[home page][map of the server][news of the server][forums][publications][Yabloko's Views]

The Moscow Times, April 12, 2004

I Am Back Where I Belong

By Yevgenia Albats

"Are you crazy?"

People have been asking me this question ever since I returned from the United States, where I defended a doctoral dissertation on the Russian bureaucracy at Harvard University and taught Russian and Soviet politics at Yale.

I was certainly happy both places. I enjoyed studying and teaching, and it was nice not having to worry about where the money was coming from to pay my bills for a change. I miss the extra-curricular activities as well, especially the weekly Saturday Bible discussions at the Harvard branch of Hillel, a Jewish campus organization.

Was I crazy to come home to a country where real journalism is on the ropes and independent institutions of higher learning are struggling just to keep their doors open? Considering the situation rationally, there isn't much cause for optimism.

Recent events suggest quite the opposite, in fact. The State Duma has given initial approval to a bill that would severely restrict the right of assembly. Shortly after the Duma vote, the Moscow city government denied the Yabloko party a permit for a May Day demonstration in downtown Moscow. And finally, the Moscow City Court convicted arms control researcher Igor Sutyagin of treason and sentenced him to 15 years in prison.

Sutyagin maintained -- and the jury did not repudiate his claim -- that the reports he wrote for a Western company were based on publicly available sources.

The Sutyagin case serves as a warning to all of us who write for a foreign audience, and has contributed to a growing sense of fear among journalists and intellectuals that I haven't experienced since before Mikhail Gorbachev came to power.

Television news also fuels my sense of pessimism. I felt as though I were deaf, blind and locked in a room until I got hooked up to a satellite service that allows me to watch the news on CNN and the BBC. In the Brezhnev era we used to joke that the news was all about Brezhnev and a little bit about the weather. News programs today follow the same pattern.

On a personal level, I was stunned by the atmosphere that now prevails at the Ostankino production center, which houses the major television stations. Once full of life and energy, Ostankino now feels like a place of mourning for freedoms lost since President Vladimir Putin came to power.

Most of the cafes and bars where journalists used to gather for spirited discussions have been closed, ostensibly for security reasons.

"The executives don't want the journalists to have a place to meet and talk about politics, their work or anything else," a well-known television personality explained to me the other day.

It is true that no one tells me what to say or what guests to book for my Sunday political talk show. And every once in a while you can find thoughtful articles in the newspapers and Internet sources such as Gazeta.ru. But such publications have far less reach and impact than the state-run television stations, which fill the airwaves with their daily mantra: "Don't worry, be happy and remain politically unconscious."

The Kremlin's spin doctors are adhering to a clear-cut strategy of marginalizing anyone and everything that runs counter to the party line laid down by the president. The president, meanwhile, is busy building a paradise for his loyal supporters.

Then again, people who oppose the party line aren't being sent up the river just yet -- with a few notable exceptions, such as Sutyagin, a scholar at Moscow's respected USA and Canada Institute, and military journalist Grigory Pasko.

So what basis is there for believing that I wasn't crazy to return to Moscow?

The answer is simple: there's no place like home. I enjoy hearing Russian spoken on the street. I like to believe that in Russia I can make a difference, whereas in the United States I was a spectator of the democratic process. I trust that if I get the chance to teach here I will have something to offer my students -- and reading thousands of pages every week for the seminar on comparative politics that I took at Harvard will not have been a wasted effort.

I am home, and I don't plan to give up just because some people in Moscow -- the subjects of my research on the KGB most of all -- believe I should have stayed in the United States. This is where I belong.

Yevgenia Albats hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio on Sundays.


See also:

the original at

Human Rights

Freedom of Speech and Media Law in Russia

The Moscow Times, April 12, 2004

[home page][map of the server][news of the server][forums][publications][Yabloko's Views]

Project Director: Vyacheslav Erohin e-mail: admin@yabloko.ru Director: Olga Radayeva, e-mail: english@yabloko.ru
Administrator: Vlad Smirnov, e-mail: vladislav.smirnov@yabloko.ru