Famous journalist Oleg Kashin, who works at Russia’s leading business newspaper, Kommersant, and lives in my neighbourhood, was badly beaten over the weekend in Moscow. So badly beaten – that doctors as of yet have nothing definitive to say about his chances of a proper recovery. This is the sort of incident that immediately makes you want to question everything – fate, God, justice, society, the future of journalism in Russia, the future of Russia in general.
In trying to come up with a proper response to this outrageous event, I looked to the blog of another Russian journalist – Alyona Solntseva. Solntseva wrote about how such violence is pretty much a “normal” part of our lives:
“Everyone one of us has several acquaintances who were beaten on the street. Sometimes – with the intent of a robbery. Sometimes just because – because someone else didn’t like them… Beatings are routine, a norm that exists within our lives. How do you fight THAT?”
I have no doubt that Oleg’s attackers targeted him because of his work. Right now, all over LiveJournal, users are posting and reposting links to his latest articles. The idea is as follows: Oh, they wanted to silence Oleg? We won’t let them. We’ll make his writing even more popular. And they won’t be able to get all of us.
Whoever the bastards who are “they” turn out to be, what’s clear to me is that Alyona Solntseva is right; this type of behaviour is the norm. When journalists are attacked, it serves to underscore the fact that *nobody* is safe.
Intimidation and violence are seen as an acceptable way to solve problems ranging from “I don’t like your face, dude” to “I don’t like that article you wrote, dude.” In saying this, of course, it is not my intention to write off what happened to Oleg as a nebulous “societal” problem and throw up my hands. This type of barbarism is present almost everywhere you look – but journalists in particular remain the canary in the coal mine. You know it’s bad when a prominent member of the press is savagely attacked, and none of us are certain that those responsible will necessarily be brought to justice.
I do disagree with Solntseva’s statement that perpetrators of violence in Russia are “never” or “almost never” found. I have been witness to several cases in which perpetrators of violent crime were, in fact, caught. It’s just too bad that many of them people who order these horrific killings and beatings are “important” enough to remain untouchable. It’s comparatively easy to find a hired thug. Who pointed said thug in the direction of the victim can be another matter altogether.
My hope today is with those people who refuse to be intimidated – and who remain busy highlighting the important work that Oleg has done, from his writing on the controversy surrounding construction of a highway through Khimki forest (and this particular controversy had already resulted in plenty of violence before Oleg was attacked – so it makes sense to consider that what happened to Oleg is connected to it) to his writing on Russia’s opposition in general. They’re right when they say that those responsible will not be able to get all of us.
I don’t know Oleg personally, but we have a friend in common, as it turns out. As the result, I’ve been overwhelmed by descriptions of Oleg, both as a journalist and as a person. My heart breaks for him – so I concentrate on being furious at what happened to him.
I invite you to be furious as well.