Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Diaspora Media Increasingly Isolating Their Audiences from Russians and Each Other

Paul Goble

Vienna, March 10 – Both electronic and hard copy media outlets prepared by and for members of non-Russian diaspora communities in Moscow are isolating these groups from the city’s population as a whole and from each other, according to participants at a recent conference on the role of such media in combating ethnic intolerance.
Organized by the Azerbaijani diaspora, the Nationality Media Press Club and the press service of the Moscow militia, the meeting brought together representatives of media outlets in Moscow now being produced by Georgians, Lezgins, Karaims, Koreans, Kyrgyz, Tajiks, Greeks, Roma, Kazakhs, Azerbaijanis and other ethnic communities in the Russian capital.
Soyun Sadykov, the president of the Federal National Cultural Autonomy of Azerbaijanis in Russia, said that despite the efforts of some, “now most often residents of Russia do not know anything about other regions or about their neighbors who are members of other nationality groups” (rcnc.ru/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1364&Itemid=1).
Instead, the ethnic media as well as some outlets of the Russian press set people of one group against another, he continued. And Sadykov urged that ethnic groups should “more actively work among young people and explain that all of us are in the first instance Russian citizens” and that clashes among members of ethnic groups are “impermissible.”
Another speaker, Petr Lempert, who directs the city government’s House of Nationalities project, said that his site (www.mdn.ru) and its newspaper “Nash Gorod” are “open for all who want to make use of them.” He said that “with each year,” the number of editors of non-Russian media who are cooperating with him has increased.
But Dzhamil Sadykhbekov, the editor of “Strana Sodruzhestva” which is addressed to migrants from CIS countries, was less upbeat. He suggested that “national media have a narrow audience and small print runs” and that these outlets often “stew in their own sauce” not bothering to inform others or learn from them about what is happening beyond their group.
Quite often, he continued, “information remains within the limits of the media of a single national autonomy,” sparking rumors and suspicions about others that could be quickly squelched if journalists and editors would both to check what other outlets of other communities are reporting.
Sadykhbekov said his paper is attempting to correct this situation by publishing “special inserts” about this or that nationality, a step he indicated is “especially important for representatives of national communities which do not have their own publications” or Internet sites.
The increasing isolation of these groups given the tendency of immigrants to read their own publications or turn to their own Internet sites inevitably corrodes any sense of common identity and recalls what happened at the end of the Soviet period when the Russian-language and non-Russian language medias diverged in many regions.
Until Gorbachev’s time, the two were strikingly similar on most issues. But then the two began to diverge and reinforce divisions between their two audiences, divisions that ultimately brought down the USSR. Given that experience as well as the violent clashes between these groups that are taking place now, Moscow officials have every reason to be concerned.
But their nervousness on this point calls attention to something many students of ethnic relations within the Russian Federation and broader developments in the non-Russian countries of the former Soviet space often forget: the non-Russian media in the Russian capital can and do provide a useful if sometimes distorted window onto both worlds.

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