Update 11/11/10: Fuller context added to Pleshcheyeva’s remarks.
Members of Russian law enforcement, mass media, government agencies, advocacy groups, and pro-Kremlin youth organizations spoke yesterday during a Public Chamber session dedicated to the ghastly beating of Kommersant journalist Oleg Kashin. While most presentations denounced the attack and focused on the need to step up efforts to prosecute assailants of Russian journalists, one speaker accused the journalists of bringing these attacks on themselves.
According to the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, passions ran high during the two-hour session, with journalists, lawyers, and activists decrying Russia’s chronic failure to solve cases of attacks on journalists. Editor-in-Chief Yevgeniya Albats of the New Times magazine spoke directly to representatives of law enforcement present in the auditorium, saying that the government has provided vast amounts of support to large organizations that have long been hounding Kashin and numerous other journalists.
The editor was referring to government-sponsored pro-Kremlin youth movements that routinely harass journalists whose views contradict their own, some of whose representatives were present at the session. Nashi Commissar Irina Pleshcheyeva turned out to be an actual member of the Public Chamber, and issued a sharp rebuke against those who she felt practice “political terrorism.” Noting that she did not consider Kashin to be a talented journalist, the commissar argued that the journalists themselves are responsible for such attacks:
When a journalist is attacked or murdered per order, when he’s dealing with some case, then journalists take it, come together, and continue the case. They don’t need to provide reasons to murder them. Not everyone is going to be killed. If a person – the people who commit crimes – they don’t think they’re going to be caught. None of the criminals think they’re going to be caught. But if their goal is to change the situation – so that a person doesn’t write, doesn’t investigate – he should know that, in the future, the journalists are going to take the case and continue it. The editorial staff will take it. All the journalists will take it. I don’t know. But that investigation will continue. Then there won’t be any necessity to explain to people that fists don’t solve anything.
Pleshcheyeva went on to say that she herself feared being attacked for what she wrote on blogs and other Internet media, and that this is a problem shared by Russian society on the whole. Moreover, she argued, lots of people get killed in Russia while fulfilling their professional duties – soldiers, businessmen, teachers, doctors – so journalists are no exception. While the commissar briefly touched upon the importance of investigating such attacks, she stressed that society has to focus on the fact that “they don’t let us speak,” and not “that somebody got crippled.”
The speech was disturbingly reminiscent of remarks by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in August that opposition protesters intentionally provoke the police into “bludgeoning them upside the head.”
Also present at the session was Andrei Tatarinov, a leading member of the pro-Kremlin youth group Young Guard and member of the Public Chamber. He supported Pleshcheyeva and added that while his organization has not always been on great terms with Kashin, its website has posted condolences and denounced the attack. He did not explain, however, why this page was accompanied by what Nezavisimaya Gazeta described as “staged photographs mocking people expressing sympathy.”
A presentation by Moscow’s chief investigator, Vadim Yakovenko, provided an abrupt summary of Kashin’s case: the work is ongoing; 30 witnesses have been questioned; there is a wealth of information.
Vladimir Vasiliev, head of the State Duma Committee on Safety, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the auditorium was clearly unsatisfied with Yakovenko’s laconic speech. Therefore, Vasiliev spoke about the lack of sufficient budgetary funds for the needs of Russia’s law enforcement system, which results in complex cases being doled out to “boys” to solve. According to the newspaper, Vasiliev’s remarks were taken as evidence that we shouldn’t count on seeing any results from the investigation in the foreseeable future.
After undergoing two operations on his skull and a partial amputation of one of his pinky fingers, Oleg Kashin awoke from a coma Wednesday morning in a Moscow hospital. Doctors say his condition is critical but stable, and that he should be able to talk in the coming days. Colleagues and supporters continued calling for his perpetrators to be found and brought to justice for the fifth day in a row.