It was a coincidence, but a telling one. This week two leading
liberal parties -- Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces, or SPS
-- gave out prizes to writers.
Both competitions were organized by professional groups, and
politicians were there for the sake of prominence and funding.
Both shared the stated goal of fostering the rise of a civil society.
Yet the difference between their prizes and mottoes gave an indication
of the different mindsets on the liberal flank of Russian politics
-- who sees the glass as half empty, who sees it as half full.
Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky presented electric tea kettles
and cameras, along with bouquets and diplomas, to provincial journalists
chosen as winners of a competition called Vopreki, or Against
The annual contest, held for the fourth year, is named in honor
of Larisa Yudina -- the editor of Sovietskaya Kalmykia newspaper
and a Yabloko activist who was killed in 1998, allegedly for exposing
corruption in Kalmykia's regional government. The competition
is meant for journalists from regional publications who write
courageous reports "against all odds" -- whether the
odds be pressure from local authorities or personal dramas such
as debilitating disease.
The stories of 14 reporters and four newspapers selected from
among some 400 applications -- including some articles that went
unpublished, ostensibly due to censorship -- covered such topics
as chemical weapons dumping, the Chechnya war, corruption and
local governments' attempts to control media, organizers said.
In his remarks, Yavlinsky stressed the role of the press as a
voice of the people and not as an "imitation of free speech,"
which, he said, the Kremlin is trying to create.
"The more disintegrated society is, the more people are
encouraged to think only about petty tasks in their personal lives,
and the less people are concerned about what is happening in their
town, the easier it gets to manipulate society," Yavlinsky
told the small, poorly dressed group of winners, for whom a two-day
paid trip to Moscow was the main part of the prize.
The event, held Monday afternoon at the House of Journalists,
was co-sponsored by press freedom watchdog the Glasnost Defense
Foundation, Yabloko and the Novaya Gazeta newspaper.
That evening, a second ceremony took place at the House of Cinematography.
On behalf of SPS, former acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar and
State Duma Deputy Eduard Vorobyov presented Alfa Bank checks of
$5,000 to $10,000 to 14 screenwriters. The winners were picked
from about 500 proposals for movies and television series under
the motto "Normal Life in a Normal Country."
Organizers said the cash prizes increased the chances of getting
the winning film ideas to the production phase, adding that the
more important goal was to replace the crime-ridden, catastrophic
picture of Russian life depicted over the past decade with the
constructive approach of self-reliant, "normal" people
-- in other words, to promote middle-class values to the broader
SPS was not after "political dividends" from the contest,
Gaidar said, but was interested in promoting a more positive approach
to Russian life.
"We have selected scripts about a difficult life, real life,
but not about total and ultimate catastrophe," Gaidar said.
"This is not what we have seen ... from 1988 to 1996, when
the vast majority of films were about a perverted life in a perverted
"I hope that in our country every other man doesn't work
as a security guard, one out of three women is not a prostitute
and two-thirds of the nation is not sitting at home waiting for
miracles from the government," said Daniil Dondurei, editor
of the Iskusstvo Kino cinema journal and the contest's key organizer.
"We believe we have [in Russia] educated people of substance,
who rely on themselves and are able to cope with challenges. Such
things exist, but we don't see it in movies or, especially, in
television series, where bandits in uniforms pursue bandits without
uniforms and all businessmen are idiots or vampires."
Yavlinsky denied that there was any fundamental difference between
Yabloko and SPS' prizes. "In essence, we do the same thing,"
he said. "Only we support print press and SPS is interested
But Sergei Kolmakov, vice president of the Foundation for Parliamentary
Development in Russia, agreed in a telephone interview that the
difference in mottoes -- Against All Odds vs. Normal Life -- was
indicative of the two parties' different stances.
Although both political groups see themselves as liberal standard-bearers,
they appeal to different electorates and thus emphasize different
aspects of the liberal agenda -- one negative, the other positive.
"Yabloko appeals to a less [socially] adapted, less successful
segment of intellectuals and has a stronger human rights emphasis,"
Kolmakov said. SPS, on the other hand, seeks to expand its middle-class
base by going after "progressive" youth and self-reliant
people who can eventually become middle class.
"Yabloko gives a negative, human-rights and anti-bureaucracy
spin to liberal values," Kolmakov said. "SPS stresses
that liberal values should be achieved not through endless opposition
to the government, but by offering an alternative."
See the original at:
Yudina's memorial page
October 22, 2001, a ceremony of granting awards to the winners
and laureates of the All-Russia Contest of Regional Journalists
"Against All Odds" took place in Moscow