?https://www.traditionrolex.com/44 https://www.traditionrolex.com/44 https://www.traditionrolex.com/44 A Lonely Voice of Despair - LEONIDAS DONSKIS

A Lonely Voice of Despair

December 22, 2010

By Leonidas Donskis
During my last visit to Washington, D.C., where I participated in a timely and good conference on the historical memory and justice in Eastern Europe at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, I had a pleasant morning read of newspapers. Suddenly my attention was caught by the letter of a Russian journalist published in The Wall Street Journal (Friday, November 12, 2010).

The letter in question was a moving appeal to the politicians in the West, and also was an account of the lost friends written by Elena Milashina, an investigative journalist for Novaya Gazeta and a recipient of Human Rights Watch’s 2010 Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism.

Novaya Gazeta covered nearly all politically charged, complicated, and controversial stories ranging from the sinking of the Kursk submarine in the Barents Sea in the year 2000 to the Beslan school siege in the fall of 2004. Whereas in the first case government officials tried to cover up the fact that 23 sailors aboard the submarine survived for many hours after a deadly explosion in the torpedo unit, in the second case the government reported 354 hostages, but Ms. Milashina herself reported over 1,000.

More than that, Ms. Milashina and her fellow journalists from Novaya Gazeta destroyed the official version of the event, which suggested that the initial explosions in the school building were triggered by the hostage-takers. The fearless Russian journalists proved the opposite: Although it remains unclear whether or not the whole thing was staged, the undisputed fact is that the secret services fired first.

In her note from Moscow, “The High Price of Journalism in Putin’s Russia,” Ms. Milashina reminds us of what is happening in the battlefield. While she describes the independence of Novaya Gazeta, some grim and telling facts come to us as a wake-up call. As she notes: “Yet we have paid a heavy price for our independence. Over the past 10 years, five of Novaya Gazeta’s journalists have been murdered. One of the victims was our star correspondent and my mentor, Anna Politkovskaya, who was assassinated in 2006 after tirelessly exposing brutal human-rights violations in Chechnya” (p. A19).

What can I say hearing such a testimony? I have met the incomparable Anna Politkovskaya in 2003. During a conference in Austria she overtly spoke on the hell in Chechnya with all its war atrocities and severe, awful, routinized human-rights violations. She went so far as to paint black on white all the war crimes committed by Russia in Chechnya. Some of my Russian and Belarusian colleagues left the conference room, most probably out of fear to be reported as her accomplices.

I found myself enchanted with a fearless person whom I thanked for returning me the feeling of gratitude to, and love for, the Russia of Peter Chaadaev and Alexander Herzen. We had an unforgettable conversation, after which I planned many times to invite her to my country. I planned to do so until the terrible news struck me in 2006. She was assassinated like many others of the best people of Russia against who the regime waged war, this time after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

A lonely voice of despair, Ms. Milashina’s letter led me to a comparison of Russia and the Baltic States in terms of freedom of expression and quality journalism. I have to say that each time I try to give it thought, I find myself slightly confused. True, a deep gulf exists between Russia and us in terms of censorship, or rather its absence, not to mention the political persecution of journalists and the silencing of dissenting voices. Yet our paths diverged not only from this point of view.

Whereas such independent Russian publications as Novaya Gazeta, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, or www.grani.ru defend liberal and democratic values, their counterparts in Lithuania chose to rely on political scandals, cheap sensationalism, chilling statistics of Lithuania regarding its highest suicide rate in the world, unmatched degree of the bullying in high schools, and heartbreaking stories from the lives of local pop stars. I do not imply that all this does not exist in Russia. It certainly does. But they worked out a powerful antidote, which we have yet to develop in Lithuania. It is difficult to resist the temptation to sum it up as a typical twenty-first-century failure to value political liberty and freedom of expression, while Russian journalists still pay the twentieth-century price for freedom. And the name of that price is no more and no less than someone’s life taken suddenly, brutally, and unexpectedly. Truth stopped on the run.

Life for truth-telling, death for the privilege to remain a free and independent person in a country whose power structure denies the value of human life, worth, and dignity – this is the lot of a Russian human rights activist or of a conscientious journalist. The gate to success and to the world of entertainment is wide open, yet it closes each time when the moral heirs of Chaadaev and Herzen attempt to remind authorities that Russia is not their property and that patriotism can be critical and demanding, instead of a sort of sugary aggression and contempt for disobedient neighbors combined with the whitewash of history.

There is only one way for us to help Russia get rid of its imperial past and troubled political present. This is our sympathetic understanding of Russian democrats struggling for the democratic future of Russia. Each time the EU or its major members try to make it up to Putin and his ruling clique in the Kremlin, instead of working with democratic politicians and dissenters, it comes as a silent betrayal of Anna Politkovskaya, Natalya Estemirova, and their noble cause.

Leonidas Donskis, Ph.D.. is a Lithuanian Member of the European Parliament. 

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