Letter From the Editors
This week, the FSB published a list of topics that are off limits because they could be used by foreigners to undermine Russia’s national security. “This information is not officially classified and does not constitute a state secret, but the FSB thinks foreign states or organizations could potentially use it against Russia’s national security,” writes RBC Daily. Those topics include even such seemingly innocuous things as asking someone if they’ve served in the Army on a conscription or voluntary basis. Human rights activists and journalists worry that the law is basically a blank check for officials to silence anyone they find inconvenient, and that it could (and will) be used arbitrarily and retroactively. According to former Human Rights Council head Mikhail Fedotov, “a person is unable to foresee the legal consequences of their behavior.” Now, the notorious “foreign agent” label hangs like the sword of Damocles over the head of any journalist, researcher or pollster.
Recognizing the dangers faced by journalists in countries ruled by autocratic regimes, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee awarded its prestigious recognition to Novaya gazeta editor in chief Dmitry Muratov (making him the first post-Soviet Peace Prize recipient in Russia, joining the ranks of USSR laureates Andrei Sakharov and Mikhail Gorbachev). In an interview with Meduza’s Svetlana Reiter, Muratov graciously said the prize actually belongs to his deceased colleagues – Anna Politkovskaya, Anastasia Baburova, Stanislav Markelov and Natalya Estemirova, to name a few. Muratov also said that the editorial board will decide how the prize money should be distributed.
While the Kremlin’s comments were pro forma and those in state-owned media somewhat ambiguous (RT’s Margarita Simonyan congratulated Muratov, adding that she’d like to think the prize was awarded for his dedication to helping sick children, and not “the usual”), there were some sour grapes. Namely, Navalny supporters Lyubov Sobol and Leonid Volkov, as well as writer Boris Akunin, said the prize should have been given to the jailed oppositionist. “I believe Aleksei Navalny deserved it for his courage. But he’s got everything ahead of him,” Muratov said in response.
Opinions were divided about whether the Peace Prize will help or hurt Novaya’s status. Ekho Moskvy’s Vladimir Varfolomeyev worried that it will result in Novaya being labeled a foreign agent. For her part, The New Times’ Yevgenia Albats argued that it would actually protect the publication.
The Pandora Papers leak could be a litmus test for the Russian authorities’ possible reaction to more unsavory journalistic exposés. Of course, the leak, which revealed complex offshore schemes used by the global elite, was hardly limited to Russia – Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky also figured in it. This week, he succeeded in sacking his erstwhile ally and Supreme Rada speaker Dmitry Razumkov. The latter has the dubious honor of both being elected with record-setting support (382 out of 419 deputies), and getting dismissed with similar aplomb – 284 deputies out of the necessary 226 (with 215 votes coming from his fellow party members).
Zelensky called out Razumkov for not being a team player and “leading his own political life.” Razumkov fired back, accusing the ruling Sluga Naroda party and the president of failing to live up to the promises that swept them into power. “The principle of equality before the law has turned into the principle of ‘Anything goes for your friends, but your enemies must do everything by the book.’ The idea that it’s wrong for those in power to have offshore accounts is now seen as ‘no big deal, everyone has them,’ ” Razumkov shot back. Some Ukrainian experts believe that Razumkov is actually laying the groundwork for a possible presidential run.
Considering that Ukraine has already taken a page from Putin’s playbook and gone after TV channels belonging to Rada opposition deputies (ironically those with Putin ties), we may soon see another set of taboo topics in the post-Soviet space. Are you listening, George Carlin?