16 July 2021
by Zoya Svetova, journalist, human rights activist and laureate of the Moscow Helsinki Group Award
When, in the spring of 2012, that is, a little more than nine years ago, Philip Dzyadko described the dismissal of Demyan Kudryavtsev of Kommersant as “a link in a fucking chain”, the air smelled of a thunderstorm. It wasn’t scary yet, it was even a little fun. I remember some excitement: who would be next? Then there were many, many more dismissals, journalists began to be sued, there were attempts to stifle them with huge fines, some managed to negotiate and to get out into the wider world, and some went bankrupt. Owners fired editors-in-chief, whole editorial offices of journalists followed them, and former editors-in-chief opened up new media. They became more successful than before.
The authorities and their henchmen , who hunted down the journalists, were perplexed: it seemed to them that the hydra had been beheaded, but it grew new heads and it became more difficult to cope with them all at the same time. It was then, probably, that they decided to adapt the law on foreign agents, which was designed to restrict civil society, to be used against the media,. This law is so “rubbery” that it could be used to crack down on journalists. A few years ago, a search of a journalist’s property seemed something of a novelty: in the last year, it seems, the search of a journalist’s property has become the norm, as well as detentions at rallies, arrests and sentences for offences under administrative law.
The Golunov case, which demonstrated the power of journalistic solidarity, saved Golunov, but angered the security forces to the core. Yes, of course, those law enforcers who were behind the case of the journalist from Medusa [an organisation designated as a ‘foreign agent’] are not the same security forces that are fighting with journalists on a wider level. But the power of journalists has infuriated them and has stuck in their craw.
Having imprisoned Navalny and defeated the Anti-Corruption Foundation [an organisation designated as a ‘foreign agent’ and as an ‘extremist organisation’], considering it as a foreign agent and an extremist organization, they decided to crack down on other publications and those who continued to investigate, to write news and to pretend that independent journalism is possible in Russia.
The arrest of Ivan Safronov again did not stop the journalists. They stubbornly did not want to hear the signals, to catch the messages that were sent out for them. Yesterday’s announcement that the Proekt media outlet is an undesirable organization and the addition of eight of its journalists to the foreign agent register s is a “shot in the back” intended to make sure the message is now clear.
It seems as if a small group is sitting at the games table. In front of the players is a board game entitled Russian Media. A kind of Monopoly, only, instead of streets and properties on the field in squares, are the names of publications and the names of journalists. The point of the game is to identify as many foreign agents or undesirables as possible at a time. During the game, any one of them can be put in jail or searched. Of course, there is no such game. This is the product of my “sick” imagination. Everything is much simpler: there is a goal to “clean up the media” and they are cleaning it up .
Those with vested interests write denunciations and take documents to wherever is necessary, and there “where it is necessary” they issue orders to the Ministry of Justice, the Prosecutor General’s Office, the court and propagandists. “Will they stop?” you ask. The answer is, “I don’t know.”
I know something else: manuscripts, as you know, do not burn and texts do not disappear, and after the closure of one publication, it is replaced by a new one.
Translated by Graham Jones