On May 3, the World Press Freedom Day, the international human rights organization Reporters without Borders has compiled a list of 40 ‘predators of press freedom’. Along with unnamed Colombian guerrillas, Mexican narcocartels, ETA separatists, Italian Mafiosos, and a galaxy of traditional ‘villains’ from Mullah Muhammad Omar to Zimbabwean Robert Mugabe, Russia was ‘awarded’ with two nominees: PM Vladimir Putin and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
Let’s have a look on what was incriminated to the Russian politicians.
…Vladimir Putin continues to make his influence felt in the Kremlin. Strong leadership from the top in all areas of society has been his guiding principle in the reconstruction of a strong state after the years of confusion and dilution of authority under Boris Yeltsin. The press has not been spared. “Control” is the key word for this former KGB officer: control of the state, control of the economic and political forces, control of geopolitical strategic interests and control of the media. The national TV stations now speak with a single voice.
Independent journalists and human rights activists are exposed to considerable danger, especially in the North Caucasus. Five journalists were murdered in 2009. Twenty-two have been murdered since 2000. President Medvedev has recognised the existence of political murders for the first time. The Nashi (Ours), a young patriotic guard created by the Kremlin in 2005 at the behest of Putin and others who lament Russia’s imperial decline, sues newspapers critical of the Soviet past or the current government when it is not staging actual manhunts. As well as manipulating groups and institutions, Putin has promoted a climate of pumped-up national pride (! – Oriental Review) that encourages the persecution of dissidents and freethinkers and fosters a level of impunity that is steadily undermining the rule of law.
Often referred to as “Putin’s guard dog,” Ramzan Kadyrov shares the Russian prime minister’s taste for crude language and strong action. President and undisputed chief of this Russian republic in the North Caucasus since April 2007, he has restored a semblance of calm after the devastation of two wars. A high price has been paid for this superficial stability, the introduction of a lawless regime. Anyone questioning the policies of this “Hero of Russia” (an award he received from Putin in 2004) is exposed to deadly reprisals. Two fierce critics of the handling of the “Chechen issue,” reporter Anna Politkovskaya and human rights activist Natalia Estemirova, were both gunned down – Politkovskaya in Moscow in October 2006 and Estemirova in Chechnya in July 2009. When human rights activists blamed him for their deaths, Kadyrov was dismissive: “That’s bullshit, that’s just gossip,” he said.
The Chechen media toe the line. Those that survive in this hostile environment know the rules of the game, the first of which is to never criticise the policies of the president, whose photo is displayed everywhere. Kadyrov said this about terrorism: “My method is simple. Those who disrupt the people’s peace must be dealt with harshly, cruelly even.” And on the press, he added: “The press must be in the service of the Chechen people’s unity.” In practice, journalists interpret this as meaning they must praise his every action and the people’s devotion to him.
To ensure absolute loyalty, Kadyrov uses not only fear but also the money flowing in abundance from the Kremlin to Grozny. New newspapers have been created with Chechen government funding to create the impression that the republic’s media are flourishing and vibrant. But they all just repeat the same refrain ad infinitum. As for foreign journalists, it goes without saying that Kadyrov accuses them of distorting reality and not reporting what is really happening in Chechnya.
The funny side of these claims is that according to the latest polls in Russia, the state-controlled federal TV stations are steadily losing popularity. Russian ‘freethinkers’ in full correspondence with the international trends are massively shifting towards Internet sources of information and commentaries. (Here I should give a due credit to Reporters without Borders. They did not expose Russian Internet as state-controlled as it would be too barefaced a lie.) And while surfing Russian social networks and forums, it surprisingly turns out that the general ‘slice’ of the Russian minds is much more independent, critical, straightforward and nationally-focused than the Procrustean bed of the moderate and politically balanced ‘state-controlled’ TV-commentaries. When British Foreign Secretary David Miliband opened a Russian language blog on the site of a popular liberal radio station a couple of years ago, his primitive Goebbels-style propagandistic postings were causing hundreds of sarcastic and even scoffing comments from Russians until blog’s popularity has definitely faded away by early 2010.
So reforming Russian media environment after the ‘Dark Age’ of Yeltsin, Putin, being a smart guy, did nothing else but caught up the natural Russian sentiments and aspirations. That is the simple secret of his popularity. By the way, there are very few leaders in the world who twice a year hold multi-hour live press conferences for more than 1000 journalists, space-bridging several Russian cities and enormous Internet auditorium. Putin practices it since 2000.
Only extremely naïve people seriously believe in ‘unbiased’ traditional media. If it is not a state, then oligarchs fostering and shuffling presidents and political elites worldwide manage the press. The only difference is that the oligarchs prefer to act latently behind the scenes and thus stay away from the public focus. They sponsor Reporters without Borders as well as legions of other puppet organizations to create mirages of vox populi while imposing their outlooks to the mankind. Those who are not naïve, but insisting in ‘independence’ of mainstream media, are unexceptionally on the same payroll.
As far as ‘political assassinations’ of the journalists are concerned, I feel nothing but deep sympathy to those pen-armed cynics and idealists who engage in big politics being absolutely unaware of inhumanly cruel nature of their hosts. With a slightest political reason, they immolate these lambs without a second thought. The fact is that ill-fated Anna Politkovskaya and her writings became known to the vast majority of Russians only after her assassination symbolically committed in 2006 on Putin’s birthday. Her personal influence and readership of Novaya Gazeta newspaper where she used to work during her life were quite miserable. So she never represented a minor danger to the Russian leadership. Moreover she was far from being the most uncompromising pen-shark among Russian liberal journalists. Much more harsh critics of ‘Putin’s regime’ are living safe and sane in Russia.
Kadyrov is really governing Chechnya with an iron fist. He brought peace, investments and hopes for better life there. When somebody stands in front of choice between personal security, job and adequate living standard on the one hand and vague ‘freedoms’ in a chaotic unlawful criminalized land like Chechnya used to be in 1990s on the other, anyone would opt for the first. That is another ‘secret’, one of the impressive Kadyrov’s popularity there. There will be no peace in the Caucasus without authoritative and strong leadership. Today’s Chechnya is an island of stability inside the boiling Caucasus. It is not easy to find Kadyrovs for every North Caucasian republic. But that would be a real solution. That would be a mere nightmare for creators of global chaos. That is the real reason why Kadyrov is demonized by the mainstream. That is why he is among the ‘predators’.
Perhaps for someone wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, turmoil in Bishkek and fisticuffs in Ukrainian parliament are the symbols of utmost democratic advance. Sober and reasonable people around the globe cannot accept such a misleading guidance. And of course the Reporters’ endeavor to refuse Russians the right to the national pride shows nothing but inconceivable arrogance and inadequacy of this organization.
By the way, many Russian observers are asking at their blogs why George W. Bush is not listed among the ‘predators’. Weren’t his soldiers shooting down Reuters journalists in Iraq in 2007 from helicopter cockpits because they had ‘mixed up’ their cameras with AKs, as we got to know a month ago? Most likely despite the proud name Reporters without Borders the organization is thoroughly keeping the lines not allowed to be crossed…