The New Russia: Love It or Leave It

The New Russia: Love It or Leave It

The New Russia: Love It or Leave It

What the foreign papers are saying.
April 19 2001 9:00 PM

The New Russia: Love It or Leave It

"A journalist in Russia should either go to another country or change his profession," Sergei Parkhomenko told Britain's Independent Wednesday. Earlier this week, Parkhomenko was fired as editor in chief of the weekly Itogi, along with the rest of the magazine's editorial staff. Last weekend special security guards seized the offices of NTV, the sole national TV network outside the Kremlin's control, and on Monday just 90 minutes before press time, journalists at the 8-year-old independent daily newspaper Segodnya were told the issue wouldn't be printed and that the publisher had decided to close the paper.

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The Independent's Moscow correspondent had no doubts the closures were the result of government pressure on the state-dominated Gazprom energy company, which recently took control of embattled media mogul Vladimir Gusinsky's media outlets. NTV's coverage of the conflict in Chechnya has been much more evenhanded than the state media's, and it was the only national channel to suggest from the beginning of the Kursk disaster that the sailors on board the downed sub were unlikely to survive. Considering the Kremlin's motives, Patrick Cockburn speculated:

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is managing producer of Slate podcasts.

[T]here is unlikely to be much good news to report in the next few years. There is no sign of the war in Chechnya ending. The infrastructure of the country is deteriorating because of lack of investment. It is much in the interest of Mr Putin to ensure this is not reported at all or, if there are further disasters on the scale of the Kursk, that there is no independent media around to point an accusing finger at him.

The Khaleej Times of Dubai was pessimistic that the "new" NTV would maintain its journalistic integrity: "[T]here is little doubt that NTV, from now onward, will be just another docile media outlet, not unlike the state-owned nationwide channels ORT and RTR. The expected shift in NTV's programming emphasis away from critical and investigative reporting will rob Russians of their most trusted and objective source of news." The Moscow Times reported that as of Tuesday the station's sister Web site, NTV.ru, was still operating independently because it has a different parent company. On Monday night, journalists working on the site, which has doubled in popularity since April 3, when Gazprom appointed new managers at the TV channel, moved from the TV station premises to the offices of the Web site's parent company, NTV-Portal.com, because they were concerned that Gazprom security "would not recognize their journalistic independence from NTV."

An op-ed in the St. Petersburg Times said the NTV journalists and the rest of the liberal media were reaping what they had sown. Sociologist Boris Kagarlitsky claimed the media had "systematically denied the right of expression to anyone who diverged, even a little, from the norms accepted in this milieu." Citing a lack of popular uprising against the takeover of NTV, the author asked:

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Is it any surprise that despite all the plaints of the liberal intelligentsia, society as a whole is not showing any great interest in the fate of the disgraced television company? For decades, the journalistic elite did not conceal its contempt for the "riff-raff," that is to say, for perhaps 80 per cent of the country's population. Society has paid the journalists back in the same coin.

Holocaust Inc.: April 19 is Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day in Israel. An op-ed in the Jerusalem Post reflected on the growing criticism of the "Holocaust industry" and lamented the Israeli educational system's failure to find new ways to create a sense of identity, nationalism, and loyalty to the state. It declared:

"Never Again" is an important slogan for Israel, but it cannot be the only slogan by which generations of children and young adults will be asked to swear their allegiance to the state. … [H]owever important a message this may be, it can never replace the essential positive aspects of living within a state and contributing to its development and security—messages which the state education system has miserably failed to disseminate beyond the context of persecution and pogroms.

Booze news: According to El País, three-quarters of Spaniards aged 11 and 12 have drunk alcohol, and more than half of young people between 15 and 19 regularly hit the bottle. What's more, 53 percent of Spaniards consider it "normal" to have up to six alcoholic drinks when out on weekends. Among the hurdles to reducing youth addiction are parents' failure to stigmatize booze, and nightspots that charge more for nonalcoholic drinks than for the hard stuff. Meanwhile, in Chile, La Tercera ran an obituary for the nation's traditional cocktails. Although the pisco sour and the piscola are hanging on, other domestic drinks are being overwhelmed by popular foreign beverages such as Cuba libres, Brazilian caipirinhas, and margaritas. It's hard to mourn some of the lost drinks—one recipe called for milk fresh from the cow, grain alcohol, lemon, sugar, cloves, saffron, and almonds.

Swiss army knifes bike squad: The Financial Times reported that after a reassessment of the role of the military in contemporary life, the Swiss army has decided to phase out the world's last bicycle regiment. Since the risk of foreign invasion now seems slim, bike soldiers' ability to move quickly over difficult terrain—important in Alpine Switzerland—is no longer a priority. The mountain bikes, which in true Swiss army style feature clips for "extras"—in this case, space for a machine gun, a shovel, mines, and an anti-tank weapon—are officially off-limits to civilians, but according to the FT, "some web sites in the US have started offering black market models for up to $3,500." The regiment, whose former members have included members of the Swiss Olympic cycling team, has its own traditions; for example, "shouting name and rank while cycling past an officer is the accepted alternative to a manual salute."