Censored Izvestia Journalist Quits

Journalist Maksim Sokolov. Source: Rosbank ZhurnalWell-known Russian journalist Maksim Sokolov is quitting his job at the newspaper Izvestia as a result of censorship.

Writing in his blog on Monday, Sokolov posted the text of an article he had written along with a bare-bones preface: “Tomorrow I’m bringing my letter of resignation to Izvestia. Here’s tomorrow’s rejected article.” The column criticized a proposal by Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov to establish a Russian equivalent of Silicon Valley in an old Moscow auto factory, following last Friday’s proposal by President Dmitri Medvedev to put it in the Moscow suburb of Skolkovo. Arguing that both proposals would continue a dangerous trend of geographically centralizing scientific research, Sokolov said that research in the outer areas of the country would end up underfunded, resulting in the detriment of Russia’s entire scientific community.

Luzhkov’s proposal in particular, which would put the facility even closer to the Kremlin than the president had proposed, was the painful result of “geographical super-ultra centralization,” wrote Sokolov.

“The distance between Skolkovo (30 kilometers from the Kremlin) and the auto factory (10 kilometers from the Kremlin) would be substantial if this was all happening in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg,” said the journalist. “There, those are completely different sized distances. For Russia, spanning 4,000 kilometers from north to south and 10,000 kilometers from east to west, they are exactly the same.” The centralization, he went on, is “super-ultra because what we are facing is not just the notion of ‘nothing in circumvention of Moscow,’ but the even stronger notion of ‘nothing except for directly inside of Moscow.’ Only within the limits of direct visibility from the Kremlin, when one can observe from a pair of binoculars.”

Sokolov had been a journalist at Izvestia since 1998. He will continue to be published in the influential business publication Expert.

Having been the primary newspaper of the Soviet government since 1917 and remaining closely connected to the government since the fall of the Soviet Union, Sokolov’s case is not the first time Izvestia has been associated with censorship. Former Editor-in-Chief Raf Shakirov was fired allegedly as a result of publishing scathing photographs of the 2004 Beslan massacre. A column critical of a film celebrating then-President Vladimir Putin’s 55th birthday in 2007 was banned, according to its author Irina Petrovskaya, directly by the order of then-Editor-in-Chief Vladimir Mamontov. According to the online newspaper Grani.ru, a memo from Mamontov was leaked to the press in January 2006 in which the editor declared that Izvestia was not an opposition newspaper and should be “all-national” and close to the people. Anyone unhappy with the “new editorial politics” would be fired, he added.

The full text of Sokolov’s blog post in Russian can be found by clicking here.