‘Only guilt is left’ – the courageous steps of Russian independent journalists

“Do not go into journalism. That’s what I’d tell young people.” This is the advice Oleg Kashin would give to young aspiring journalist in his country, Russia.

Kashin, Russian journalist and blogger, was one of the speakers at the event hosted by Free Press Unlimited in MC Theater in Amsterdam yesterday, May 3rd, in occasion of the International Press Freedom Day. “Do not go into journalism, because if you do it now, you can come to believe that the situation is perfectly normal. But it isn’t.” Last night, Kashin sketched a very pessimistic portrait of the current media landscape in Russia. “It’s getting worse and worse every year.”

Gregory Shvedov, a Russian Human Rights activist and journalist and Editor-in-Chief of the Caucasian Knot, agrees: “You ask me about journalism. But you’re asking me about somehting that doesn’t exist. Real journalism is an illusion in Russia.”

However, Shvedov’s advice to aspiring journalists in Russia is more optimistic: “If you really want to, I’d say ‘go for it’”. But these young reporters should be aware of what lies ahead of them – “There are no career or prestige incentives,” says Shvedov. “The only thing that should motivate a to-become journalist is an inner, deep desire to be in a position of telling the truth. Nothing more. But in Russia, it’s complicated enough.”

“So what’s the biggest challenge a journalist has to face?” I ask. Shvedov pauses, dipping his sigh into his beer. “Self-censorship,” is his one-word answer. I do not give up on knowing more: “What do you mean?” “Self-censorship might well arise from a need to pursue a faster and easier career path. But the main reason, says Shvedov, is just habit. “Young journalists are used to the situation,” he says. The normalisation process feared by Kashin seems to be already in place.

“Things are not as bad as they portrayed them,” says Alexander Lukin a student in Utrecht who attended the night, and has lived in Moscow for 12 years of his life. “I believe in the possibility of change. An absence of some freedoms does not necessarily mean a stalemate in development.”

Tikhon Dzyadko, a Russian journalist working at the independent radio station Echo fo Moschov and at the independent TV station Rain TV, agrees that, sooner or later, the situation will change. “I want my children to grow up in Russia, to feel that they need not leave it. And I want them to be proud of their country. Very proud.”

But these proud children still seem a far-fetched illusion. The way to complete press freedom in Russia is still long. “My most discouraging moment as a journalist? Well, my colleagues get killed. For those who remain – and for me – the only feeling left is one of guilt.” What do you mean? – I ask. He pauses. For too long. “I think I’ve said enough.” And that’s the end of the interview.

By Elena Butti.

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