Monday, July 26, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Glasnost Exists in Russia but Freedom of Speech Doesn’t, Glasnost Defense Foundation Head Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, July 26 – Freedom of speech does not exist in Russia today, Aleksey Simonov of the Glasnost Defense Foundation says, but glasnost does – and it is not even under systematic attack because the powers that be have concluded that the mass media "have already learned the rules of the game” and “know what they can do and what they must not do.”
Indeed, Aleksey Simonov says in a comment posted on the Osobaya bukhva portal day, there are not only about 15 publications and 500 to 600 journalists who continue to try to maintain their dignity by trying to write and speak the truth regardless of what the regime wants (
Questions about the status of freedom of speech reflect a near-universal “delusion,” Simonov says. They suggest that freedom of speech in fact exists there to some degree. But in fact the Glasnost Defense Foundation president continues, at present “no freedom of speech exists” in the Russian Federation.
“Freedom of speech,” he points out, “is a certain imaginary line of that freedom to the ideal of which all humanity, including Russia.” Any question about it must address the distance between where a particular country is and that line. Unfortunately, he continued, in Russia, it is “enormous.”
Even President Dmitry Medvedev “does not understand the differences between freedom of speech and glasnost,” Simonov continues, as the Kremlin leader showed when he told a Norwegian newspaper that he “did not want to discuss the problems of glasnost because this is a Soviet palliative and this term smacks of the times of the Soviet Union.”
In saying that, Simonov says, Medvedev did not show that he understood that “freedom of speech in the country is not accessible to him in any less degree than to [anyone else].” Had he recognized that, he could have talked about something important because glasnost does exist in Russia and has for more than 150 years.
“Freedom of speech in its ideal form,” Simonov says, “consists of glasnost and being listened to. To be listened to is important in principle. Imagine how many presidents speak words which no one listens to, not even their closest entourage.” And because of the obvious lack of listening or being heard in Russia, Simonov continues, he will discuss only glasnost.
Glasnost exists in Russia. It is something which in fact descended not “from Soviet times” but from those of the judicial reforms of Alexander II. Only later was it picked up by Mikhail Gorbachev, Simonov points out. Now, it is widely but not in every case perfectly understood, all too often equated with freedom of speech.
Today, Simonov says, in a Russia lacking freedom of speech, “there is no systemic attack on glasnost” because the powers that be have “the sense that [Russian journalists] have learned those rules of the game which the Kremlin has imposed on them and feel sufficiently confident as to how to behave.”
That is, the Glasnost Defense Foundation head says, the journalists “know approximately what is possible and know approximately what isn’t.” They may try to push the envelope at times, so that what is prohibited at one time may be permitted, but that is the game. It is not one that reflects the existence of freedom of speech.
But if there is no campaign against glasnost, the climate in Russia now is “extremely unfavorable” even to it. All the press outside Moscow is controlled by the local powers that be, and much of the media in the Russian capital is controlled from the top. As a result, there are only “about 15” journals and “500 to 600” journalists who are still struggling for their rights.
And their numbers may be reduced further by anti-extremist measures like Paragraph 282 of the criminal code because charges of extremism can be deployed against anyone the powers don’t like because extremism in Russia now is precisely “a disagreement with the opinion of the bosses expressed in a sharp or ironic form.”
Many Russians today do not feel they need glasnost, a reflection in large measure of what Russian journalists have done. But that does not mean they do not need it but only that moving toward glasnost and then toward freedom of speech will be long and difficult. Indeed, Simonov says, it may prove especially hard because it has not “even begun.”

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