Staunton, August 16 – The web site of the Russian Center for Forest Protection (www.rcfh.ru), which had posted information about the radiation threat from fires in Chernobyl-contaminated regions, has been inaccessible since Friday when Emergency Situations Minister Sergey Shoigu demanded that sources of “rumors” about the radiation danger be stopped.
Although his ministry has denied any role in blocking the site, both Russian and international environmentalists are certain that “instead of informing Russians” about the danger, Shoigu, in the words of the Oslo-based Bellona organization, “is seeking a harsh censorship regarding information about its possible spread” (www.bellona.ru/comments/vlasti-secrets).
Immediately after Shoigu made his comments, Bellona’s Vladimir Slivak reports, the information the Russian Center for Forest Protection had posted about radiation in Bryansk and other was taken down, but it remains available in many caches and in the form of a copy at anti-atom.ru/downloads/rcfh-060810.jpg.
Consequently, instead of helping the Russian people cope with the problem or even protecting officials against charges of irresponsibility, Slivak continues, this latest move against a Russian internet site does neither. Instead, this effort at censorship has the effect of calling attention to and even sensationalizing reports.
Indeed, the information posted on the site that Moscow has now disabled in fact showed how well Russian “monitoring laboratories are now working,” something that could have reassured Russians living elsewhere or allowing them to take sensible steps to counter any danger.
And this action is likely to suggest to many that “the Ministry of Emergency Situations does not control the situation and [that] it is trying to conceal the situation” just as Soviet officials did at the time of the Chernobyl nuclear power station disaster in 1986, an effort that proved counterproductive.
Tragically, Slivak said, “the Russian powers that be are repeating the very same mistake that [their Soviet predecessors made] 24 years ago.”
“Neither the Ministry” nor anyone else, the Bellona expert said, “has the right to conceal from Russians information about the situation of the environment” because the Russian Constitution guarantees them access to such information. And because people know there have been fires in contaminated areas, “it is stupid to deny” the dangers.
Russian experts agree with the Bellona analyst on all points, as the Moscow media attests (www.vedomosti.ru/politics/news/1081130/sajt_roslesozaschity_ne_rabotaet_posle_soobscheniya_o and www.nr2.ru/society/296542.html). And even more than he, they note that in the absence of the kind of reliable information that Moscow is suppressing, rumors are spreading.
Perhaps the most disturbing of these are being provoked by stories like the one in “Krestyanskiye vedomosti” which told its readers just what foods they should consume in order to protect themselves against radiation should it be spread to the places where they live (www.agronews.ru/newsshow.php?NId=60762).
Moreover, stories about the way in which fires are approaching existing nuclear and military facilities are sparking concerns, all the more so because Russians are not being given the context they need to evaluate what the impact of fires on these institutions could in fact be (www.bellona.ru/articles_ru/articles_2010/fires-sarov-ozersk).
Had Moscow not engaged in this act of censorship, there would have been far less attention to this problem. Indeed, the Russian powers that be by their action have contributed to an outcome exactly the reverse of what they clearly hoped for, because now Russia’s mainstream media and not just the Internet is paying attention to this issue,
Consequently, Viktoria Bessonova, a Moscow commentator, pointed out on Friday, they have undermined their own positions because until they took this step, many Russians had assumed there was no problem because the only way they would have known about it would have been by going online (www.politcom.ru/10565.html).
And that, as Anton Volnukhin, who researches Yandex blogs, points out, is just one of the ways in which the Russian powers that be have not yet figured out how to cope with online materials they do not like, something they will have to do if they are to avoid even larger problems in the future (lenta.ru/articles/2010/08/14/blogs/).