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Assignment: Independent Russian Newspapers

Assignment: Independent Russian Newspapers

Assignment: Independent Russian Newspapers

NOW FOR AN ORIGINAL PAPER ASSIGNMENT:Assignment: Independent Russian Newspapers

Politkovskaya wrote for Novaya Gazeta, one of the few independent Russian newspapers still in existence. She’s one of five journalists at Novaya Gazeta who have been murdered. In June 2012, a high-ranking police official arranged to have deputy editor Sergei Sokolov taken to a forest outside Moscow where he threatened to kill the newspaperman. A few months later, that same official charged Alexander Navalny, another Putin critic, with embezzlement (stealing sixteen million rubles worth of lumber)—a crime that carries a maximum prison sentence of ten years. On the same day, the feminist punk rock band Pussy Riot went on trial for blasphemy against the Russian Orthodox faith (see “Politics and Pop Culture”).

Such incidents illustrate the severe limits to press freedom in Putin’s Russia. As we are about to see, the same can be said of political opposition.

The Two Faces of Post-Communist Russia

Clearly, Russia has emerged from the dark days of its totalitarian past. Stalin is dead, but the legacy of Stalinism is still present in the political culture and the courts of law are tools of state power. The fate of journalists such as Politkovskaya Baburova and Putin opponents such as Litvinenko and Khodorkovsky attests to the continuing use of police-state tactics and a corrupt judicial system reminiscent of the Stalinist show trials to suppress dissent.

One piece of legislation in the summer of 2012 imposes heavy fines on protestors who attend unsanctioned street demonstrations. Another forces NGOs receiving funding from abroad to declare themselves “foreign agents” and submit to extraordinary financial audits. A third recriminalizes libel, with fines as high as five million rubles (over $150,000). A fourth creates a “blacklist” of websites to be blocked—a thinly disguised form of state censorship. These recent laws are Putin’s way of dealing with problems inherent in the rise of a new middle class in Russia.