Blaming and thanking Putin

Olaf Koens tijdens de Avond van de Persvrijheid . Foto Barbara Blok

In a full theatre in Amsterdam we meet Olaf Koens, a Dutch freelance Journalist based in Moscow, he now mainly works for RTL.

Looking past the big problems
Olaf forgets exactly how long he has been a freelance journalist in Moscow but he estimates it has been about six years. During that time he has seen Russian society change a lot. He says living in Moscow is still amazing if you look past the big problems.

While “things have definitely gone from bad to worse” since Putin was re-elected he points out that “things are going very bad but it has never been so good” for the Russian people.  Their quality of life under Putin has definitely improved since Soviet times, so in a way Russians both blame and thank Putin. Still it doesn’t excuse the current state of affairs.

The illusion of democracy
The Russian system is very complicated, Olaf says, “even after 6 years I still don’t understand”. Putin creates an opposition and then causes factions and fighting amongst them before “stamp(ing) out” resistance. Putin’s message is mainly spread via television; a media output that most do not question the veracity of. It all contributes to the illusion of democracy.

Learn from the Russian internet
Despite all of this there is still something that the Netherlands can learn from Russia. Its Internet market is growing by 20% each year. Because traditional media is under so much pressure you have to go online if you want independent information. The Netherlands has a very limited number of online platforms and this is something that we can improve on. Though he stresses internet freedom is not a substitute for real freedom. The freedom to post on Facebook cannot be an alternative for freedom of expression.

What should we know about Russia? He replies there is a lot we should know, the news changes every day and it is always exciting, even from the Netherlands he checks Russian news online more than he looks at Dutch news, and he recommends that we do the same.

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