Gessen on Kashin

Masha Gessen, newly installed as an editor at Snob magazine, blogging at Reuters:

“Are you scared?” someone asked me during a talk in New York last Friday night.

I always get that question. I am a journalist working in Russia, where 19 murders of journalists remain unsolved. Russia ranks eighth in the Impunity Index compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists — the only European country on the list, it is wedged between Nepal and Mexico.

People may be forgiven that being scared is an occupational hazard for me.

So I gave my stock answer: “No, I am not scared,” I said. “I have been at times, but right now I don’t seem to be doing anything particularly dangerous.” This is true.

Recently I have grown so cavalier as to stop asking my partner to meet me outside when I get home after dark — a precaution I started taking after I was last threatened a couple of years ago.

“But I hate talking this way,” I added, “because when I start dividing peacetime journalism work into the sort that might get you killed and the sort that might not, I feel I am somehow validating the idea that a journalist can be killed for doing her job.”

What I did not say was that every time a colleague is killed or assaulted, I start compiling a mental list of reasons why the person was targeted, all the while looking for reassurance that I will not be.

I was in New York to publicize the magazine and web site I edit in Moscow. My talk went well. The question about being scared was the only one that made me uncomfortable. I went out for a drink with some friends, considered going to a party in the Village, but opted to go back to my hotel room, planning to go to bed early. Before gong to sleep, I logged onto Facebook and saw the following post:

“Lower jaw broken. Upper jaw broken. Both shins fractured. Finger phalanges torn off. They are taking him into surgery now.”

It took me all of a few minutes to piece together what had happened. Oleg Kashin, a thirty-year-old journalist, was returning home in central Moscow around 1 o’clock Saturday morning. Two men were waiting for him outside his apartment building. According to a friend who happens to be Kashin’s next door neighbor, the men had a bouquet of flowers.

My guess is the bouquet may have concealed whatever heavy object they used to beat the journalist. When Kashin was found, he had his wallet and his cell phone on him: The attackers made no effort to disguise the beating as a robbery.

I have known Kashin for about six years. I have worked with him as an editor. I think of him as talented, resourceful, smart, abrasive, and rather full of himself. I have never thought of him as someone who might be attacked for his work as a journalist. Obviously, I was wrong. It took me only a few minutes to piece together that part of the story, too.

One of Kashin’s longtime reporting beats was youth activism. For a while he was enamored of pro-Kremlin movements such as Nashi (”Us”), Molodaya Gvardiya (”The Young Guard”), and others. All of these movements have common features: They have no identifiable ideology aside from their allegiance to the regime, their nominal leaders are uncharismatic functionaries, but they are lavishly funded by the Kremlin, which allows them to mobilize tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of young people for occasional displays of ersatz military might, such as uniformed parades in Moscow, or summer training camps that go on for weeks. Over the years Kashin’s reporting grew critical of these movements – to the point where he made some real enemies.

This is where I would normally breathe a sigh of relief: Thank god I don’t write about youth movements. But in the fleeting safety of my New York hotel room I could allow myself a few minutes of being really scared. Because here is how it really works.

A large number of Russian journalists and activists have long been outside the protection of the law. These people are easy to identify. They are the subjects of pseudo-investigative exposes on state television, as, for example, was victims’ rights advocate and blogger Marina Litvinovich, who was beaten unconscious in Central Moscow in March of 2006.

They are the ones whose names are on any number of hit lists circulated by Kremlin-funded bloggers, as was Kashin’s name. The lists include ones such as “Journalist Traitors Must Be Punished” that get posted on the Molodaya Gvardiya web site. My name has been on those lists, too. Most recently, I believe, on one titled “They Must Be Nailed to the Pole of Shame.” But that was a few years back, I reassured myself.

I knew that come morning journalist organizations, human rights groups, and probably the State Department would appeal to the Russian government to find the people behind the brutal attack on Kashin. But come that morning none of those organizations would dare say the truth: the people behind the attack ARE the Russian government. It is the Kremlin that has long since declared open season on a number of Russian citizens. Kashin and I are just one of many.

8 responses to “Gessen on Kashin

  1. Where are you Dmitry?? Let’s have a comment.

  2. I can smell you Dimitry!!!

    I smell the stale vodka, oily diesel fumes and BO!

    Dimitry! Be a man!!! STAND UP!!!


  3. Dmitry,

    With all your vitriol and intellectual might, you can’t summon up a response to this article?


  4. Why all you guys won’t just stop feeding trolls, much less calling them out.

  5. @But come that morning none of those organizations would dare say the truth: the people behind the attack ARE the Russian government.

    Vienna Court Wants Kadyrov to Testify
    21 November 2010

    At the opening of the trial Tuesday, prosecutors showed a photo of Kaltenbrunner embracing Kadyrov that was found on Kaltenbrunner’s cell phone.

    Mayer has also said he would like to see Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called as a witness.

    Putin, who appointed Kadyrov in 2007 as Chechen president, is widely thought to be Kadyrov’s mentor.

    Israilov’s lawyer and human rights activists have accused Kadyrov of ordering the killing to silence a vocal critic of the Chechen leadership. Prosecutors say they suspect Kadyrov but do not have enough evidence to implicate him.

    Dadayev is expected to be heard Monday, but his lawyer Lennart Binder said last week that he was “a pawn in the murder plans of Putin and his henchman Kadyrov,” Die Presse reported.

  6. Dozens rally in Moscow to back beaten journalists
    Today at 17:17 | Associated Press

    MOSCOW(AP) — Several dozen people have rallied inMoscowon a snowy day in support of crusading journalists who have been attacked.

    Sunday’s protest denounced authorities for the failure to properly investigate the attacks.

    The demonstrators included Mikhail Beketov, the founder and editor of a paper inMoscow’ssuburb of Khimki who campaigned against building a highway through a local forest.

    Beketov, who was brutally beaten in a 2008 attack that damaged his brain and left him unable to speak, attended the protest in a wheelchair.

    Beketov’s lawyer, Andrei Stolbunov, said that journalists have been a prime target for corrupt officials.

    This month’s savage beatings of reporter Oleg Kashin and environmental activist Konstantin Fetisov were linked by some to the same dispute over the Khimki forest.

    Read more:

  7. The Moscow Paradigm Of Journalism

    Ukrainian protesters hold a portrait of Russian journalist Oleg Kashin during a protest.

    November 13, 2010

    By Ahto Lobjakas

    The recent spate of brutal beatings of journalists in Russia has confirmed the country’s seemingly inexorable slide in media-freedom rankings. But as bad as things are in Moscow, Russia is just the epicenter of a vast post-Soviet afterglow which reaches out across the former communist bloc.

    One rule of thumb seems to be that things are at their worst the closer they are to the epicenter, both geographically and politically.

    Media As Instrument

    This preoccupation with the “truth” shows the “Moscow Paradigm of Journalism” at its best behaved (and least lethal). Forced to explain itself, it defines the media as an instrument, a conduit for information, a profession like any other with no claim to real political autonomy.

    This stands in stark opposition to how journalism is viewed in the West (in theory, if not always in practice) — as an autonomous sub-domain of civil society, legitimately expected to comment on politics, criticize policy, act as a watchdog vis-a-vis political power, and enjoying a broad, legally enforceable immunity from the authorities.

    It all seems to boil down to the strength and/or “thickness” of civil society. In countries where civil society has not had the time or opportunity to develop, the powers-that-be automatically see all critics as opposition. Everything that is not expressly depoliticized to the satisfaction of whomever holds power, is seen as being in the domain of the political. And the object of all politics is to seize power (even Tony Blair offers this definition in his memoirs). Needless to say, the odds for civil society to put down roots in the former Soviet Union in the absence of intrusive EU (or U.S.) pressure are close to zero.

  8. Tonight in Nazran unidentified criminal opened automatic fire on the car of Khusen Shadiev, editor-in-chief of the nationwide newspaper Ingushetia “Serdalo”. As a result of the attack, Shadiev was wounded and hospitalized to the Republic’s Clinical Hospital in Nazran.

    Nadira Isayeva, Russia
    2010 CPJ International Press Freedom Awardee

    Isayeva, 31, has incurred the wrath of security services in Russia’s volatile North Caucasus for her relentless reporting on their handling of violence and militant Islam in the region. As editor-in-chief of the independent weekly Chernovik (Rough Draft) in the southern republic of Dagestan, she has criticized as counter-productive the heavy-handed tactics of state agencies charged with fighting terrorism. In 2008, authorities brought a criminal case against her under anti-extremist legislation after she published an interview with a former guerrilla leader, who accused local authorities of corruption and of being in thrall to the Kremlin. Isayeva sees the case as retaliation for Chernovik’s work. If convicted, she faces up to eight years in prison. She and the newspaper are regularly harassed with official summonses, financial audits, and state-commissioned “linguistic analyses” that label content as extremist. Investigators have searched Isayeva’s home, seizing a computer, books, and files. A local prosecutor has sent her notice that she must undergo a psychological examination. Since June 2009, the main state media regulator has been trying to close the paper for “hostile attitudes toward law enforcement officers and other extremist statements.”

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