Two recent high-profile articles are making news in Russia this month;
one is a frank and widely distributed assessment the country's current
and historic problems by President Dmitri Medvedev. The other article
alleges that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was behind a series of
apartment bombings in 1999 in order to consolidate power in the name of
security. But the
U.S. publisher of that article has withheld its release in Russia.
Medvedev's article, entitled, Go Russia, has been widely distributed
online and in print. It outlines Russian corruption, lack of economic
diversification, demographic decline and authoritarian traditions.
American publisher of the other article, Conde Nast, has not released
it online or in the Russian edition of the U.S. men's fashion magazine GQ were it was printed.
The author, American investigative
journalist Scott Anderson, alleges Russian security forces, not Chechen
terrorists, bombed apartment buildings in several cities 10 years ago
to frighten and then rally people behind Mr. Putin's promise to keep
the country safe against terrorists.
Mr. Putin was still
relatively unknown at the time. An independent translation of the
article, titled Vladimir Putin's Dark Rise to Power, has appeared on
the Internet. Russian officials have previously denied similar
President Medvedev says in his article that modern
information technologies offer unprecedented opportunity to develop
political freedoms such as freedom of speech and assembly, even if the
ruling class resents the transparency that comes with such liberties.
human rights advocates, however, accuse the Kremlin leader of
hypocrisy. They point to continued bureaucratic harassment and
outright murder of investigative journalists who criticize powerful
Russian officials. Activists also consider GQ's refusal to distribute
its controversial article in Russia as a form of self-censorship aimed
at protecting corporate profits against possible reprisals.
Yevgeniy Khlov is information director of the For Human Rights organization in Moscow.
says Khlov, it must be said that the West during the rule of Stalin,
Brezhnev and now Putin protects its interests by submitting to the
rules of the game set by totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, not
only in Russia, but also in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.
Moscow office declined VOA's request for a comment on Khlov's
criticism. Magazine representatives said earlier that Anderson's
allegations were old news in Russia and did not warrant further
Political analyst Masha Lipman of the Moscow
Carnegie Center says the decision to limit distribution of the GQ
article made an official Russian argument against a free press easier.
"The Russian government ... Russian officials are saying that
things may not be ideal in Russia with press freedom, but they are not
ideal elsewhere either," said Lipman. "And if the management of a
publication may actually limit the distribution of a sensitive article
in other countries, I think that it portrays them as pragmatic, maybe
cynical, but certainly not as proponents of press freedom."
Secretary of the Russian Union of Journalists, Nadezhda Azhgikhina told
VOA members of the organization have hopes President Medvedev will
expand media freedoms in Russia.
Azhgikhina says there are
already a fair number of hard-hitting investigative publications which
feature very interesting material. She says there are also independent
regional television stations, which stand out amid the monotony of
national state channels. She notes that unfortunately officials do not
act sufficiently on the information presented.
Medvedev's article recognizes the need to develop and exchange
information in Russia and provides the Kremlin email address for
citizens to share ideas about solving the country's problems. But
Yevgeniy Khlov says individual e-mails to the Kremlin represent the
illusion of a discussion or choice. He characterizes the failure of
President Medvedev to debate his opponents in last year's presidential
election as a scandal, and calls for a competitive public exchange of
ideas between officials and members of the opposition.
says the fundamental issues of domestic and foreign policy in Russia
are not debated; those who oppose the official point of view are not
allowed to speak, to develop their positions or participate in a
discussion. The activist says that realistically, there is no freedom
of speech in Russia.
Nadezhda Azhgikhina of the Russian
Journalist's Union says she does not have enough information to pass
judgment on GQ's decision to publish or not publish an article highly
critical of Prime Minister Putin. But she says the more discussions
there are about press freedom in Russia; the sooner the country can
experience a genuine social dialogue.