Valery Borshchev: Authoritarianism and media freedom are incompatible

5 July 2021

Pictured left: Valery Borshchev, co-chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Voice of America Russian Service]

Vladimir Putin and Aleksandr Lukashenko are again included by Reporters Without Borders in the list of “enemies of press freedom”. The regularly produced negative rating was published on July 5.

Both Putin and Lukashenko have been awarded this “distinction” for the last twenty years. According experts at Reporters Without Borders, all leaders included in the “black list” possess their own characteristic methods for exerting pressure on journalists.

According to the organization’s secretary General, Christophe Deloir, “each of these vultures has their own style”: “Some impose a reign of terror by giving irrational and paranoid orders. Others utilise a meticulously thought-out strategy predicated on draconian laws. Now, their primary task is to pay the lowest possible price for their repressive behavior. We must not allow their methods to become the new norm.”

Valery Borshchev, co-chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group, spoke about the similarities and differences between the situation with media freedom in Russia and Belarus. The human rights activist is convinced that the main reason for the pressure on media freedom in Russia is that the independent press and press freedom always to some extent tie the hands of the authorities, so the country is “steadily” moving from an authoritarian to a totalitarian state. “Of course, Russia is slightly behind Belarus, which has moved ahead slightly on this path” Borshchev believes. “But Putin is hardly inferior to Lukashenko in this regard. At the start of his rule, he proclaimed the freedom of the media and verbally supported independent journalism. At the same time, his words were already seriously at odds with his actions. We should remember the abolition of NTV. This was the first swallow of the summer, and then ‘events took their course’. All of this is quite natural. Authoritarianism and media freedom are incompatible.”

At the same time, there are still some differences with the state of affairs of press freedom in neighbouring countries, the human rights activist agrees. “Even in the Soviet period, the authorities kept a small ‘window’ open. For example, the magazine Novy mir [New World] under (Aleksandr) Tvardovsky, ” Borschev continues. This publication had a special position. Things were published there that it was impossible to see anywhere else in printed form. In this manner, the Kremlin attempted to give the impression of something similar to freedom of speech. In today’s Russia, there is Novaya gazeta [New newspaper], the radio station Ekho Moskvy [Ekho of Moscow], and the TV channel Dozhd [Rain], although it is difficult to say how long they will stay afloat. However, there are no such equivalents in Belarus, all the cracks are closed there. In Belarus there is a dictatorial regime in its purest form.”

Now, Valery Borshchev is convinced, there is a tightening of repression against journalists in Russia. “After the human rights activists, the authorities have taken action hard against the media and are behaving quite openly in this regard, without any ceremony. They do not consider journalists opponents, but enemies. Meanwhile, everyone is caught beneath the millstone indiscriminately, whether you are an ordinary journalist or an editor-in-chief, which creates an atmosphere of fear. This is a considered, intentional policy. The case of Ivan Safronov is an example of this. The case against him  is insubstantial. Not the slightest iota of evidence has been presented, and he has been behind bars for more than a year, ” the co-chair of Moscow Helsinki Group concluded. 

Translated by Ruairidh Irwin

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