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The Steel Pipe Hobbles the Pen

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“I’m typing with one hand.  The second doesn’t work.  Moreover, I’m very bruised in two places on the thigh of my left leg , in my left kidney,  and on the middle of my back, and my face still stings.  But I am lucky.  I’m very lucky.”  These are the words of Maksim Zolotarev, who goes by the ZhZh handle zeelot, in a blog post retelling how he was attacked by three men as he left home last Thursday.  Zolotarev is the editor of Molva Iuzhnoe Podmoskove and one of the hundreds of journalists violently attacked in recent years.

Yesterday, 12 March 2009 I, Maksim Sergeevich Zolotarev, left home at [12:30]. I made my way to my car so I could go to work.  The car was 20 meters from my home.  As I approached my car I saw another car-a Mitsubishi.  I noticed that the number of the car was covered in dirt.  The car turned around to face the front windshield of my car.

Only when I began to approach my car, did three men exit the Mitsubishi in identical short black ski jackets with hoods over their heads. I had a bad feeling.

One of the tall strangers (30-35 years old, under 2 meters, Slavic features) quickly came up to me and asked, “Where is building No. 18.”  As I turned toward him, a shot from an air gun went into my face, after that they laid a blow to my legs, and I fell.

The second person (40-45 years old, medium height) pulled out a short steel rod encased in rubber and laid 10-15 blows on my entire body.  Especially on my arms and spine.  I could not open my eyes and could not breath and therefore didn’t see anyone.  People nearby started running toward me.  I remember that the incident occurred in the middle of day, around one o’clock.  After the beating, the attackers got in the automobile and left in an unknown direction.

Zolotarev is another statistic in the number of journalists beaten in Russia this year.  The assailants are almost never found or prosecuted. His beating is just another indication that being a journalist in Russia is a life or death profession.

There have been eight recorded incidents of attacks on journalists so far this year according to the Glasnost Defense Fund.  But that number only includes January and February.  We are almost at the end of March, and including Zolotarev, we can add the attack on Vzglyad reporter Vadim Rogozhin in Saratov on 5 March.

Rogozhin received more than ten blows to the head.  He now lies in a coma. Rogozhin is said to been working on an investigation of illegal business activities.  His bosses at Vzglyad are offering 1 million rubles for any information on the assailants.

If Rogozhin dies, he will become the third Russian journalist killed this year following the murder of Anastasia Baburova and Shafig Amrakhov.  The former is well known.  The latter was the editor of RIA-51 in Murmansk.  He died from severe head wounds from an air gun an unknown assailant shot him with on December 30. The specific reason why he was attacked is unknown.  But I bet it has something to do with his work.

It’s almost getting rote to chronicle these stories.  And unlike most reports, I don’t think that any of this has to do with the Kremlin or even a particular aspect of Putinist Russia.  The truth of the matter is that for the vast majority of Russian journalists beaten and killed, the assailants are more likely to be local, and probably connected to business interests–legal or otherwise.  These attacks are a reminder that Russian capitalism is one where localized violence plays in fundamental role.

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