sergei Subbotin / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>Meanwhile, between 1999 and 2004, almost all the former Warsaw Pact states and some former USSR republics had become members of NATO and, between 2004 and 2013, the EU. And those that remained outside, apart from Belarus, were expressing serious intentions to join. &nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span>Putin’s first years in power were marked not only by good relations with the west — they were also a time of dismantling the structures of confrontation. Russia and NATO worked in cooperation with one another. Strategic arms reduction treaties were implemented. Funding provided under</span><a href="http://armscontrolcenter.org/fact-sheet-the-nunn-lugar-cooperative-threat-reduction-program/"> the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program</a><span> poured into Russia’s military and nuclear industries, mostly with the aim of liquidating surplus nuclear armaments. </span></p><p dir="ltr"><span>Since 2000, NASA has used Russian RD-180 engines, produced by Russia’s Energomash engineering company in conjunction with the American aerospace manufacturer Pratt &amp; Whitney, to power its Atlas-V rocket launchers. I imagine that if any Cold War-era commanders-in-chief were to hear of this, they’d lose their minds on the spot.</span></p><p><span>At the same time, it was during Putin’s rise to power that the “feeding conditions” of Russia</span><span>’s</span><span>&nbsp;Cold War army began to change. Interestingly enough, similar processes have been at work in the USA since the start of the global “war on terror” — a new weaponisation of ideas that had lost their relevance with the breakup of the Soviet Bloc.</span></p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">It was during Putin’s rise to power that the “feeding conditions” of Russia's Cold War army began to change</span></p><p><span>Dispersed groups of media from both sides of the Atlantic began to flock together once more — for example, in 1992 the Kremlin set up its</span><a href="http://en.riss.ru/"> Russian Institute of Strategic Studies (RISS).</a><span>&nbsp;This was, to begin with, no more than a consultancy company consisting of former diplomats, international affairs specialists and intelligence services people. By the end of the 1990s, however, and particularly after 2001, the number of intelligence analysts in RISS grew constantly. In 2009, the Institute came under the aegis of the Presidential Administration, with former chief of the SVR’s intelligence and analytical department Leonid Reshetnikov as its head.</span></p><p><span>A little later, in 1996, the American geopolitical forecaster and strategist on international affairs George Friedman set up his own global intelligence company,</span><a href="https://www.stratfor.com/"> Stratfor</a><span>, in Austin, Texas. Both these bodies would play an important part in the new round of emergent confrontation.</span></p><h2><span>The Munich turn</span></h2><p><span>In the period 2000-2007, Russia’s economy experienced aggressive growth thanks to a combination of a low base effect and favourable oil prices. The reforms carried out by Putin in his first years also facilitated development, as did the foreign capital markets that were opening again in Russia.</span></p><p><span>The Kremlin’s idea of “sovereign democracy”, while generally still a strictly verbal construct, began to influence foreign policy, especially after the events of the “First Maidan” of 2004 in Kyiv, which were less than favourable for Moscow. The as yet unwritten memoirs of those years will no doubt furnish detailed answers to the question of how the political technologists of the early 2000s were squeezed out by geopolitical strategists scarred by the Cold War.</span></p><p><span>In Munich in 2007, and especially at the NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008, “the changing of the guard in Putin’s ear” became a fact. The basis of Russia’s foreign policy decisions, which had previously emerged from objective post-Cold War conditions, was due for reassessment.</span></p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-4378022 (1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="315" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Munich, 2007: Vladimir Putin warns that the US' increased use of military force is creating a new arms race, with smaller nations turning toward developing nuclear weapons. (c) Diether Endlicher / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>Disparate grievances about US and European foreign policy began to come together in a distinct view of the world that Putin foisted, with increasing persistence, not just on the Russian public, but the world outside too. And in 2008, Russia Today, the English language TV channel whose original aim was to project a new image of Russia in the west, was reformed for the latter.</span></p><p><span><span>But now this positive image was replaced with something closer to the propaganda arsenal of the old confrontational politics — the broadcast of news and current affairs as seen from Moscow.</span></span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">Disparate grievances about US and European foreign policy began to come together in a distinct view of the world that Putin foisted, with increasing persistence, not just on the Russian public, but the world outside too</p><p><span>Two years later, this approach became even more aggressive — not just to “provide access” to a Russian point of view, but to “question more”. RT’s mission was criticise the western view of events, “combat” the unipolar American picture of world politics and bring it into doubt.</span></p><p dir="ltr">Was the “Munich turn” a consequence of the Cold War&nbsp;<span>media-intermediary’s resurrection, or did this “creature”, on the contrary, owe its resurrection to Putin’s personal analysis of the world?</span></p><h2><span>All’s quiet on the former western front</span></h2><p><span>To answer this question, we should look at what was happening on the former western front at that moment. The media intermediaries involved in the dialogue between major, formerly mutually hostile powers, were not just the press and TV and analytical centres, but several government institutions responsible for soft power programmes. They not only pursue these politics, but answer for the results to those responsible for their existence and budget. (This is to some extent true for both the USA and Russia.)</span></p><p><span>At roughly the same time as Putin was demonstrating his disillusionment with the American direction of global politics, these purveyors of “soft power” started sounding off to Washington (and soon afterwards to European capitals) about their growing problems with working in Russia and Moscow’s client states. What in 2003-2007 had seemed like individual cases of “politics of envy” (pressure on the Soros Foundation, the odd spy trial, hints about American interference in the Khodorkovsky case) now began to form a coherent picture.</span></p><p><span>However, neither the White House nor Brussels were ready for a complete turn-around in Russian politics — both the personal relationships between Vladimir Putin and other world leaders, and a general formal consensus of geopolitical relations remained “positive”, albeit complex.</span></p><p><span>But on 8 August 2008, to a background of gunfire in the short Georgian-South Ossetian conflict, the lives of media intermediaries took a new turn.</span></p><h2><span>The return of the free lunch</span></h2><p><span>Russia announced it was joining the international club of interventionists — states happy to use not just “soft power” in international relations, but the hard kind as well. Perhaps only on a microscopic scale, but the Russian threat was returning to global politics. The almost immediate result was a distinctly negative reaction from western, and particularly American, media, who probably hadn’t yet caught a whiff of their future feeding trough, but reacted spontaneously within their usual system of values. (American leadership, globalisation, rules the same for all, with the small exception of the USA.)</span></p><p><span>This western media reaction, interpreted in Moscow as a concerted response organised and directed by the US State Department, became the basis for accepting that the analysis put forward in Putin’s Munich speech was correct. The almost immediate collapse of Russia’s chief economic indicators — and, as a result, the specific crisis that hit Russia in 2008-2009 — only added credibility to the notion of “deliberate synchronisation”. And from there to an accusation of “Russophobia” was but a single step.</span></p><p><span>The “reboot” proposed in March 2009 was seen from the start, by at least certain Moscow circles, as insincere and ultimately unfavourable to Russia. These circles, presented as either military, or spokespeople for the police and security sector, or perhaps just typical media professionals, did not just criticise president Dmitry Medvedev for his readiness to “reboot” relations with the west. They used the bureaucratic and political powers at their disposal to openly obstruct any “thaw”.</span></p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">The sharp expansion of the media’s diet at the time of “reset” was no coincidence. First the Russian government and then, after a certain time, old American and European structures realised that big changes were on the way</span></p><p><span>Initially, this obstruction was mainly in the media: clear anti-American statements could be heard in political, and later in TV news programmes, especially those presented by patriotic journalists such as Mikhail Leontyev, Maksim Shevchenko and Arkady Mamontov. Specialist circles were divided on the issue: notional Russian “realists” like political analysts Sergey Karaganov and Fyodor Lukyanov remained supporters of the “thaw” side, whilst RISS experts and many conservative economists (Sergey Glazyev, Mikhail Delyagin) were already feeling a cold wind and describing events in corresponding fashion. &nbsp;</span></p><p><span>A major factor in the growth of the media’s diet on both sides of the Atlantic was the continuing trend towards “colour revolutions”, beginning with Moldova in April 2009. Russian military and counter intelligence media outlets had already begun to develop the theme of US interference in the democratic processes of zones of Russia’s national interests during the first wave of regime change in 2003-2005. The expansion of NATO into eastern Europe and the extension of partnership programmes to Ukraine and Georgia were inevitably linked in the minds of Russian media intermediaries to the waves of social protest. Anything beyond the traditional standard contacts between American diplomats and opposition politicians and organisations was immediately interpreted as bribery and control by enemies of these countries’ rulers.</span></p><p><span>On the American side of the Atlantic, any wave of social protests also provided fodder for intermediaries here — although in a very different way. Some American analysts and politicians saw the next round of “colour revolutions” as signs of terminal weakness in transitional post-Soviet states. It was not enough for them to seed their rhetoric with direct references to “killing the hydra” and letting democracy triumph in places that had not experienced full-scale transition. Any negative reaction to these revolutions from Moscow were greeted with cries of “neo-Soviet expansionism”, which was standing in the way of “the bright triumph of democracy”.</span></p><p><span>An equally important trip to the feeding trough was provided by the Sergei</span><a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-20626960"> Magnitsky case</a><span>, which unrolled in several stages from the middle of 2007. The case, and the events that followed it, were a prime example of a feeding frenzy. The media intermediaries not only fed well, but aggressively expanded the space they had access to. And the passing in 2011 of the “Dima Yakovlev law”, which banned US citizens from adopting Russian children, was not just another non-stop feast, but something that defined what side you were on: those who opposed this asymmetric misanthropic measure were enemies; those who supported it were friends.</span></p><p><span>The sharp expansion of the media’s diet at the time of “reset” was no coincidence. First the Russian government and then, after a certain time, old American and European structures realised that big changes were on the way.</span></p><h2><span>The legacy of Andropov</span></h2><p><span>Reminiscences of the “counterintelligence state” of the time of Soviet general secretary Yuri Andropov today seem not only frighteningly prescient, but very relevant to Putin’s Russia after 2011.</span></p><p><span>In 2010-2011, years that marked a change in the situation of media intermediaries, Russia succeeded in portraying itself as both a transition state and a “counterintelligence state”, and the reaction of media on the other side of the ocean was boringly predictable.</span></p><p><span>Russia’s mass political protests in the winter and spring of 2011-2012 were strongly reminiscent, especially if you were prone to wishful thinking, of another colour revolution in the making. The developing crises in Libya and Syria (and media intermediaries thrive on interpreting any event through the prism of conspiracy theory, particularly if they feel this is what the “counterintelligence state” wants from them) was a godsend for our beasts. If before Putin’s return to the Kremlin the news headlines bore at least some relation to what was happening in Russia, even if they were heavily skewed towards the activities of the Kremlin, after May 2012 there was no attempt at balance and TV news was just a stream of “Putin went to Putin saw Putin in the river Putin”.</span></p><p><span>At the same time, Russia’s international politics were increasingly moving in an anti-western, anti-American direction. On the one hand, this was a result of cooling relations with US president Barack Obama. On the other, Russia’s rulers and the media organisations sensitive to their movements (and souls) chose “consolidation” as their aim, to build a “majority” whose very existence would turn Putin’s third term into a conundrum about chickens and eggs.</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">Russia’s international politics were increasingly moving in an anti-western, anti-American direction</p><p><span>Western media intermediaries, meanwhile, regarded Putin’s return as something more than a mere autocratic tendency to make various excuses to hang onto power. Some military analysts saw</span><a href="http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/russia/army-orbat-2008.htm"> Minister of Defence Anatoly Serdyukov’s reforms</a><span> and his subsequent replacement by Sergey Shoigu as signs of “aggressive re-arming”, triggering the appearance of alarmist articles and reports of this dangerous new direction being taken by the Kremlin.</span></p><p><span>Political NGOs came under threat — talk about a</span><a href="https://www.hrw.org/russia-government-against-rights-groups-battle-chronicle"> “foreign agents” law</a><span> was followed by the law itself, later legislation enshrined the concept of an</span><a href="http://humanrightshouse.org/Articles/20958.html"> “undesirable organisation”</a><span>. Although these steps were perfectly logical in the context of a “counterintelligence state”, in the eyes of the western media they were more evidence of Moscow’s intention of destroying and continuing to destroy the established rules of international relations. Russian media hacks, on the other hand, rejected this criticism, dubbing it “Russophobia” and an “information war”.</span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-15239185 (1)_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>2012: Moscow Memorial building is sprayed with graffiti 'foreign agent'. (c) Ivan Sekretarev / AP/ Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>Into the midst of this spiral of tension in Moscow’s media sphere came a new US Ambassador,</span><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_McFaul"> Michael McFaul</a><span>, a representative of a new generation of Russia specialists who were replacing the old guard of the Cold War period. McFaul’s earlier involvement in Washington politics was already a bad sign in the eyes of the revitalised Russian media industry. His arrival provoked unconcealed pressure on the already half dead “reboot” policy — at first at an internal level (harassment of meetings between McFaul and opposition politicians, noisy rallies held by Nashi and other pro-Kremlin groups next to the embassy), and then through the effective banishment from Russia of any American organisation that could be suspected of anything whatsoever.</span></span></p><p><span>The media are generally good at suspicion: since 2013, the conspiracy theory of world history has become mainstream in Russian politics, and any action by the USA has been interpreted as part of a plan to weaken or destroy a country that, in the words of the Kremlin’s top TV anchor Dmitry Kiselev, “could reduce American cities to piles of radioactive ash”. &nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p><h2><span>Kyiv and after</span></h2><p><span>There is no need to describe the events of 2014-2015 in detail. The much predicted scenario of a colour revolution began to unroll in Kyiv, confirming the fears of both the corridors of power and the media that serve them, who in their conspiracy theory mindset saw anything happening that was unfavourable to Russia as a US plot.</span></p><p><span>The situation developed like a well-constructed script: every element of the construction worked, perhaps independently, while at the same time obeying purely tactical imperatives. But seen through the media mirror, the situation looked as though it was being steered by an unseen director. Here, theory, interestingly, diverges from practice: media ecology insists on the complete absence of any script, on the objective evolution of social and industrial “organisms”.</span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/559247/1000 Kiev_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The events of 2014 heralded a new tension between Russia and the US. Credit: Mikhail Kaluzhsky.</span></span></span><span>The question of any script behind the Revolution of Dignity/Euromaidan, or the “Fascist-Banderite coup”, as it is described by the Kremlin-controlled media, is one for historians to unravel in the decades to come. But the scenarios ratcheted up in the press (the people and the state, the media and the analysts, intelligence and counterintelligence) were moving towards a certain logical point where a collapse would have to take place.</span></span></p><p><span>Scrolling through Facebook, I noticed, both in my own and others’ posts, a constant insistence on the “inevitability” of what was happening in Kyiv in the winter of 2013-2014. The amazement and horror evoked by each successive event gave many users a physical sensation of the scenario — and recognition of its logic. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;</span></p><p><span>The crisis period in Kyiv, and subsequently in Crimea, demonstrated the existence of a fully functional aggressive media machine in Russia that not only carries out the wishes and commands of the “client”, but, as in the past, has a will of its own and its own sense of “what works” — one that possibly outweighs its actual politics.</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">The culmination of all this, which we have observed since the summer of 2014, is effectively an affirmation by Russia's media intermediaries of a job well done&nbsp;</p><p><span>The previously crazy ideas of a global standoff between Russia and everyone else, predicted only yesterday by “experts” on politicised talk shows, are becoming part and parcel of the (verbal) politics of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The notion of a global anti-Russia conspiracy, as foretold by the geopolitical “fantasies” of the Eurasianist</span><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aleksandr_Dugin"> Alexander Dugin</a><span>, materialised on the all-too-real frontline in Ukraine’s Donbas. The word “Russophobia” is shedding its inverted commas and becoming Vladimir Putin’s own favourite term. Any attempts to question what is happening, internally and externally, are almost immediately slated as anti-nationalist heresy.</span></p><p><span>The over-excited media machine is no longer satisfied with standard propaganda tools of the kind already analysed between the two world wars by</span><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falsehood_in_War-Time"> Arthur Ponsonby</a><span> and</span><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clyde_R._Miller"> Clyde Miller</a><span>, but also includes in its arsenal direct threats against both Russia’s neighbours and members of the opposing bloc. These threats consist of endless military exercises and sudden troop inspections, as well as aggressive PR for “the new technology of Russian military thought”. The appearance of the”hybrid war” meme is directly linked to the publication in the spring of 2013 of an article by the chief of Russia’s General Staff, in which he theorised about “new technology of Russian military thought”.</span></p><p><span>The culmination of all this, which we have observed since the summer of 2014, is effectively an affirmation by Russia's media intermediaries of a job well done — the return to a Cold War situation of sanctions, counter-sanctions and the complete dismantling of the structures of cooperation.</span></p><h2><span>But can’t we talk?</span></h2><p dir="ltr"><span>A notable feature of this new, predominantly Russian, version of the Cold War is the constant wish to “talk about it”. This can be seen in the almost unhealthy interest in high-level contacts with the USA — the most unimportant and previously unpublicised meetings with the White House are now hot news.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span>The Americans, on the other hand, have no interest in such matters. The “Russian front” is low on the US’s political agenda, far below relations with China and the continuing Middle Eastern crisis. American priorities are also determined to a large extent by the economic relevance of one or other geopolitical tendency, and here Russia can’t compete with either the EU or China, or even with south-east Asia or Africa as either an export market or a source of raw materials. America’s media intermediaries are not hung up on Russia: it’s just a garnish, not a main course.</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">America’s media intermediaries are not hung up on Russia: it’s just a garnish, not a main course</p><p dir="ltr"><span>It’s easy enough to sketch possible scenarios for the future, if only to assess, as I suggested in </span><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vasily-gatov/over-barriers-in-us-russian-discourse">part one of this article</a><span>, the need for a conversation between Russia and America “over the barriers” created by the media world and the “centre of power” that is to some extent hypnotised by it. Yes, an observer on the Russian side would see this dialogue as impossible, as their media intermediaries have convinced them of the proven perfidiousness and “Russophobia” of the west. And Americans, who tend to believe in sociology and professional political and military analysis, may also feel that there is no point in dialogue.</span></p><p><span>However, in our information age — with its ubiquitous communication networks and, despite new types of censorship, an ability to see and hear the other side through the technology of the internet and satellite TV — the situation is very different to what it was in 1985. And it isn’t just a matter of the absence of an iron curtain.</span></p><p><span>The scenario we are in today is the self-fulfilment of Putin’s Munich speech. A few mistakes, accidental or deliberate, in translation, exaggerated many times over by the media on both sides of the Atlantic, have led to the necessity for actions that were clearly wrong. In science, this is known as an accumulation of errors. One could of course suggest that this was what Russia’s leader hoped would happen — but this would be a clear case of conspiracy theory.</span></p><p><span>The fact that Moscow’s increasingly aggressive policies and information armies couldn’t bypass the west is another matter. A number of things have remerged in this situation — the word “deterrence”; the ideas dreamed up by US diplomat and Soviet expert George Kennan in 1945; NATO generals excited by the smell of new budgets, not to mention a totally Russian kind of media “shitfest” between the supporters of a balanced, realistic approach to dialogue with Moscow and those of a constructivist, forceful approach.</span></p><p dir="ltr">And all this — on a large enough scale to foul up any discussion — flowed through communication channels in real time to audiences who under the influence of the media had almost lost the ability to analyse events on their own.</p><p><span>In this communication process, full of obstacles and complications, different people may, and indeed should, have different goals. If we imagine that such a direct exchange of views could be set up, what could the Russian and American leaders talk about, and how?</span></p><h2><span>An imagined dialogue</span></h2><p><span>As I discussed in </span><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vasily-gatov/over-barriers-in-us-russian-discourse">part one of my article</a><span>, in 1986-1987, Ronald Reagan lobbied Mikhail Gorbachev to allow him to speak directly to the Soviet people on television. </span></p><p><span>Eventually, Reagan got his way and, in exchange, </span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdhXgnp2-ek&amp;feature=youtu.be">gave his Soviet counterpart the same opportunity</a><span>. Regardless of the symbolic nature of this address (or, actually, because of it), Reagan’s speech played a pivotal role in the fate of the Soviet Union. Here, Reagan spoke not from a position of power — the president of the United States — but </span><a href="https://www.reaganlibrary.archives.gov/archives/speeches/1986/10186a.htm">from the position of a regular American</a><span>, troubled by years of confrontation, and who was perfectly able to differentiate between “Russians” and “the Communist party and the government”. Alongside other process taking place in the Soviet Union, this address demagnetised superpower confrontation.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/559247/PA-8300872-1_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="295" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Both Gorbachev and Reagan were involved in creating "dialogue" between the Soviet Union and the US during the late 1980s. (c) Mark Lennihan / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>I feel that Russia should explain, without resort to rhetorical clichés, what the USA and the west have done wrong; what is Russia specifically unhappy about in the current situation, and what sort of international relations it wishes to see in the future.</span></p><p><span>This is impossible to do if one uses the language of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or Putin’s own language. Given that this conversation should take place without interpreters or intermediaries, the words should be easily understood, even if not welcomed, by the US, and based on their real, not imagined historical constructs.</span></p><p><span>This presents our first and chief problem. Even if such an address was theoretically possible, it wouldn’t be able to avoid the use of concepts designed by Moscow — how to live in a world Russians would find fair and just.</span></p><p><span>The ordinary American has little interest in the supposed historical slights and humiliations their country has caused Russia, or why they need to be projected into the future. America and Americans have no inferiority complex or feeling of historical vulnerability and they are genuinely puzzled when they see the leader and the citizens of a large and powerful country constantly exhibiting these traits. The average businesslike and no-nonsense American believes that, even after a falling out, it makes more sense to come to a realistic pragmatic agreement about new working principles.</span></p><p><span>There is no place here for Putin’s traditional narrative, which came together in the early 2010s — lack of recognition for Russia’s valour during the Second World War,</span><a href="http://www.un.org/en/sections/history-united-nations-charter/1944-1945-dumbarton-oaks-and-yalta/index.html"> the Yalta Principles</a><span>, “Crimea is ours” and so on. &nbsp;Putin’s main problem is that this proposed encounter will be strategic: there can be no question of tactical concealment and deception. To agree to a direct meeting means laying your cards on the table and agreeing to play a straight game: the Russian president dislikes situations like this and feels uncomfortable in them.</span></p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">A repeat of Reagan and Gorbachev’s experiment today would in fact probably cause more harm than good. But it’s time to talk about it, at least</span></p><p><span>Meanwhile, what can the “leader of the free world” say to Russia? Should he try to communicate to the Russians across the barrier of an unfriendly, even hostile media intermediary class? To say that Russians are deceived and lied to, to uphold the principles of free speech and political activity and of human rights.</span></p><p><span>For me, to talk to the Russian public using the language of “American logic” and “American common sense” today makes even the most positive suggestions almost meaningless today. Russia’s mass audience has lost any interest in America’s main export product after the dollar — the dream of freedom and a just society. A minority audience already hears “the message from Washington” and can even pick out its nuances, but the opinions of this minority have no effect on Kremlin policy (or only when, on the contrary, they trigger another round of clampdowns).</span></p><p><span>The peace loving and frank words that an American leader might use will be quickly discredited and pronounced hypocritical. Instead, can the “leader of the free world” clearly and succinctly lay down the thin red lines that that surround Russia in its attempt to revise the established world order? This is also doubtful, as the Russian national character prefers mobilisation when faced with a threat. Perhaps it is necessary to, at least verbally, recognise a “special role” and “special rights” for the Eurasian power after laying down a categorical zero tolerance of both hot and cold wars.</span></p><p><span>The American leader has a more complex task than the Russian: the Russian media’s fixation on the USA will mean that this conversation will turn into an excuse for a many months long and clearly unfriendly debate.</span></p><p><span>A repeat of Reagan and Gorbachev’s experiment today would in fact probably cause more harm than good. But it’s time to talk about it, at least.</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/vasily-gatov/over-barriers-in-us-russian-discourse">Russia, America, it&#039;s time to talk face-to-face</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alexey-kovalev/life-after-facts-how-russian-state-media-defines-itself-through-negation">Life after facts: how Russian state media defines itself through negation</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alexey-kovalev-ilya-yablokov/putin-and-trump-s-bad-bromance">Putin and Trump’s bad bromance</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Vasily Gatov 25 years of change Russia Beyond propaganda Thu, 11 Aug 2016 04:45:35 +0000 Vasily Gatov 104677 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Could crowdfunding – yes, crowdfunding – save journalism in partly free societies? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/barbara-frye/could-crowdfunding-yes-crowdfunding-save-journalism-in-partly-free-societies <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/barbara.jpg" alt="barbara.jpg" hspace="5" width="80" align="left" /></p><p>After the Cold War, our attempts to encourage independent media in transition states didn't have the success we hoped. Could crowdfunding be part of the answer?</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/hromadske_3_body.jpg" alt="" title="" width="448" height="299" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'><a href=www.hromadske.tv>Hromadske TV</a>, a crowdfunded digital media platform set up in Ukraine in late 2013, is a landmark in crowdfunding initiatives. Credit: Hromadske.tv.</span></span></span><span>For decades, journalists and activists have tried to break the stranglehold that repressive governments or plutocrats hold on media around the globe.</span></p><p>During the Cold War, outlets such as Radio Free Europe, Radio Marti and Voice of America elbowed their way into the airless media environments of the Eastern bloc, Cuba and elsewhere to report on events censored in those countries and to offer an alternative view of the west.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>With the end (mostly) of the Cold War-era practices of signal-jamming and the expulsion of foreign journalists, <a href="http://www.tol.org/client/">free press groups</a> changed their approach. They <a href="https://iwpr.net/global-voices">started training reporters in countries where newly free people and markets</a>, and a newly accountable political class, were expected to lead to a robust, independent media scene.</p><p>We all know how this story ends. In some cases, especially in Eastern Europe, the influx of foreign investors into the media market instead led to the appearance of collusion between the new media owners and the government (a sell-out hardly worth making for many, who ended up losing money and fleeing those markets a few years later). Many media properties that stayed in local hands fared even worse, bought up and reduced to hand-puppets by well-connected business people.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">Crowdfunding would offer ordinary people — many of them disgusted by the distortions of their state- or oligarch-controlled media — a source of information they could trust and feel some investment in</span></p><p>A few independent outlets soldier on, but even under the best circumstances — that is, where their reporters are not beaten or threatened, their property not torched — the financial pressures on them are enormous. Many media markets in undemocratic, or nominally democratic, countries are fragmented, with audiences and advertising revenue cannibalised by too many marginal players that exist only because they serve someone’s interest. In places with less-developed private sectors, governments use their position as the major source of advertising funds to starve media properties that displease them.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Meanwhile, the foundations and NGOs continue to train reporters who for financial reasons are hard-pressed to use their newfound skills and ethics. Western-funded media-sustainability grants will only ever meet a fraction of the demand that’s out there.</p><p><span>There won’t be any white knight, but to these efforts we should add the burgeoning crowdfunding movement, which is under-used in developing countries and young democracies, and offers benefits that the democracy-promoters could not hope to match.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>For starters, individual reporters or independent media outlets in poorer countries often do not need considerable sums — and those sums are within reach of many people in developing countries, which overlap significantly with undemocratic ones. According to a <a href="http://www.infodev.org/infodev-files/wb_crowdfundingreport-v12.pdf ">2013 World Bank report</a>, “up to 344 million households in the developing world [are] able to make small crowdfund investments in community businesses.”&nbsp;</p><p>Offering journalists a way to collect many small donations from domestic contributors while, for the first time, linking them up with sympathetic foreigners or members of a diaspora could be powerful. And crowdfunding would offer ordinary people — many of them disgusted by the distortions of their state- or oligarch-controlled media — a source of information they could trust and feel some investment in. This could literally be the case where media opt to raise loans or offer equity via crowdfunding, as many businesses do, instead of relying solely on the charity model.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">We need a new approach to supporting independent media — one that not only helps fund beleaguered journalists, but also helps to forge a new relationship between media outlets and their distrustful societies</p><p>Second, in countries where it has worked, crowdfunding relies heavily on social media. Journalists and their circles, in whatever countries, tend to be naturals on social media, and — as the early experience of <a href="https://www.pressstart.org/">Press Start</a>, a new journalism crowdfunding effort, is showing — reporters’ Facebook posts are often key to ginning up interest and donations.</p><p>It is true, of course, that social media lags behind in some developing countries, held back by low internet penetration. But the <a href="http://www.infodev.org/infodev-files/wb_crowdfundingreport-v12.pdf ">World Bank researchers</a> concluded that, based on the current rate of adoption of “feature phones” in Africa, “it is possible that 40 percent of people living in Africa will have access to a smartphone within five years.”<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Third, while there are many worthy organisations making grants to feisty independent media in repressive countries, that relationship makes those media vulnerable to cynical charges that they are manipulated by nefarious “outside interests” or “foreign agents.” Crowdfunding’s transparency helps to shut down such arguments, while allowing the funded outlets to refuse donations from those with an eye to coopting them.</p><p>Still, before crowdfunding can really take off in many developing countries, it will need to establish a foundation of trust and to have a few prominent champions (early contributions are powerful psychological incentives for others to kick in). Governments will likely need to create regulations to ensure that crowdfunding campaigns are legitimate and that funded outlets are accountable to donors when they hit their goals.</p><p>And if crowdfunding is to succeed, all those grant-making foundations could still have a crucial role in training media outlets to do it, helping them to hone their pitches to contributors, hooking them up to networks of potential donors, and sharing best practices.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>It’s obviously too early to know if crowdfunding for media can take root in these countries, but it’s also obvious that we need a new approach to supporting independent media — one that not only helps fund beleaguered journalists, but also helps to forge a new relationship between media outlets and their distrustful societies. Of all the tools at our disposal right now, crowdfunding seems the best suited for that job.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span><em>Want to know more? Find out how you can support independent journalists with Press Start <a href="https://www.pressstart.org/">here</a>.&nbsp;</em></span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/otar-dovzhenko/media-in-ukraine-set-free-to-be-slaves">Media after Maidan</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alexey-kovalev/life-after-facts-how-russian-state-media-defines-itself-through-negation">Life after facts: how Russian state media defines itself through negation</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/gegham-vardanyan/unsteady-ground-for-armenia-s-media">2016: Unsteady ground for Armenian media</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ian-bateson/turning-our-backs-on-ukraine">Turning our backs on Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/nadine-gogu/who-really-rules-airwaves-in-moldova">Who really rules the airwaves in Moldova?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Barbara Frye Beyond propaganda Tue, 09 Aug 2016 09:53:34 +0000 Barbara Frye 104656 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Putin and Trump’s bad bromance https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexey-kovalev-ilya-yablokov/putin-and-trump-s-bad-bromance <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The recent leak of emails from inside the US Democratic Party have led to allegations that Trump is a Kremlin agent. This is clickbait conspiracy at its best.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-28165287 - evan vucci vfw.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Recent allegations that Trump is a Kremlin agent replicate classic conspiracy theories. (c) Evan Vucci / AP / Press Association Images All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Put Russia and Vladimir Putin in a headline, especially if it’s about the KGB, propaganda or spy games, and you’ll increase the clickbait factor of an article tenfold. The coverage of the </span><a href="https://wikileaks.org/dnc-emails/">recent email leak</a><span> from the Democratic National Committee, allegedly carried out by Russian hackers backed by Russian intelligence, is a case in point. The hackers then supplied the extracted emails to Wikileaks, whose motives and reputation as an impartial upholder of transparency </span><a href="https://www.wired.com/2016/07/wikileaks-officially-lost-moral-high-ground">have raised quite a few eyebrows in the recent months</a><span>.</span></span></p><p>Over the past few days, the popular argument in the mainstream US media has been that Donald Trump — a controversial businessman, celebrity and the Republican party presidential candidate — enjoys the support of the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin personally. This argument goes further, saying that Trump is Vladimir Putin’s <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/22/opinion/donald-trump-the-siberian-candidate.html">“Siberian candidate”</a>, who has been injected into American politics to represent Kremlin interests or even to implode the US, thus undermining Russia’s major adversary.</p><p>Are Trump and Putin friendly? Sure. Are Trump’s positions beneficial to the Kremlin? Definitely. But the conspiratorial notion of Russia driving major domestic political events in the US is the result of a decade of campaigning to cast Vladimir Putin as the world’s leading “strongman”.</p><h2>Man of the year or villain of the decade?</h2><p>In 2007, Vladimir Putin became Time’s man of the year. The iconic image of the Russian president on Time’s front cover became a representation of modern Russia. This Time cover and the Kremlin’s other achievements in engaging with western media all contributed to the positioning of Putin as a strong global leader.</p><p>PR consultants abroad and public intellectuals at home had a more specific part in this project: they made Putin the leader of the third world — one who explicitly challenges what the leaders of the G8 (and the US, in particular) say and do. As Gleb Pavlovsky, a long time Kremlin advisor, <a href="http://novchronic.ru/860.htm">put it back in 2007</a>:</p><p class="blockquote-new">“You cannot invent a global mission, but you can choose it out of a short list of real, eagerly sought goals. Putin did it. In the world of the simultaneously destructive and utopian ‘Bush doctrine’ the demand for resistance to the US is impossible. </p><p class="blockquote-new">However, there is a global demand for this resistance... The containment of the US is Russia’s function for the subsequent years. The majority of humankind, including its western part, will tacitly support all Russian actions in this sphere even without openly expressing public support. Putin has found a unique niche of unarticulated global demand for particular policies and occupied it.”</p><p>The promotion of Putin along these lines has left western intellectuals prone to using <a href="http://www.edwardlucas.com/the-new-cold-war/">familiar stereotypes of the cold war</a> and inflating them onto the next level. Moreover, the Kremlin has done its best to spread the image of Putin as a hawkish and cunning leader able to take revenge against his enemies by any means available. The successful demonstration of the power the Kremlin still possesses, despite negative economic predictions of Russian and foreign experts, elevated the Russian leader’s image to the top level of the global elite.</p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-26752702.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>June 2016: Vladimir Putin speaks during his meeting with Russian Ambassadors in Moscow, Russia. Ivan Sekretarev / AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Consequently, in the popular media, constant references to the Russian president </span><a href="https://t.co/cKAFjcyejq">can clearly explain everything Russia-related</a><span>, even vaguely. The </span><a href="http://edition.cnn.com/2015/01/27/us/new-york-alleged-russian-spy/">spy scandals</a><span>, the </span><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/07/magazine/the-agency.html">troll factories</a><span>, campaigns against the domestic opposition and, more importantly, the Ukrainian affair and the operation in Syria have only made the myth of the all-powerful Putin stronger.</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">The media’s case that Trump is colluding with Putin rests on several arguments, none of which hold much water</p><p>Other projects designed to reach out to global audiences, such as RT, have played a parallel role in promoting a particular image of Russia abroad: the global power that aims to represent the third world countries and political minorities that suffer from US domination. </p><p>Moreover, the channel became a major broadcaster of various conspiracy theories. These theories drive ratings and clicks thanks to their controversial and occasionally bizarre assumptions. This was, in turn, used by RT’s management, which have transformed them into a crucial element of the channel’s news agenda and <a href="https://www.psa.ac.uk/insight-plus/blog/can-conspiracy-theories-be-instruments-global-diplomacy">a tool of the Kremlin’s public diplomacy</a> aimed at undermining its major geopolitical rival, the US. By giving a voice to various political groups inside the US, the Kremlin has managed to use their arguments against the US government.</p><p>The cry of <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/24/ukraine-russia-putin-news-reporting">experts</a> and <a href="http://www.mediaite.com/tv/john-kerry-calls-out-propaganda-bullhorn-russia-today/">politicians</a> that RT’s propaganda is a <a href="http://www.stopfake.org/en/russian-propaganda-wins-eu-hearts-and-minds/">threat to national security of western countries</a> have also developed the image of the “omnipotent Putin”. It is no surprise, therefore, that the <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2016/07/dnc-hack-wikileaks-russia/492878/">news of the hack on the servers of the Democratic National Convention</a> a few days ago, which <a href="http://motherboard.vice.com/read/all-signs-point-to-russia-being-behind-the-dnc-hack">was allegedly executed by Russian hackers working for Russian intelligence</a>, found fruitful soil. Major US media quickly ran articles (with Putin’s photo curiously central) alleging that Donald Trump is the major beneficiary of the scandal. Conspiracy theories naturally followed.</p><h2>Donald Trump: a “puppet” without a master</h2><p>Over the past week, alarmist conspiracy theories have spread through social networks and mainstream US news sites. Franklin Foer in Slate <a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/cover_story/2016/07/vladimir_putin_has_a_plan_for_destroying_the_west_and_it_looks_a_lot_like.html">warned</a> that Putin “has a plan for destroying the west — and that plan looks a lot like Donald Trump.” <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/how-a-trump-presidency-could-destabilize-europe/2016/07/21/9ec38a20-4f75-11e6-a422-83ab49ed5e6a_story.html">Anne Applebaum</a> and <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/22/opinion/donald-trump-the-siberian-candidate.html">Paul Krugman</a>, well respected American intellectuals, referred to the solid corpus of anti-communist conspiracy theories of the Cold War when they described Trump as the “Manchurian Candidate”. Less prominent writers have also <a href="http://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/trump-putin-yes-it-s-really-a-thing">contributed to the topic</a> by summarising and establishing the alleged links between Trump and the Kremlin as definite facts.</p><p>The working conspiratorial narrative of the leak scandal provides a skeleton of an argument which vaguely describe Putin’s alleged support of Trump. First, <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/07/27/the-trump-russia-money-question-in-24-steps/">Trump has financial interests in Russia and his ties to Russian money are significant</a>. Second, <a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/presidential-campaign/289047-exploring-russian-ties-to-the-men-lurking-behind">Trump’s team is connected to the Kremlin and Russian oligarchs</a>. Third, Trump stated that <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/22/world/europe/donald-trump-nato-baltics-interpreter.html">he doesn’t plan on supporting the Baltic states in case of conflict</a> and will “look into the case” of recognising Crimea as a part of Russia. Fourth, both Trump and Putin <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/donald-trump-vladimir-putin-russia-2015-12">have made complimentary statements about each other</a>.</p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">Blaming the foreign power (Putin) in this context is instrumental, perhaps, tactically useful, and definitely falls into the popular pattern of seeing the Russians behind everything</span></p><p>These four points serve as an explanatory framework for why Putin is interested in seeing Donald Trump in the White House next year. And on Wednesday, the worst fears of conspiracy theorists and Democratic supporters alike gained factual grounds when Trump, in his usual brazen manner, invited “Russia” <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/28/us/politics/donald-trump-russia-clinton-emails.html">to hack and release the 30,000 emails</a> which Hillary Clinton sent from unsecured servers during her time as Secretary of State. Democratic party spokespeople <a href="http://edition.cnn.com/2016/07/27/politics/donald-trump-vladimir-putin-hack-hillary-clinton/">immediately accused Trump of disloyalty to the United States</a>, even calling his words <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-elections/donald-trump-accused-of-treason-after-urging-russias-vladimir-putin-to-hack-hillary-clintons-email-a7158976.html">“treason”</a>.</p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/23771660902_367085bf13_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="460" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>"Trumputin". CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Chris Piascik / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>This is not the first time that Trump has </span><a href="http://edition.cnn.com/2015/09/18/politics/trump-obama-muslim-birther/">sparked scandals based on conspiratorial allegations</a><span>. Ironically, it’s seemingly for the first time he is himself accused of conspiring against America. Yet, the presence of conspiracy theories is a sign that the political system is experiencing a crisis of trust in current political institutions and ruling elites. Conspiratorial allegations are, after all, a powerful instrument to ruin reputations, the accusations against Donald Trump, </span><a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/07/donald-trump-why-americans-support">who wants to represent the “ordinary man”</a><span>, are capable only of further polarising public debate.</span></p><p>If Hillary Clinton wins, she will face millions of people who distrust her policies. Blaming the foreign power (Putin) in this context is instrumental, perhaps, tactically useful, and definitely falls into the popular pattern of seeing the Russians behind everything. Yet it’s counterproductive, as it won’t help understanding the nature of current events clearly.</p><h2>No lessons learned</h2><p>Few lessons seem to have been learned from the UK’s referendum, during which the unsuccessful Remain campaign often disproportionately concentrated on Putin the boogeyman. The spectre of the Russian president, who would supposedly celebrate Brexit in the event that it happened, lingered in pro-EU <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/mar/02/all-alternatives-eu-brexit-come-price-tag-philip-hammond">speeches</a> and <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/how-brexit-is-a-win-for-putin/2016/06/25/800e4d3c-3b06-11e6-8f7c-d4c723a2becb_story.html">op-eds</a> in the run-up to the referendum that saw the United Kingdom leave the European Union by a small margin.</p><p>Putin, the Remainers stressed, is the only world leader striving for a weak Britain and fractured EU. Even though the issue of external forces influencing their decision seemed largely irrelevant to an electorate preoccupied with domestic issues like disenfranchisement of the working class and immigration, the Remain leaders and their <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/may/13/brexit-perfect-gift-vladimir-putin-eu">sympathisers</a> pressed this line until the very end of their losing campaign. There wasn’t a single incident that directly implicated Putin or Russia in influencing the outcome of the UK referendum — the “Putin wants Brexit” argument largely hinged on “that’s what he wants”.</p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">Yes, Russia exploits cracks in the facade of the western establishment — but only because these cracks already existed, independent of any Russian influence</span></p><p>If Russia did indeed “meddle” in the Brexit vote, <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/06/08/why-putin-is-meddling-in-britain-s-brexit-vote.html">as many a pundit claimed</a>, you’d expect a revolving door of Leave campaigners at Russian embassy galas, receiving instructions and donations. But that wasn’t the case. Russian foreign affairs officials <a href="http://www.rusemb.org.uk/fnapr/5481">begrudgingly denied any involvement</a>, calling the EU referendum an internal issue in which they had no interest.</p><p>From their off the record comments, one could infer that there was no plan for Brexit and definitely no strategy to help the Leave campaign win, for several reasons. One being that even the most innocuous sign of support for either side would result in accusation of meddling in another country’s affairs, undermining Russia’s own perceived moral high ground from which it often sermonises. The other, according to a diplomatic source, stated that Brexit was in fact contrary to realistic interests of Russian foreign policy. For Russian diplomats, empirical evidence suggests that an unfavourable but predictable status quo is preferable to chaos and uncertainty.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 09-1_0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="279" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>May 2016: French journalists translate Dmitry Kiselyov's segment on "Eurosceptics" in France. Source: YouTube / LePetitJournal.</span></span></span><span>Yes, Russia does exchange favours with anti-establishment figures on all extremes of the political spectrum in Europe — </span><a href="http://www.politico.eu/article/le-pen-russia-crimea-putin-money-bank-national-front-seeks-russian-cash-for-election-fight/">the National Front loan in France is a well-documented case</a><span>. But so far, this is the only concrete proof that Putin supports anti-European forces in Europe.</span></p><p>Instead, what we’re dealing with is more of a feedback loop than a definite strategy. European fringe leftists and Neo-Nazis project their own fantasies of a fair society and strong leadership onto Putin. German right-wingers praise Putin for his supposed hard stance on Islamism, while unaware of a Russian region <a href="http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/07/24/vladimir-putin-polygamy-islam-chechnya-christian-far-right-europe-ramzan-kadyrov/">where sharia law is all but officially implemented and polygamy encouraged</a>. Leftists see Putin as a counterweight to globalisation and crony capitalism — ignoring (willfully or otherwise) <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ilya-matveev/russia-inc">the corporatist nature of the Russian state</a>. Italian secessionists from Lega Nord support the “self-determination of the Crimean people”, unaware than even a fraction of their claims for Padanian independence would land them in prison <a href="http://www.rferl.org/content/russia-activist-separatism-charges-trial/27224380.html">on extremism charges in Russia</a>.</p><p>As soon as these fellow travellers say something nice about Russia and Putin — out of ignorance and naivety about the true nature of the state and the leader they admire — they are noticed in Moscow, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/20/russia-funds-moscow-conference-us-eu-ukraine-separatists">invited to conferences and roundtables</a>, and receive coveted airtime on RT and Russian domestic channels where they are paraded for propaganda purposes.</p><p>But that’s as far as support goes. Yes, Russia exploits cracks in the facade of the western establishment — but only because these cracks already existed, independent of any Russian influence.</p><h2>What’s your evidence</h2><p>The media’s case that Trump is colluding with Putin rests on several arguments, none of which hold much water.</p><p>The most persistent is that Paul Manafort, who is now Trump’s current campaign chief, ran the 2006 parliamentary campaign for Ukraine’s Party of Regions, a party led by pro-Moscow politician Viktor Yanukovych, now ousted and exiled in Russia. As Mustafa Nayem, the journalist whose Facebook post in late 2013 sparked the Euromaidan protests, <a href="http://www.pravda.com.ua/rus/articles/2007/03/19/4414941/">explains in his 2007 investigation</a>, Manafort was invited as a campaign manager by Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov. Manafort rebranded the Party of Regions campaign in the style of Republican primaries, culminating in a theatrical party convention reminiscent of the 2004 RNC.</p><p>While the Manafort-Yanukovych connection is factually true, a source close to the 2006 race says Yanukovych’s campaign was actively sabotaged from Moscow on the grounds that Yanukovych relied on American political consultants, who are by their nature omnivorous. As Russia Without BS, an incisive Russia-watching blog, <a href="https://nobsrussia.com/2016/07/26/trump-putin-final-summary/">correctly points out</a>, one of Mitt Romney’s top aides also lobbied for Yanukovych’s party. Does that make Romney a Putin shill? <a href="https://twitter.com/mittromney/status/677873975444156416">Probably not</a>. Tim Allan, Tony Blair’s former aide, owns Portland Communications, a London PR firm <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-05-15/putin-spin-doctors-pitch-russian-pancakes-ignore-ukraine">subcontracted by Ketchum to represent Russian interests abroad</a>. International PR and lobbying is a notoriously unscrupulous business. UK and American firms have over the years represented dictatorial regimes the world over, and criticised for it, although the criticism is mostly focused on the moral qualities of the trade, not its threat to national security.</p><p>Painting Russia as a global villain and Putin a nefarious and omnipotent puppetmaster is exactly the image he is aiming for. The plan to “improve Russia’s image abroad” by channelling millions of petrodollars into western PR firms has been a resound failure — Russia’s image is at all-time low since the Cold War. not even the most unscrupulous PR establishments will take on Russia as a client after Ukraine. So the global villain it is, and the keyword here is “global”. Putin’s unwitting public representatives are the pundits and politicians who are now doing what he himself has been doing for years now: blame outside forces for own failures.</p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">Conspiratorial thinking defines Russian political discourse and provides much fodder for parody. It’s bizarre watching the US establishment fall into the trap some of them have been criticising Russia for over the past decade.</span></p><p>The same goes for Trump’s supposed Russian connections. If he’s so entrenched, <a href="http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/07/25/is-trump-a-russian-stooge-putin-dnc-wikileaks/">argues Julia Ioffe in Foreign Policy</a>, why isn’t there a single Trump Tower in Russia? The early 2000s oil boom bestowed many towering monuments to bad taste on Moscow, but none of them are Trump’s. Which means that, despite 30 years of trying, the Republican presidential nominee still hasn’t learned which hands to shake. Where Trump has failed repeatedly, many other international businesses and networks are thriving; none seems to cast Christopher J. Nassetta, CEO of Hilton Worldwide, as a Putin stooge for having 17 Hilton hotels in Russia.</p><p>While Trump does indeed have a sizable Russian clientele (or at least brags that he does), the idea that his empire is propped up by “oligarchs close to Putin” is a bit of a stretch. Putin’s inner circle is tight, and Azerbaijani-Russian businessman Aras Agalarov, with whom Trump <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/inside-trumps-financial-ties-to-russia-and-his-unusual-flattery-of-vladimir-putin/2016/06/17/dbdcaac8-31a6-11e6-8ff7-7b6c1998b7a0_story.html">shook hands</a> cordially at a meeting which Putin snubbed, doesn’t belong there. Many, not just Trump, have done business with Russia, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/24/us/cash-flowed-to-clinton-foundation-as-russians-pressed-for-control-of-uranium-company.html">including Hillary Clinton</a>. Whom, in an ironic twist, is presented on RT as the corrupt candidate for taking Russian money.</p><p>Yes, Trump has said nice things about Putin. But he also <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17EOM3RTD1Y">literally compared Russia to ISIS in an attack ad</a> and <a href="http://europe.newsweek.com/trump-says-us-should-shoot-russian-planes-if-putin-calls-fail-454902?rm=eu">promised to shoot down Russian aircraft</a> (causing a minor uproar among Russian pundits who felt “betrayed”). Yet proponents of the “Putin’s agent” theory choose to ignore this in <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_sharpshooter_fallacy">a peculiar case of Texas Sharpshooter fallacy</a>. Russia has been likened to an ill-behaved child before, demanding attention and telling grown-ups to leave her alone at the same time, throwing tantrums and upsetting apple carts when things don’t go her way. Trump is an angsty teenager: he’ll say whatever is “anti-mainstream” at the moment. The worst parental strategy is to indulge.</p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">Russian media’s pro-Trump slant is largely opportunistic. The only thing that matters is that he is anti-Hillary. Had it been someone else, they’d praise them</span></p><p>Beyond superficial comparisons, however, there is a fundamental difference (one of many) between Putin and Trump. Putin is extremely legalistic in his approach. He has build a complex facade of democracy, complete with regular (albeit rigged) elections, a parliament (with both chambers completely subservient to the executive branch) and a galaxy of GONGOs that tirelessly work at emulating a functioning society. Yes, both the Russian Duma and the Federation Council are little more than overhyped rubber-stampers, signing whatever bill Putin’s office forces on them. Yet it’s very important for Putin to appear within the bounds of the law (that he writes himself). Trump, on the other hand, has repeatedly demonstrated his scant regard for laws and a very vague understanding of what laws, norms, agreements and pledges actually mean.</p><p>Another argument goes that “Putin has thrown the weight of his propaganda machine behind Trump”. Indeed, the Trumpist frenzy on Russian TV goes to such lengths that channels <a href="http://www.salon.com/2016/04/27/i_pretended_to_be_a_trump_supporter_on_russian_tv/">engage in fabricating pro-Trump vox-pops</a>. But how is Russian domestic coverage of the US elections race of any consequence to US voters? Yes, RT, which is aimed at foreign audiences, does cover Trump, although RT’s chief editor Margarita Simonyan seems to favour Sanders more. And anyway, RT’s actual footprint, not self-aggrandised or elevated through <a href="http://www.mediaite.com/tv/john-kerry-calls-out-propaganda-bullhorn-russia-today/">alarmist statements</a>, is <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/09/17/putin-s-propaganda-tv-lies-about-ratings.html">too small to be of any significant influence on the outcome of the race</a>.</p><p>Russia’s domestic TV coverage of Trump is not so much pro-Trump as anti-Hillary, who is widely seen in Russia as an adversary. Putin’s rivalry with Clinton dates back to 2011 when <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/dec/08/vladimir-putin-hillary-clinton-russia">he accused the US State Department of fomenting protests against election fraud</a>. TV channels simply take Putin’s cue and blast Clinton and praise Trump, encouraged by the surprisingly persistent “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” logic and in a bid to win favours from the presidential administration, whose deputy head micromanages media.</p><p>Thus, Russian media’s pro-Trump slant is largely opportunistic. The only thing that matters is that he is anti-Hillary. Had it been someone else, they’d praise them. As Mikhail Zygar, former chief editor of TV Dozhd and author of the seminal expose&nbsp;<em>All The Kremlin’s Men</em>, <a href="http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/07/donald-trump-vladimir-putin-2016-214110#ixzz4Fe6Dd2pU">points out in Politico</a>, in the early days of the US presidential race, when Jeb Bush was still a viable contender, a retired senior Kremlin official went to meet Bush.</p><p>Trump, in other words, is another weakness that Russia exploits — he’s a bug, not a feature. But the issues of US domestic politics that gave birth to the Trump phenomenon are entirely independent from Russia and had existed before Russia saw an opportunity to exploit them for propaganda purposes at home. Trump is not a Russian invention. He’s the result of decades of mismanagement that has led to disenchantment for many American people, which he is now feeding off and amplifying through the gargantuan echo chamber of social media and the 24/7 news cycle. Nor he is a Russian agent of influence. Casting him as such is a reductionist, desperate tactic that is bound to fail to convince any electorate.</p><p>The irony of top US officials and media accusing Russia of trying to influence the outcome of a highly contested US presidential race has not escaped many Russian observers. That’s precisely what Putin, pro-Kremlin think tanks and media have been doing for the past five years — accuse the US of shoving grit in the Russian machine, whether it’s mass anti-Putin protests or potholes. The machinations of the US state department is such a pervasive propaganda trope on Russian TV that there are now more <a href="https://twitter.com/FakeObamka">memes lampooning it than actual references</a>.</p><p><span>Conspiratorial thinking defines Russian political discourse and provides much fodder for parody. It’s bizarre watching the US establishment fall into the trap some of them have been criticising Russia for over the past decade.</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilya-yablokov/why-are-russia-s-journalists-so-prone-to-conspiracy-theory">Why are Russia’s journalists so prone to conspiracy theory?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alexey-kovalev/life-after-facts-how-russian-state-media-defines-itself-through-negation">Life after facts: how Russian state media defines itself through negation</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/vasily-gatov/over-barriers-in-us-russian-discourse">Russia, America, it&#039;s time to talk face-to-face</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards-thomas-rowley/why-we-don-t-publish-articles-about-putin">Why we don’t publish articles about Putin</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Understanding the rise of Trump Ilya Yablokov Alexey Kovalev Russia Beyond propaganda Fri, 29 Jul 2016 09:15:46 +0000 Alexey Kovalev and Ilya Yablokov 104375 at https://www.opendemocracy.net