The Post-Transitional Russian Identity
Putin’s Russia: The Human Rights Record
NINA KHRUSHCHEVA: I have four people that I have invited to discuss Putin’s record on human rights. They are very experienced and very equipped to discuss these issues.
Our first panelist is Mary Holland. She will talk about legal and civil rights. She comes to us from NYU School of Law.
I also invited Diederik Lohman from Human Rights Watch to talk about military issues and human rights and the Chechyan conflict.
Andrew Nagorski, Senior Editor of Newsweek used to be the Newsweek Moscow correspondent. Newsweek very bravely started a Russian edition of Newsweek. In fact, I have a few copies here courtesy of Andrew and he will talk about what it is to be in the belly of the beast at this particular moment for a foreign publication in Russia today.
And finally, last but not least, our final speaker is Alexander Lupis from the Committee to Protect Journalists and he will talk about human rights and the press in sort of a broader context. It was a very wonderful thing, in fact Alexander Lupis was suggested by his director for this panel which was really wonderful because usually you have to chase after people to participate on a panel but in this particular case because it is such a pressing subject actually people wanted to be on the panel so I welcome Alexander.
MARY HOLLAND: Nina, thank you very much. I first would like to tell you a little bit about myself so that you have some perspective of where I’m coming from. I had the opportunity as a child in the early 70’s to live in the Soviet Union and I attended a Soviet public school in Moscow. I found the country very intriguing. I learned the language and I went back to live in the Soviet Union in college in the 1980’s and in the early 90’s worked for a human rights organization and in the mid-90’s worked in a private law firm in Russia. So, relatively speaking I am going to take a longish view of Putin’s human rights record. I’m now at NYU Law School and a month ago we hosted a conference on Russia including some of the leading human rights activists from Russia today. Many of my remarks are in fact drawn from their remarks just a few weeks ago.
So what is Putin’s record, what is his human rights record, particularly from a legal standpoint? It’s a bad record and more importantly it’s a worsening record. But I want to look for just a moment at the pre-Putin record because I think that the Soviet human rights record is a very important point of reference and it’s his point of reference. Putin is a proud descendent of the unreformed Soviet KGB. So this is his point of reference.
The Soviet Union was a one party state. There was some law on administrative matters. It was not a country of no law but there was no law on political matters. There were gross denials of civil and political rights. There was state repression of 20 million people in the 20’s. There was abuse of the criminal system. There was abuse of the psychiatric system. There was no free market. There were no free professions. There was overwhelming, dominant control by the state. But, importantly there were some real provisions of social and economic rights. During the Cold War the Soviet Union was our bogeyman of choice of the United States but there were some things that the USSR did relatively well or comparatively well including an education system that in some ways worked and a medical system and transportation system many of which are things that don’t work today and are causes of grave concern to normal folks.
So what was the situation like then when we “won” the ‘Cold War in the early 90’s. Well, in many respects the conception about human rights 15 years ago was right. A good constitution was put in place. There was a reasonably thorough going reform of the criminal codes, of family codes of commercial codes so that there could be economic activity. There was the creation of a real parliament. There was concern about a real free, independent judiciary. There was the opportunity for a free press to exercise itself.
But one very important thing that did not happen in the early to mid-90’s was that there was no thorough going accounting for the past. There was no tribunal to hear crimes that occurred against humanity in the Stalinist era. There was no opening of all the records on the KGB as there had been in opening the records on the Stasi in East Germany. There was no illustration into who was a KGB informer among government officials. There was a lot of Glasnost about the past. There was a lot of openness. There was a lot of discussion but there was not accountability.
Now, that was a strategic choice. Politics is the art of the possible. I am not trying to suggest that people who were at the forefront of human rights made wrong choices. But the choices are noteworthy and I think that some of their legacy is what we see today in human rights. In addition to that lack of accountability and in addition to this lack of 70 years of history of a tradition of human rights, we see in the early 90’s incredibly weak institutions. Incredibly weak ways to transform a reasonably good conception of human rights into an actuality of human rights. We thought no real history of an independent parliament, no real civil society sector, no vibrant religious institutions nothing really since the 20’s of a burgeoning civil society.
So Putin is a KGB agent. He is a proud descendent of the KGB. He is not now, nor has he ever been, nor is he ever likely to be in the future a human rightsnik. And it is very important to remember that he came to power after the explosions in apartment buildings in Moscow in 1999. He came to power on a war against terror. That was his platform. That’s how he got where he was and that’s in large part how he remains in power now and holds on to his power.
Since he has come to power in 2000, Russia has been a country at war. It’s been open war at times, it’s been a dirty war at times as it is today but it’s been a war for 10 years and it is a war that’s characterized as a war on terror. I think when we think for even just a moment of the extraordinary challenges in this country that the war on terror poses for human rights. That it poses for interrogation, for torture for incarceration of people and when we think of that challenge in a country like Russia with no real history of institutions to protect human rights and we think of a war on a massive scale that’s been going on for 10 years and we think of the deep Soviet tradition of talking about mobilizing a country for war, I think we recognize the incredible challenge that human rights faces in Russia today.
So, what are the legal challenges? Certainly there are legal challenges and I think some of my colleagues will come back to address these. One of the most profound changes that has recently occurred was in the aftermath of the horrendous massacre of children in Beslan in the fall of 2004. Putin’s apparent solution to that terrorist attack was to change it so that regional governors would no longer be elected. They would be nominated by him. Similarly he changed the way in which lower house Duma representatives would be elected. They would no longer be half elected from local party lists, they would only be from national lists.
Those are two profound changes. Think for a minute what it would be like if suddenly overnight all 50 governors of 50 states would be appointed rather than elected. That would be an enormous change. And yet, coming from a Soviet past the idea of a one party state is very ingrained and even without these changes there has been an extraordinary progression over the last 10 years toward a one party state. Putin’s party.
Listening to our Russian colleagues a month ago, the real challenge in law and human rights is not so much about today, the law on paper but it’s about law in practice. It’s about enforcement or rather often it’s about non-enforcement or it’s about abuse of practice. It’s about the perversion and the prostitution of criminal law for political ends. The Constitution is not bad. It’s just not very meaningful today. And even very important safeguards that are new and that have been put in place since the fall of the Soviet Union are not functioning as they should. And one of the most tragic safeguards to me in the way that it is working in practice is that now petitioners for human rights claims do have an opportunity to take their claim to the European Court of Human Rights. Russia is a part of the Council of Europe. They have a right to bring those claims to Strasbourg and yet the Russian Government with impunity has assassinated many petitioners and their families who are bringing claims to the European Court of Human Rights. So atrocious, utterly atrocious and in connection with Chechyna and the war on
Another very distressing dimension of the war on terror is that since Beslan in particular, President Putin has directly taken aim at human rights defenders. He has directly taken aim at human rights advocates and has talked openly about the country being a nation under siege and the notion that dissidents are traitors. The power of fear is great. The fear is increasing. There are now political prisoners in Russia on a Soviet scale. Not so much in Moscow and St. Petersburg but out in the provinces, in the regions. In Moscow we see the development of new show trials. Trials that are used for political ends to make important social points.
Two of those trials, both of which are being handled by a very prominent Russian defense attorney, Yuri Schmidt, who was here in February , one is of Yuri Samodurov the Director of the Sakarov Museum and another Mikhail Khodorkovsky an important businessman. The Samadorov trial involves a case of alleged blasphemy and I have here a case where now the prosecutor has asked for 3 years imprisonment for this curator of a Moscow exhibit that had an exhibit about religion and its role. And I have here information about that case and a petition in the event that you’d like to sign that really somebody should not be subjected to 3 years in prison for their expression of artistic belief. And that is largely a show trial that is being brought for political reasons. It’s to make a lesson of the Sakarov Foundation and it’s role in supporting liberal causes and in particular for drawing attention to the abuses of the war on terror.
Similarly the Khodorkovsky trial has been fraught with procedural violations and violations of due process. Khodorkovsky as a prominent business person did give a lot of money to civil society in Russia and did take on political causes and certainly his trial is being made a lesson to others in the business community and anywhere else that no one, including Russia’s richest man is above the state and is above the state bureaucrats that run it.
One of the things that was striking in listening to our Russian human rights colleagues how much harder their life is today in the sense that the West is not very interested and I think we can see two dimensions to that. One is that the Cold War is over and the West gets no brownie points today for showing how bad things are in Russia unlike in the Soviet Union where their was an ideological divide. Human Rights activists in Russia don’t get to the front page of the New York Times anymore as they did.
Russia is very low on the United States agenda in a geo-political sense. People characterized it at this meeting as being number 5 on the agenda. What the Bush Administration really wants is for nothing to happen in Russia for the next 4 years for it to be frozen and that we focus on national security and put terrorism first but that puts people in Russia at great risk.
The other thing that hinders a greater participation by the United States and Western Europe is our own pre-occupation with terror and the notion that somehow Russia and the West are in a strategic partnership in the war on terror. Completely overlooking the way in which the war on terrorism is manipulated to violate basic human rights.
There is unrest in Russia today, not all is well. People are not sanguine. Other countries, Georgia, Ukraine, have undergone popular revolutions, if you will, in very recent memory against repressive governments that are outgrowths of the Soviet Union. That doesn’t seem imminent today but the danger of unrest is very real and the situation is bad and worsening.
DIEDERIK LOHMAN: My name is Diederik Lohman and I have been working in the field of human rights for the last 10 years. The last 8 years of which I have been with Human Rights Watch including about 5-1/2 years in our Moscow office.
To start with Mary, it was very interesting that you talked about accountability and the fact that there was no accounting for what happened in the past. Because in all the years that I have worked on Russia for every single topic I have touched be it police torture, be it abuses in the Army, be it the situation in orphanages, be it the media or be it Chechnya as we will see in a little bit, every time accountability is being the key obstacle to improvement of the human rights situation. Russia does not have a culture of holding people accountable for their actions, particularly state officials.
So the panelists were asked to answer basically two questions. One, does President Vladimir Putin’s centralization of power present a serious step back for human rights in Russia and is Democracy being undermined and civil discourse being silenced. I think the answer to both can be a wholehearted yes. In Russia today political freedoms have been severely restricted and democracy I think I can say is essentially dead.
The consequences of Putin’s centralization go well beyond that. They’ve, in fact, had a major impact on the soundness of decision making in the government as a whole. And in turn poor decision making has had a major impact on the human rights situation in Russia. I’ll later on try to illustrate that using the example of Chechnya, I said that the centralization has led to poor decision making in the Russian Government. Paradoxically, the whole centralization effort was characterized by Putin as necessary to make the government more
Let’s remember Russia before Putin in the Yeltsin years. Mary talked about very week institutions. The words that come to my mind first and foremost are chaos, inefficient and ineffective government, rule of men, not law, no accountability. A country that consists of 89 semi-independent fiefdoms. So, if you look at the situation under Yeltsin you could easily argue that Putin had legitimate arguments to centralize the state to some extent to create functioning state structures, to bring the various different regions back in line. Imagine if the 50 states of this country each adopted laws that were grossly inconsistent with the US Constitution. That’s the
There was a clear need to develop coherent policies towards the oligarchs, towards robber capitalism. There was obviously a real need to enforce rule of law and to create mechanisms of accountability. So, if centralization was necessary to achieve that, I think I personally would have applauded that kind of an effort. The problem is that Putin’s centralization was not about creating an effective state. It was about concentrating power in his hands. It was not about creating mechanisms for accountability. It was about eliminating the checks and balances that existed to his power. Because however flawed and inefficient
The media. Although in Yeltsin’s years the media were by no means independent, they were pluralistic. The various different television stations represented or reflected the opinions of their owners and the opinions of the owners were constantly in conflict. So by flipping channels Russians were actually able to get a whole range of different opinions. The same was true for newspapers. Today television has become incredibly monotone. There is no criticism of the President and basically people have reverted back to reading between the lines. The newspapers and internet are
The parliament. Under Yeltsin it was completely ineffective and it was not constructive at all but the one aspect of Parliament that was crucial for a democracy was that there was vigorous debate on every single policy issue that the government wanted to make law. Today Parliament is a rubber stamp machine for the Kremlin’s
The Governors. They may have been dictators in their own little fiefdoms, but they did provide a counterbalance to a very powerful President. Today as Mary already said, Governors are appointed. They are not all appointed yet but in a few years they will all have been appointed by Putin and therefore accountable to Putin
The Judiciary. Although still far from real independence in the Yeltsin years, it was making progress. Today telephone justice, the FSB picking up the phone and telling the judge what verdict to issue in a specific case is making a
The NGOS. Mary has already talked about the difficulties of the NGOS working in Russia today. Until last year the NGOS were fairly free to operate as they wanted and they developed quite rapidly into quite a vocal and important voice on human rights issues. Today they are under sustained pressure from the
So all of these checks and balances have either already been dismantled or are in the process of being dismantled. That dismantling of these checks and balances entails violation of the right to free press, the right to free association, the right to elect and be elected. But as I said before it goes well beyond that and I wanted to take Chechnya as an
From the first day of the second war in Chechnya which started in September of 1999, the government of Russia has tried everything it could to limit flows of information about what was happening in that war. It also did everything it could to stifle public debate about the war. Television journalists could
There is no open discussion on television or in most Russian newspapers on what is happening in Chechnya. There has been very little discussion of Chechnya in the Russian State Duma, the Russian Parliament especially since the elections of December, 2003 which
And so, in the absence of proper news reporting, independent news reporting, and in the absence of public debate, the government has been in a vacuum when making policy decisions. All decisions on Chechnya are being
Each of these clans has it s own interests, several of them are highly corrupted and obviously they provide very colored information to the Kremlin. The decisions then made
If you look at the people, just like the government. the people have very little information about what is going on in Chechnya.
I’m convinced that if the Russian population did have access to all of this
As a result of all this, peace in
In 2000 I went to the region to interview relatives of people who had been executed by Russian soldiers. These people told me in tears, they said we were waiting for them to come. We wanted the Russian troops to come in and we wanted normal life to start again. We were willing to live under the Russians as long as we were getting peace. What the Russians did was execute in Grozny over 150 people for no apparent reason and obviously that kind of set the tone for what has happened since. For all of the disappearances that have been happening since, for all of the killings that have been happening since and obviously that has made it very difficult for ordinary Chechnyans to have any kind of belief in the good faith of the Russian government and that, of course, in turn has led to fertile recruiting grounds for rebel fighters.
And not only rebel fighters because as we all know, we’ve all read about Beslan. There is an increasing segment of the Chechyan population, it is small but it is still increasing, that is reverting to fundamentalist Islam and who are willing to commit suicide bombings, who are willing to kill Russian civilians, Russian children. I think that this radicalization of certain segments of the Chechnyan population is a result of the hare-brained policies of the Russian government in Chechnya. If you alienate and humiliate people, you push them into the hands of radicals and as we all know, there is a lot of funding for these kind of radical elements. I remember after Beslan I was in the region and most Chechnyans told me they were horrified by what had happened at that school but at the same time they told me you know we think it’s awful what happened there but why is nobody talking about our children? Because more than 160 of our children were killed in the course of this conflict and nobody seems to care about what had happened. I thought that on the one hand it was reassuring that Chechnyans were saying what happened was unacceptable under any circumstances but it was also a little frightening to see that they felt that nobody cared about their children. That kind of feeling of alienation can very easily lead to further radicalization of certain segments of the Chechnyan population and to a further proliferation of the kind of terrorist attacks that we’ve seen at Beslan, that we’ve seen at the theater in Moscow and elsewhere. Maybe I’ll leave at that and return to it at a later point.
ANDREW NAGORSKI: Nina at the beginning of this said that Newsweek very bravely launched its Russian edition a few months ago at a time when press freedoms have been diminishing. I think bravery is a word that can be often interchanged with something else, not too smart. So the implication there could go either way and maybe there’s a bit of both. But, let me just tell you a little bit about where I’m coming from on this in terms of my personal experiences as a correspondent and then more recently as an editor dealing with our foreign language editions and to give you some idea of why this picture looks a little complicated to me and why I think it’s worth trying this.
Like Mary, although I don’t go back quite as far into the Soviet period as Mary does, but my first assignment in Moscow was in 1981. These days when I tell young reporters about the conditions we worked under, they sort of look at you as if you had been reporting on the Stone Age. It was a time when we were obviously monitored at every point. You knew that your apartment was bugged, your office was bugged, you were followed. You could travel outside of Moscow, but you had to file travel plans with the Foreign Ministry Press Department so they knew exactly where to monitor you. The goons, especially outside of Moscow, were very much in evidence. The young KGB guys who if they wanted to, they didn’t have to be evident, but often they wanted to to send you the message that you were being followed but more importantly to scare off normal Russians from contacting you.
Despite that there was a lot you could get done and it was a period in terms of a journalistic assignment, one of the most challenging I ever had or anybody in that period ever had because if you could get out and report on this society which made every effort to close itself off and you got something. You felt that you had achieved something that most other reporters had not. These things could end badly. There were all sorts of incidents every reporter had. Aside from the overt following, I had my tires slashed. I was detained a couple of times. In the worst case though what happened to most reporters, was what happened to me in the end, after a year I was expelled.
But the greatest risk was to your Russian sources, to anybody who talked to you and many people took incredible risks knowing that they were doing so to get to foreign correspondents to try to get the story out, to try to tell something about what was really happening in that country. This was a very tense time. It had its maybe occasional lighter moments because the system was so predictable.
Just one digression, I remember one of the first assignments I did outside of Moscow in 1981. I went to Vilnius in Lithuania to report on how people in the Baltic States were reacting to the Solidarity Movement across the border in Poland. In those days for some reason you got a ticket on Aeroflot one-way within the Soviet Union but then you had to pick up your return ticket at that destination. So I got to Vilnius and had a couple of adventures there and at the end of it I went to Aeroflot and asked for a ticket out. They said oh no there are no seats.
Instead of being happy to get rid of me for some reason the Aeroflot office decided they were not going to accommodate me. I went back and forth I thought this must be some mistake. Finally, I was up against my deadline to file my story and in those days you had to get back to Moscow to get to a telex machine. We’re talking way pre e-mail and so what I did from my hotel room I called downstairs and said look, I’d like to extend my stay here in Vilnius because I’m on to this great story about all this Baltic sympathy for Solidarity. Can you change my reservations. Within 10 minutes I had a knock on the door saying Mr. Nogarski, we’ve got a place on a flight. The car is waiting downstairs, you’re on your way out. Some tines this was a good experience. Other times it did have a lot of nastiness.
But, if anyone had told me in those days that I would be sitting around here in 2005 showing you a Russian edition of Newsweek, I’d say you were hallucinating. In addition, I was just in Moscow last month. There are now big posters promoting Newsweek on several main thoroughfares including opposite the river from the Kremlin.
Now, if I could end the story there you’d say OK you’ve got one upbeat note. Unfortunately things overall are much more negative than that. Part of it, aside from the more specific steps and issues which everyone on the panel is bringing up, I think this point of view, question of mentality, I think Mary touched on this too, what has not changed. It’s brought home to me by the fact that this KGB mentality which you see not just in Putin but among many of the people around him is so evident. The pride in that KGB inheritance.
It came home to me about three years ago, I went in to see a high Kremlin official, Mikhal Margelov, who is now the Chairman of the Duma Foreign Affairs Committee. He is quite a smooth guy, big guy relatively well dressed, well traveled and I had never met him before. I come in and his first words to me he said, “Ah Mr. Nagorski, I remember your little problems back in the old days and I remember reading your stories”. I said you must have been quite young then. He said I was a university student. I said you were reading Newsweek in 1981 in Moscow University. He said, Oh you know I was KGB so I had a lot of access. So it was I’m in the know and so that mentality is there.
The other mentality, I remember meeting some Soviet editors in 1981 and this was sort of a courtesy visit, I had just arrived, and one of them looked across the table at me and said “well we know that you really get your instructions from the State Department what stories to print every week. Well you know, then I guess that’s clear. The idea was that since Soviet journalists operated that way, we operated that way.
Just last week as many of you may have noticed at Brataslava, Putin meets with Bush and one of the points he makes and then one of the Russian journalists makes in a clearly set up question to Bush is well Mr. Bush what about those journalists you fired. Bush was a little confused by that and it turned out they were referring to the CBS producer and Dan Rather. Obviously that was White House orchestrated. So, it’s a mixed picture in terms of mentality and in terms of actual events. How this impacts people trying to operate there.
We at Newsweek first experimented with starting a magazine in Russia in 1996. It was called Itogi and it was a partnership with part of this media empire of one of the now exiled oligarchs. In 2001 Putin orchestrated the takeover of that media empire, of course always saying it’s just a business deal, the Kremlin had nothing to do with it and they fired our whole staff, so we, of course, severed all ties with that magazine. It still exists by the way.
Then we decided though that we did still want to get into that market to see what we could do and I began talking to journalists in Moscow. It was clear that there are lots of journalists that were dying to get into a magazine or any kind of publication that offered them some editorial independence. So I thought it was worth a try. We always do foreign licensing agreements. We have a foreign partner, a media company that actually is a publisher and then we help develop the magazine. And we had already done a co-operative agreement in Poland with Axel Springier, the big German publisher, which is a very successful edition of Newsweek abroad. We have teamed up again with them in Russia thinking also having two foreign partners also gives a little more of an umbrella to this magazine.
Well, we launched that and at the same time though we spent months training the staff. I was back and forth to Russia quite a bit. Axel Springier , the German company, had set up this company to launch two magazines initially, Newsweek in Russian and Forbes in Russian and we shared the same space. So while I was working with the Newsweek staff, Paul Klebnikov was working with the Forbes staff. Now many of you know that last July, Paul Klebnikov walking out of our offices was gunned down and fatally shot. Now it seems that he probably died from about 8 to 10 bullets. Another case that has never been solved. The eleventh murder of a journalist in Russia since Putin took power. None of these cases has been solved.
To further update you, Newsweek has hired a new editor recently. We decided that if we are going to be in business we wanted to get the best editor around there happened to be on the market a man by the name of Leonid Parfyonov. Someone who some of you may know had the most popular TV public affairs show until 6 months ago, until they pulled the plug on that show. So we have now hired him as the editor of Newsweek.
Our theory is, to get to that basic question of why do this, is maybe a little bit the dissident theory in the old Soviet days that was promulgated in Eastern Europe by Vaslav Havel and Ata Meknie, you live as if you have a free press, you do what you can. I went into being a Moscow correspondent with that philosophy. I was going to go there, report as straightforwardly as I could and if that meant it would be a short stint which it happened to be then so be it. But what’s the point of being there if you are not going to go out and report stories? That’s what we’re trying to do now.
Now, to be sure, it’s easier for them to tolerate us right now because we’re a start up relatively low circulation still. We’re not quite as visible. There was also in the old days a theory of what you called venting. You allowed the intellectuals to go to the theater and see a controversial play. A limited number of freer discussions as long as there were small audiences. TV was off limits. We’re getting the same thing now. TV is tightly controlled. You will see the pro Putin rallies, you won’t see the anti-Putin rallies. But in that written press that has a relatively small circulation, in the internet, you still do see a lot of voices that do reach people and we’re hoping to expand that as long as we can.
What happens, I’m not making any predictions. In Russia in the old Soviet days there was a saying that a pessimist is a well informed optimist. So, I will try to be the optimist. Thank you.
ALEXANDER LUPIS: I just thought I would maybe try to outline how it is that the Russian press and the lack of freedom, how we’ve gotten from when Putin took office in the end of ’99 and beginning of 2000 to where we are today. So what I wanted to do was just outline some of the strategies and tactics that the government has used and maybe just make a couple of concluding comments about what these repressive policies mean both for Russian society but for regional stability and security and political developments which is something that is obviously of interest to Europe and the US.
Putin was initially the head of the FSB at the end of the 90’s, then was appointed Prime Minister and then when Yeltsin stepped down he was made Acting President until an election was held. He very much did start off on a war footing but, from my understanding of it, the circumstances are actually much more murky. It wasn’t really a terrorist situation.
There were a series of mysterious bombing of apartment buildings in Moscow and then some other places, but the source of those bombings has actually never been identified. No one was ever prosecuted for that and there still really is debate about whether Chechen extremists were responsible for that or whether the FSB may have done that to create this sort of hysteria in the country and, therefore, this demand for a strong leader which would help make this bland sort of bureaucrat seem very desirable to much of the
So very much from the beginning regarding Chechnya, there was a very direct PR campaign by the Kremlin to say no, this isn’t about ethnic conflict, this is an anti-terror campaign. They were even giving instructions sometimes to journalists. So when we talk about terror in Russia we have to understand that this is an internal ethnic conflict and also that it is largely self-created. Yeltsin first invaded the Republic in ’94 when his opinion polls were low, so I think the Kremlin has tried to emphasize the terror link because it’s in their interest, but it is not always the
I think immediately when the war started there were very strong restrictions on journalists gaining access to Chechnya and the surrounding region and it was very different from what it was like under Yeltsin. Because when the first war started in the mid-90’s journalists had full access to the battlefield and to the Chechen side and the Army side and in this case journalists who tried to enter and operate independently were deported, they were forced to have escorts, Of course, there was the risk of being kidnapped by criminal gangs or Chechen rebels as well and the Kremlin has always said we only want to escort them to protect them. But I think it’s very clear that they also want to keep an eye on who they’re talking to and, of course you know, Chechen civilians are going to be careful about what they say if there is a police officer or soldier standing right behind the journalist. Also, I think
What we’ve seen over the last 5 years is really a sort of quite methodical, multi-pronged strategy to rein in the media. The goal really has been to create a patriotic, obedient press and in particular to instill self-censorship. I think the reason the Kremlin is so focused on instilling self-censorship is because if journalists censor themselves then the government doesn’t have to lift a finger. They can sit there and say see we do have a private press and they do operate independently. And I think a lot of the tactics we’ve seen do really focus on
One of the things that followed the Chechen War was both the simultaneous crackdown on Berezovsky and Gusinsky to main oligarchs and also their media empires. And I think as was mentioned earlier in the panel there really was a pluralistic and diverse broadcast media scene in Russia in the 90’s. There was some politicization because sometimes owners would use it to advance some political goal but that didn’t mean that every bit of the news every day was hijacked by that. Some times it was, but a lot of the time it wasn’t and you did really have competition between these channels which led to some really extraordinary coverage including war
What we saw right when Putin came to power was sending tax police, masked tax police guys with AK-47’s storming the headquarters of media, Gusinsky’s headquarters. And also there was a broad range, I mean in this very public, high level type of tactic was raiding media companies but on the low level there was also more of an intensification of calling journalists in for informative discussions to suggest that they maybe not write about something or communicate that if they continue to write or broadcast on certain issues that they are going to have problems or maybe their kids, or their wife or husband might have a problem. So, it was operating at multiple
I think the other types of journalists that started having a lot of problems were independent journalists working for newspapers especially Novaya Gazeta , an independent newspaper in Moscow. And then, of course, the US government funded Radio Free Europe which had some incredibly brave correspondents who were in some cases detained and held incommunicado by the FSB for weeks at a time because the Kremlin was so angry that they were reporting a different story about the
Another issue has been a pretty well coordinated intensification of bureaucratic harassment and that means both from media regulators and prosecutors to other government officials. I mean media regulators started issuing warnings to newspapers when they would publish an interview with a Chechen rebel leader and, of course, depending on what law you use, a newspaper can be shut down after receiving two or three warnings. That’s a pretty serious shot across the bow to a media
Lots of politicized persecution by prosecutors opening lawsuits against journalists sometimes related to their work but also sometimes unrelated to their work. That’s something we’ve seen more and more of. I think even as bland as Foreign Ministry officials who are either denying visas to foreign correspondents who criticize the Kremlin or the Foreign Minister and certain Kremlin officials which were responsible for issuing accreditation to journalists who wanted to go and report in Chechnya both local and foreign making it difficult and in some cases denying
And also, Russian diplomats were sometimes criticizing and pressuring even foreign media outlets in neighboring countries like Azerbajan , Ukraine and even Germany. When the Russian Government didn’t like their coverage of Chechnya, the embassy would blast the media outlet and accuse them of being anti-Russian. In one case we understand the TV station received a letter saying you may lose your bureau in Moscow so be careful. So there has been a lot of that going on
And also I think in particular there has been more restrictive laws passed. Especially when United Russia, the pro-Putin party received a strong majority in the Parliament at the end of 2003. We’ve seen a lot more restrictive laws in the works. Some have been passed restricting coverage of terrorist operations. Some are currently pending in the Parliament. There is a law that would allow the Prime Ministry to deny visas to foreigners who have criticized or defamed the government or if you have received a visa and are in the country and you do
There are a number of other laws, also pending, which would really narrow the legal rights which journalists have which already aren’t being enforced but would just make it all the harder in court to try and to defend some of
Another major has been impunity for the murder of journalists and I think that’s something that has been consistent in the ’90’s and since Putin came to power. But I think clearly is very different from the law and order image Putin has tried to have. I don’t think anyone suggested that the Kremlin has gone out and had these people taken out but we do have a consistent pattern of 11 journalists who were murdered in contract-style killings since Putin came
I think the two sort of crises in Nord-Ost when a group of rebels from the Caucasus took some people in a theater hostage about two years and then the Beslan crisis in September. You really saw the Kremlin crack down on any independent media and I think what the Kremlin has also increasing relied on is what was very common in the Soviet times called Telefona Prahva or the law of the telephone. They wouldn’t
So, I’ll just try to end by mentioning a couple of observations. I think one I would like to credit to Kathy Fitzpatrick who is a journalist at Radio Free Europe and she made the really good point that when the Berlin Wall came down everybody was talking about the collapse of Communism and actually she said that it was actually a partial collapse of Communism.
Certainly under Putin we’ve seen the Kremlin is much more PR savvy. They are hiring Westerners to put a spin on their news and they are getting more subtle about how they are packaging their message. But I think at the same time for someone like me who investigates abuses against journalists day in and day out a lot of it
Another thing, a lot of these abuses whether it’ s a rule of law issue or oligarchs or Chechnya or press freedom, a lot of these abuses really reflect the lack of internal boundaries in the psychology. It’s really a Soviet mentality where there is a lack of differentiation
Also, I think a lot of the Kremlin’s policies really reflect a sort of Third World conception of national security where national security is actually the politician and the entire government and multiple agencies and millions of
And finally, I’ve been very frustrated that the Bush Administration hasn’t taken a stronger position on this. We’ve put a tremendous amount of effort into providing them with information
NK: If I may make a little comment, in fact probably even a question. Both of you Dedrick and Alexander, seem to think or imply that if
Before coming to this panel I checked the latest polling. 72% of Russian people trust President
AL: I guess I would like to respond to that. I
NK: Well, I don’t, I’m a Russian, so of course, I don’t take them at face value I just look at my own country and my own people.
DL: Nina, could I just add one word on polls. There was also a poll recently which showed that Putin had a 22% drop in popularity over last year. Now again, all of these polls have to be taken with a grain of salt. But I think a very short response to you also might be I think many Russians voted for Putin sincerely saying this guy’s going to bring us law and order. We know he’s a former KGB guy and that was seen as a plus on the law and order side. But I think many Russians today, to generalize, say this guy has not brought us law or order and we’ve got things like Besslan which does not reassure us. The Khordokovsky trials do not tell us that corruption is going away, in fact, there’s this sense that another group is simply divvying up the spoils. And the whole notion that by centralizing more and more you are going to make it more efficient. Everyone knows that’s not the case because that only means that everyone from the local policeman on up feels more and more of that lack of accountability that was discussed before.
So that definitely is a problem that exists. He’s in power because people like him, because people accept what his background is. But, as Alex pointed out, in the first war there was a lot of public opinion against the Chechen war and, of course, it wasn’t because of the abuses by the Russian soldiers against Chechens.
Certainly, after Beslan, now most Russians think Chechens should rot in hell. But there is that kind of a sense among a lot of people, if anything is going to move Russian public opinion it is all the information about numbers of Russian casualties. I mentioned thousands of soldiers who come back with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that is not treated. If it doesn’t get treated, these people start developing serious psychological problems. They become a problem for society more generally not just for their family but for society as a whole.
Then, on a kind of positive note, a number of years ago, I set up an organization that helps Chechen victims of human rights abuses bring their cases to the European Court of Human Rights. One of the people I recruited to work in that organization was a young woman from Lungda, somewhere in Siberia, who didn’t know anything about Chechnya, who didn’t really want to know anything about Chechnya, who had the same kind of preconceptions about it. But once she started working for the organization, once she had traveled once or twice to the region she made a complete turnaround. So I think that the problem is that many Russians don’t see the humanity in Chechnya but once they go to the region and see the suffering with their own eyes, suddenly these people are no longer Chechens they are humans. So that is a major issue. And television can be incredibly powerful in conveying that we are not talking about Chechens we’re talking about human beings who have emotions.
NK: Thank you for clarifying that for me. Questions? (From the audience)
QUESTION: What is the content of the typical Newsweek publication? Is it weekly, is it monthly? Do you cover international subjects? Do you cover domestic Russian subjects? Do you do any advertising?
AN: First of all about advertising, we sure hope to. We do as best we can. Our foreign language editions have different models. The cheapest way to do a foreign language edition is basically you do a translation from the English and we have done that in some places but that has a limited appeal.
We started with a Polish edition with a totally different model where about 80-85% of the material is produced by a local journalist. They pick up maybe 15-20% of our stories then most of it is done about Poland. We have the same model in Russia about Russia or even when reporting about say things happening elsewhere by Russian writers who will be really aiming at Russian readers even if they are discussing some things we are discussing in other stories in our other editions. The mix is similar to most of our editions. It’s a mix of international news, domestic news, of course more domestic usually than international, what we call the society, social trends, science, the arts. It goes the full range of a weekly news magazine. Of course, these are all weeklies.
We have one foreign language edition that is not a weekly. It is a monthly in Chinese. It goes into China because that’s all we can get in at this point which by definition it’s a feature. It’s a monthly and mostly feature articles. It’s our way to get a foot in the door. It would be impossible to have a political/economic weekly in China these days called Newsweek.
The Russian language edition two weeks ago had an interview with Khordokofsky from prison. It was, of course, an interview in the sense that the editors got questions in through the lawyer, recorded his answers and then said that and ran it. But it was the first interview from prison with that mechanism explained.
To give you an idea of the difficulties now, when Parnov is the editor, every week he records a TV ad which airs on Sunday night to promote the new magazine and he mentions the main stories. Well when I was there a few weeks ago the main story was something about the new sort of kind of luxury business in Moscow which was fine as far as the authorities were concerned but then the second story was about Kadurov and this Chechen leadership. He mentioned this in the promo. NTV, the one TV station which still is willing to air our ads, the other two won’t even consider them said no it can’t run with a mention of the Chechen leadership story. It didn’t matter what the story said, just that was not going to be there. This comes directly to the point. This comes on Friday afternoon and Friday afternoons the heads of the Russian TV stations meet in the Kremlin with Putin’s top officials to get kind of their marching orders. So it clearly came out of that meeting. So we still face that sort of thing, but they have touched a number of controversial issues. But so far, as I’ve said we’re up and
QUESTION: Explain this because Mr. Lupus, Mr. Nagorski both of you are focusing on the journalists. The journalists would be the people who would be telling us this and what is society like there now?
AN: I would just say two things. One is that in the 90’s the media was a lot more free to report on these kinds of sensitive issues. And one of the reasons why Putin was popular is because he was going to enforce law and order and crackdown on these oligarchs some of whom were perceived as being too powerful or too influential. But rather than really enforcing the law and accountability, the oligarchs fell in two groups. Two or three of them did not want to play by the new rules of the game so one is in prison and two are abroad and the others are still in business, much lower profile, but business as usual. There has been no shift in policy to my knowledge about dealing more seriously with corruption. I think President Putin has wanted it to look like the government really is in charge and the government is cleaning up but they’re only cleaning up against disloyal oligarchs not against those that are loyal. So that overlaps with the media a little bit because obviously the media that fell into place are still running. The ones that didn’t either got shut down or taken over. So it’s a real
MH: The problem of organized crime is still very real and still very great but I am curious about the idea that there is a connection between the government and organized crime in the sense that one of the really interesting points listening to a whole congregation of human rights activists several weeks ago is that this is a uniquely corrupt government. This is a government that really doesn’t care about the public welfare. There’s not even an ideology about caring for the public welfare. These people are in power, as some of my colleagues here have said, they are in power for themselves. And they are expropriating Yukos, they’re expropriating, they’re changing the laws so that no mineral deposits are available for foreign investors. They are sort of in collaboration with the oligarchs who have bought into the deal that they were sold. And any of the oligarchs or other corrupt groups that won’t at some level play ball, they’re out. So, it is a profoundly corrupt national
NK: I actually would like to comment on that. I was just in Moscow last month and I was talking to a friend of mine who is trying to get a job in the government. The job cost officially $5 million, he didn’t have to have any other credentials except he had to have investors to get that job. And when I asked him could you please explain to me as now as an insider what the Khordokofski affair was about. He said well you know he doesn’t like Khordokofski but that was not the main reason. It’s basically his daughters, Putin has two very lovely daughters, they needed the dowry and that’s what the Yukos went
QUESTION: It is understood that Putin’s initial electoral success was predicated on two points, that of what’s been said here the war on terror, specifically the Chechen War and then the kind of social incoherence, political and corporate incoherence that resulted at the end of the Yeltsin Presidency. Dedrick Lohman, you suggested in your remarks that this second reason was essentially an order. That is was Putin’s intent from the beginning to centralize power and yet the notion of making coherent governmental policies was a means to that end. Do you believe that the second reason, the war on terror, was equally opportunistic? I mean the last two years a partial litany of what has occurred in Russia — you have commercial airliners being blown out of the sky, you have public transportation systems being bombed, you have the theater occupation and resulting deaths, and you have Beslan. There’s a little bit of the chicken and the egg here are these policies, are the drawing back of civil liberties in response to an increasing barbarous action or was this the intent from the beginning? And I want to say that if the litany I just gave were to occur in this country, I dare say civil rights and liberties
AL: Well. it’s hard to tell. If you look back on the way Putin took on the media in 2000. In the beginning he kind of left everyone kind of guessing because he was saying well, you know Khordokofski is corrupt and he’s criminal and therefore he has to go. The same for Gusinsky. On Gusinsky, Gasprom, THE main Russian gas company was involved in a battle over the television station NTV. So for a long time it wasn’t really clear, was this a business dispute, was it a legitimate law enforcement to crack down on oligarchs who obviously had been committing criminal offenses or was this all just a pretext for trying to get rid of independent television and to re-nationalize all of
Of course, we see the same with Yukos. So it’s really only in retrospect that you can kind of reconstruct what the intention of the authorities were.
With respect to the war in Chechnya and the war on terrorism, which I don’t think you can say are the same thing because Chechnya is about independence for Chechnya at least that’s how it started for sure. Terrorism really came into play the first time in 1995 when Shamil Basaev took a hospital hostage in Budennovsk and its been a growing problem
My sense is very much that the growth of terrorism, the cancer of terrorism in Russia is at least in part due to Russia’s actions in Chechnya. But whether the bombing of those apartment buildings in Moscow in September of 1999 about which there has been a lot of speculation as to was that the FSB or was it not, was it the Chechens or not? I don’t know. I’m not sure that we will ever
Of course, when you look at the people in Russia who have tried to investigate what happened that September and you see that several of them have been murdered, one is in jail right now. Basically of that group there is only one left sitting in his own home and healthy. People read information out of that, but I don’t think we will ever really get to the bottom of it. Although, you never know. We would have thought that the murder of Georgy Gongadze, the Ukrainian journalist, would ever be solved and now it looks like it’s really going to happen. Of course, it required a massive change in that country. As long as Putin is in power, I don’t think we will ever really
QUESTION: What is the state of Russian psychiatry today? Has it improved, has there been a change? What are the services in place for alcoholism, substance abuse, post traumatic stress
DL: Well, in the Soviet Union there was widespread abuse of psychiatry to incarcerate dissidents. That doesn’t exist anymore although there may be some groups that say that it is returning but I haven’t seen any convincing evidence that people are being incarcerated in psychiatric institutions because of their political views. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t problems in psychiatry in
I actually last summer visited a psychiatric institution in Moscow and apart, of course, from the kind of conditions which people live in which are no feast, one of the things we noticed was that the procedures for committing someone to a psychiatric institution are very minimum and are definitely open to abuse. To what extent that is actually happening — I haven’t really done a whole lot of research into
With respect to post traumatic stress disorder, we have done quite a bit of research on that issue and basically in Russia there are a number of military hospitals that do provide support for soldiers who have developed PTSD or other disorders related to their experience in the war zone. The big problem is that there first of all aren’t enough of them. And secondly, the military is not informing anyone about the possibility to seek counseling or even about the possibility that they might develop
So basically you have all these conscripts who serve their two years of mandatory military service who are sent to Chechnya. They are 18 years old and they are often very inexperienced in handling weapons and so on. Basically the category of people who are most likely to develop PTSD. They come back. They are 19 or 20 and the military says OK you’ve served your 2 years you can go home. There is no kind of follow-up pattern. There is no debriefing or anything like that. So you’ve got a lot of young men who are suffering at home and they don’t really understand what is going on with them and, of course, you have this kind of macho culture that if you are a real muzik, as the Russians say you don’t seek counseling for psychological
AL: I’d like to respond briefly because certainly a number of journalists have reported on the wars in Chechnya and in other conflict zones in and around the former Soviet Union and I think also because of a lot of work related stress, partly just because of the work but partly because of the fear of authorities coming and knocking on your door. I mean there are some journalists that do seek that kind of assistance but I think there is still this huge stigma that the state system under the Soviet regime was used for political means so there is this small but growing community of private, mental health practitioners in the
And, again, people don’t talk about it but I think the preference for people who can afford it if they can they would rather seek private help. I know one local woman who works for the Associated Press and again because of certain work related stress has gone. Actually I was in Tashkent in Uzbekistan a year and a half ago when I was waiting to pass through customs I was talking to two older women who happened to be Uzbek psychoanalysts who were coming back from a psychoanalyst conference in Moscow. So I think there’s not much of a market, a lot of people can’t afford it and there is still this stigma from the Soviet regime but it is sort of
QUESTION: What was the impact of the recent Ukrainian elections and the fact that the pro-western opposition leader came into power in the first two rounds of the elections were over overturned in favor of Victor
DL: That’s a very good question. I’m very glad we’re touching on that because I think the Ukrainian election has had a huge impact psychologically on both the Putin team and on ordinary Russians. Well, of course the coverage in the big media and the TV and so forth was of a piece with the coverage of the Putin re-election campaign last
Basically the assumption was there is the designated candidate whose going to win and Putin made it very clear that he was for this guy and there were even poster of Yanukovich in Moscow ostensibly for the Ukrainians living in Moscow. Putin was traveling to Kiev and other places to endorse him. And I think Putin, this is part of his removal from reality that is beginning to happen is that Putin and his people really had the sense that yes, even if the election is openly falsified as it had to be to get that phony result in the first round, they’ll
There is talk of some youth groups trying to organize the way Ukrainian youth groups did. The problem is that the mechanisms of opposition have been so effectively emasculated under the Putin regime, the Duma is totally subservient, the media we’ve already talked about, opposition parties are pretty symbolic in terms of what opposition they can mount. The question is can something still happen and right now it is hard to see how that would
Transcript prepared by Edward Hancox, Project