Reporters Without Borders has released its annual index on worldwide press freedom. The questionnaire the group used to calculate the index can be found here. According to the report Russia ranks 147th, where it is sandwiched between Singapore and Tunisia. Last year, Russia was ranked 138th. RWB explains the reason for the drop as follows:
Russia, which suffers from a basic lack of democracy, continues slowly but steadily dismantling the free media, with industrial groups close to President Vladimir Putin buying up nearly all independent media outlets and with passage of a law discouraging NGO activity.
Each year several journalists are murdered in Russia with complete impunity. The person who ordered the July 2004 killing in Moscow of Paul Klebnikov, editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine, remains publicly unknown. The murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya in early October 2006 is a poor omen for the coming year.
When put into context, the decline in the free press in Russia is symbolic of a global phenomenon. The index also notes that even traditionally high ranked countries like France, the United States, and Japan has seen press freedom deteriorate. Since 2002, when the ranking was created, the US has fallen from 17th to its current position of 53rd. It dropped seven ranks in the last year. RWB explains the drop in the US as a result of, “Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the president used the pretext of “national security” to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his “war on terrorism.”
France has dropped a whopping 24 places in the last five years to its current position of 35th. French journalists have been victims of increasing police searches and violence. Japan, which has fallen 14 places to 51st, has seen the press under increasing verbally and physically attacked by nationalist forces.
The main culprits for the deterioration of press freedom aren’t surprising: war, nationalism, state censorship, and political and economic instability all contribute to a climate where journalists craft becomes dangerous.
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By Sean — 12 years ago
National Unity Day has come and gone. Events were predictable. The nationalists defied authorities and held a modest march of 1500-2000 in
Moscowchanting “ for Russians.” It was met by 1000 of the 6500 strong police force that was deployed around the city. Police arrested 200 people as they tried to join the illegal march. But not before a Ukrainian journalist named Maria Runova from the newspaper Mir Novostei was attacked. An officially sanctioned rally of 1000 people was held to denounce fascism. Russia
, police used tear gas to brake up a massive street fight between 200 nationalists and a group of anti-fascist youths. St. Petersburg
Predictably, there is a flood of reporting in the English language press. Nationalism in
Russiais a topic that supports a variety views that is descending into chaos and fascism. This is evident in how the rallies are explained in the press. The LA Times, for example, reported the nationalists as “staging marches” while the anti-fascist gathering as a “counter-rally.” Such descriptions create a hierarchy where the nationalists and their views are normalized. This impression is reinforced by the fact that articles tend to repeat the same information with little analysis of why nationalism appears to be on the rise. Russia
Nationalism is on the rise in
. SOVA documents a 30 percent rise in neo-Nazi activities this summer alone. Still, the overall impact of neo-Nazi activity is difficult to gage because of the asymmetry between neo-Nazi activities and the reporting on them. The amount of column inches devoted to bands of Russian nationalists and fascists outweigh their actually existence. It should be noted that a march of 1500-2000, while disgusting because it involves fascists, is hardly representative. In Russia , most marches of similar size are rightly dismissed as fringe. Yet, for America such marches are somehow representative of something more widespread. Russia
In my opinion, this is exactly what the nationalists and fascists hope for. Similar to terrorists, they hope that small acts of protest and violence will inflate the little power they have or give the impression that their acts represent the true will of the people.
The media, however, is not only culprit. The state shares some of the blame. Legal crackdowns and tough police action against nationalism, though necessary and welcomed, also give the impression that these groups have more power and influence than they possess. I for one have no problem with the police throwing racists to the ground but it should be recognized that like with other protests movements, activists wear battles with the cops as badges of honor. The police are thus caught in that inevitable catch-22. Inaction is unacceptable, even dangerous, but action potentially reproduces the obstinacy of the very thing they are fighting.
Everyone recognizes National Unity Day is a joke. The day has revealed more cracks in Russian society than unity. This is where I think the nationalists do represent something real. While their views do not represent Russian attitudes in general, the fact that they are given public voice does provoke questions about Russian national identity. The holiday raises the very question it seeks to answer: What is Russian national identity?
Interestingly, the National Unity Day was created to replace Revolution Day, which did provide a theoretical template for unity. The Bolshevik Revolution, while born of deep class animosity, eventually became a point of unity under the Soviet multiethnic banner. The Revolution was written not only as an event that liberated all peoples in the Russian empire from oppression, it was the starting point for the eventual liberation of all of mankind. Thus Revolution Day formally recognized no ethnic nation and ultimately no national border.
National Unity Day can’t make the same claims. First the day celebrates the Russian liberation from the Polish-Lithuanian (read: Catholic) yoke in 1613, marking the end of the Time of Troubles. Many, like Russia Profile’s Georgy Bovt, dismiss the day as indicating “nothing of fundamental importance happened regarding the unity of the Russian nation or the country’s liberation from Catholic aggressors on that day.” This is true in regard to Russian history. But memory is rarely about the past. It is more directed to the present making the Polish-Lithuanian defeat has great symbolic significance. It creates an Other in which to situate Russian national identity in regard to religion, ethnicity, and the integrity of its borders.
Russian Orthodoxy is often overlooked in discussions of Russian national identity, even by those who are actively trying to create it. As Bovt notes, since the 17th century, 4 November was a church holiday celebrating the icon of the Lady of Kazan. By making the day also one national unity, “today’s authorities have managed, largely unnoticed by the general public, to turn a profoundly religious Orthodox holiday into an official state one. It is part of an ongoing plan to give Russian Orthodoxy the trappings, if not the title, of a state religion and thereby to help define the evolution of the “sovereign ideology.”
Another component of that “sovereign ideology” is giving Russian ethnicity a central place in the development of the Russian nation. This is the attempt to reconcile the inner contradiction of russkii and rossisskii, about which I’ve written about before. Celebrating the Polish-Lithuanian defeat concomitantly provides an example of unity and an Other to remind Russians of many present day internal and external Others. Here one can substitute the Poles for Georgians, Chechens, Azeris, Ukrainians, or even Americans for the “Polish-Lithuanians.” It should be noted that in a recent pole by VTsIOM on Russian attitudes to nuclear weapons, two of
’s most prominent Others were viewed as most likely to wage a nuclear attack. 37 percent of respondents thought that a nuclear attack would most likely come from the Russia , and 44 percent saw that it would come from Chechen terrorists. Therefore, what Russian is in contrast what it is not. United States
Finally, the 1613 battle that drove out Polish-Lithuanian invaders signifies the longstanding negotiation over
’s borders. Not only does this fit well with the present tension between Russia Russiaand Georgia, it is also a reminder that ’s internal integrity is threatened by minorities looking either to separate or gain more autonomy. Thus, Russia ’s geographic identity is in relation to these internal and external peoples. Russia
Putin’s brief address to commemorate National Unity Day is full of attempts to reconcile the contradictions inherent in Russian national identity. His statements moved between highlighting
Russia’s “common heritage” and the “multinational people of our country united in order to preserve ‘s independence and statehood.” Here one might read a reformation of the Soviet slogan, “socialist in content, national in form” into “Russian in content, multinational in form.” Russia
I think the Kremlin deserves credit in its attempt to fuse the important place Russian (russkii) culture with its multinational (rossisskii) character. The problem is how this translates to the rest of the population. If the fissures the nationalists exposed in the National Unity Day celebrations are any indication, Russian (russkii) identity continues to present problems for Russian (rossisskii) identity.Post Views: 359
By Sean — 13 years ago
—This item is from two weeks ago and slipped under my radar. The League of United Youth, or LOM has become reality. The September 27 edition of the Moscow Times reported that the coalition, which includes the youth organization Rodina; the Communist Youth League, Red Youth Vanguard; National Bolshevik Party; and the Yabloko youth group Oborona, or Defense, announced its formation.
—This week the Presidium of the Russian Supreme Court nullified its overturning of a lower court’s ban of the National Bolshevik Party, ordering a retrial. NPB spokesman Alexander Averin charged that “the decision was made under pressure from the Kremlin.”
—It sounds like a chill is developing with another of America’s allies on the “war on terror. Mosnews is reporting that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cancelled her stop to Uzbekistan as she visits Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan on October 10 – 13. Mosnews writes:
“The reason of this cancellation was that the United States is concerned over clashes in the Uzbek city of Andijan in May and over the current policy of the Uzbek authorities. [Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs, Daniel] Fried said. “We are very concerned over Andijan, not only the very incident but the reaction as well,” he added. Fried said the U.S. administration is worried over other aspects of Uzbek activities, such as “pressure on non-governmental organizations, reduction of exchange programs, the entire atmosphere of fear in the country.”
This still surprises me because it seems that the Uzbek government is doing everything right by U.S. standards. It was reported this week that a Muslim imam, Shavkat Madumarov, died of torture in an Uzbek prison. Madumarov was serving a seven year sentence for ties to Wahhabis. The Uzbek government of course claims that he died of “an HIV infection and anemia.” Um, yeah, right.
—The drama in the Beslan Mothers and Grigorii Grabovoi controversy continues. Lisa Vronskaya provides an interesting analysis of why some of the mothers had gravitated to the cult leader. It seems that the devotion of some of its members is causing a lot of tension within the Mother’s group, causing increased speculation that Grabovoi is really an agent of the Kremlin. I seriously doubt this and just speaks to the tendency to see conspiracy emanating from above to squash the legitimate concerns and complaints from those below.
Vronskaya adds that there is a deep cultural reason why many are willing to accept Grabovoi’s claims:
“Russia has an ancient tradition of belief in the supernatural. Despite the country’s early Christianization, Russians continued to worship pagan gods for centuries. The Soviet regime proclaimed Russia a secular state where all religions were all but outlawed, and ordinary people again turned to mystic and supernatural cults. In the 1990s, ’healers’, albeit widely condemned as charlatans, were allowed to cast their spells on nationwide television.”
It is true that you can open any Russian tabloid and see all sorts of classified ads for a variety of kolduny and koldun’i, znakhari, mystics, soothsayers, palm readers, and “authentic” peasant women who can apply herbs and read chicken bones. Not to mention the popularity of astrological and other supernatural books. And it is also the case that there is a long history of religious sects in Russia. The strangest being the secretive Skoptsy, an odd group that split from the Old Believers and practiced castration as well as other extreme dietary and bodily regulations, about which Professor Laura Engelstein of Yale has written. But to take this particular case to the universal seems a bit much. I maintain that while strange and tragic, it is not hard to see why some of the Beslan Mothers have embraced Grabovoi. He offers them the impossible at a time when they are obviously still in shock.
—The Moscow News is celebrating its 75th Anniversary with an interview with the paper’s former editor, Yakov Lomko. The paper began in 1930, was haulted in 1949 after its editor, Mikhail Borodin was shot, but revived again in 1956. The Moscow News served as only foreign language newspaper published in the Soviet Union. When asked about pressure from the KGB, Lomko has this to say:
“Unlike editors of Russian-language Soviet papers I had a convenient excuse: “The foreign reader will not understand this.” After that they would leave me alone. We had an opportunity to speak about our problems more frankly and openly than Russian-language papers. Neither the Foreign Ministry nor the Central Committee dictated us what to write or censored us. We did not get instructions from the KGB, and had no contacts with them. Everything related to the publishing process was discussed by our editorial board.
The paper never was a “troubadour of ideas of Marxism-Leninism.” In the supplement intended for speeches of party leaders we published Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s story One Day of Ivan Denisovich. All this was “swallowed” by the upper echelons, the main thing was to persuade them. But, of course, to go against the “general line” was impossible. We worked for the interests of our country, trying to get close to common human values, believing this the only way to win the trust of the readers.”
—Probably one of the most important news items of the week is that 13 years ago Russian President Boris Yeltsin sent tanks to break opposition led by Chairman of the Supreme Council Ruslan Khasbulatov and Vice-president Alexander Rutskoi to his dissolving of Parliament and the Russian Constitution. I already pointed out how at the time the NY Times and the Washington Post lauded Yeltsin’s use of the military as progress for Russian “democracy” and “reform.” That being said, I find Nikolay Troitsky’s reflection on the event interesting:
“Early in the morning October 4, 1993 the White House was encircled. What happened next some people still call “execution of the parliament”. It was much talked right after the event, and the talks still continue today, that there was some armed resistance, that “defenders” of the House of the Government allegedly seized too much weapons. There probably were weapons but many witnesses of the events did not see them at all. There was General Makashov (he is now representing the Communist Party in the Parliament) with a Kalashnikov gun and three cartridge belts, but the general never shot.
On the day when the House of the Government was stormed, about one hundred of strange men wearing Cossack caps settled in the windows of the building with double-barreled guns or hunting rifles. The men incurred the inimical fire and spoiled the whole of the interior. At that those who fired the House of the Government did not look better than the “defenders”. Among them there were strong athletic men who jumped out of armored troop-carriers with better weapons and fired the building. Nobody knew where the people came from. It was suggested that they were probably engaged by Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky, young Mikhail Khodorkovsky and other bankers who afterwards financed the Yeltsin Family. It is astonishing that 12 years after the events, Mikhail Khodorkovsky himself arrived at the parliamentary republic ideas that pushed Khasbulatov and Co.
The storm of the White House was in fact the mixture of senseless outrage and obvious sloppiness. Majority of people sitting in the building – clerks, cleaners, barkeepers – were rather peaceful and did not want to fight the regime. But none of them was allowed to leave the building. Instead, firing of the building began without warning.”
Troitsky ends hid discussion with this lesson of the 1993 “civil war”: “that it is dangerous in Russia to take armed people out in the streets to fight the regime.”
On that note, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin turned 53 on Friday.Post Views: 1,977
By Sean — 11 years ago
Last month Alexander Dugin boasted that his Eurasian Youth Union could bring out 1500 participants to their Imperial March. They got about 600-700 according to Kommersant (RFE/RL claims no more than 400 attended). It also seems that the Russian authorities have much more tolerance toward the far right than the left. A few days before the march,
mayor Yuri Luzhkov granted the International Eurasian Movement a permit to march down Tverskaya to Revolution Square. But there seems to be some confusion on this permit. Other news agencies, like the Moscow Times and RFE/RL, report that Luzhkov only granted a permit for a two hour rally at Mayakovskaya. In contrast, the mayor’s office has rejected a similar request by the “March of the Discontented” for April 14. Moscow
There were no reported arrests and no clubbing of demonstrators. That doesn’t mean that the police were not in full force. They were indeed. “Twenty-seven truckloads of soldiers, a stepped-up police presence and even several busloads of special forces troops protected the demonstrators and make sure no march occurred spontaneously,” reports Kommersant. One has to wonder who was guarding who. Were the police guarding bystanders or the Eurasianists?
The march displayed all the nationalist rhetoric one would expect at a neo-fascist rally. Again from Kommersant:
collapsed, I had the feeling that I was being cut up into pieces,” Eurasian Youth Union leader Pavel Zarifullin told those gathered. “But we will restore the empire. The process has already begun.” Alexander Dugin, spiritual leader of the movement, called opposition members who attend the March of Those Who Disagree “the forces of hell,” and stated that “ USSR is the kingdom of the Antichrist in the far West. Those who urge friendship with it want to sell the country for Internet and free chewing gum.” America
“We are supporters of the regime. We support Putin because he created the prerequisites for the rebirth of the nation,” Dugin told the rally. “We want guarantees that Putin will stay for a third term or secure the continuity of his course.”
should be strong and not crawling under the West,” Dmitry Zakharov, a rally participant, said Sunday. Russia
“National Bolsheviks want to monopolize street protests and the notion of civil society for themselves, and we want to show everybody today that we, too, are a part of civil society,” said Pavel Kanishchev, waving a black flag decorated with eight yellow arrows symbolizing
‘s imperial expansion. Russia
I think that this line from the International Herald Tribune summed things up nicely: “Some demonstrators said they were recruited in rural schools, and had little idea why they were there.”Post Views: 544