I Appear on Al-Jazeera

Here‘s the video. My section begins at 8:02.

Why was my speech not exactly on-topic?

I was contacted by al-Jazeera and offered a choice of three questions.

1. What dangers do journalists and activists face in speaking out against the Russian government?

2. What role does the (international) media play in giving Russian regime critics a voice? How free is the Russian media to report on such issues?

3. Is the media attention helping or worsening the situation of activists?

As you can see, I decided to cover Q1. I was not informed that the video would be exclusively about Q2, which I’d have very much appreciated (I, rather foolishly it now seems, assumed it would cover all the above – as it turned out, answering Q2 would have been much more appropriate).

Furthermore, my submission was edited, thus removing context. The full version is outlined below, while the one which was broadcast is in italics.

The issue of personal risk in Russian journalism today only arises when investigating local government and business structures, especially in the ethnic republics like Chechnya. Nonetheless, despite the impression one might get from listening to the Western press, the number of journalists killed under Putin’s administration has actually declined from under Yeltsin’s, from 30 to 17 according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. As such, this has reflected overall crime trends in the country rather than any political dynamic.

So what is your response to the message of the Al-Jazeera video?

For obvious reasons I can’t comment on the specific cases of the anonymous St.-Petersburg student or Maxim Gromov (although interestingly enough, one of NatsBol’s heads, Andrei Dmitriev, fails to mention any ‘singling out’ out of him due to the Putin portrait saga – ‘Maxim Gromov and the other participants in the campaign in Zurabov’s office were sentenced to three years of deprivation of liberty’). I can however comment on the opposition and their relationship to both the Russian and Western media.

The Other Russia “opposition” enjoys very marginal support (c.1-2%) – correlating quite closely with the tiny 3% of Russians who see Putin’s influence on human rights and democracy in Russia as ‘very negative’ (see recent BBC world service poll). The “opposition’s” views can be heard in detail via cable TV and read in newspapers like Novaja Gazeta and sites like inosmi.ru which provide Russian translations from an eclectic mix of Western media outlets (in 2007 Internet penetration in Russia was at 25%). As for the mainstream Russian media, is it democratic to expect in-depth coverage of a fringe group that enjoys negligible popular support?

The reason I put apostrophes around “opposition” is that it’s hard to see how intentionally holding unsanctioned protests (and complaining in English to Western reporters when arrested for doing so, as Kasparov does), rejecting election results out of hand and being a member of Washington neocon organizations is going to excite ordinary Russians’ support (see Why Russian liberals lose). As such, the real opposition (Communists) shun Western media attention, while those who seek it out are widely (and probably rightly) perceived as a pack of jokers milking western sponsors for funds and disinterested in legally effecting real political change in Russia.


  1. Giuseppe Flavio says:

    Just a comment about Western press and a specific Russian opposition politician, Edward Limonov. This man is too embarrassing for Western audience, so that he is hardly mentioned by the media and is practically unknown in the West, unlike Kasparov.Years ago you could read some rare articles about him and his National-Bolshevik party often accusing him being on the Kremlin payroll and doing a “fake opposition”. After joining the Other Russia movement he disappeared from the media. But now some peoples, like Mr. Amsterdam, think that enough time has passed.

  2. Oleg Nevestin says:

    Good comment, Stalker. As for the whole Al-Jazeera PR stunt, they appear to learn fast from their Western mentors, mimicking quite well the very worst that US-European media has to offer. Making martyrs out of this Nazi-Bolshevik scum is always extremely entertaining, to me at least. Few hours in jail…yeah, Putin is cruel dictator, my ass.

  3. @giuseppe,Sadly true. Anybody who’s anti-Putin and pays lip-service to democracy/freedom/HR (as the NatsBols have started doing since around 2005) will be morally supported.@oleg,If anything al-Jazeera is worse. At least the Western press very rarely falls into the trap of making outright false statements. Whereas al-Jazeera does quite brazenly by claiming Messr. Gromov was singled out by being sentenced to 3 yrs imprisonment, whereas in fact 6 other participants received similar sentences.

  4. Fedia Kriukov says:

    Stalker, thanks for posting this.However, I can’t help but feel that Al-Jazeera used you to lend credibility to an otherwise propagandistic piece. They spent 10 min on propaganda, gave you 45 seconds total time, and the questions they asked you to answer had no relation to the piece they were actually doing on Russia. But now they can claim that they were “balanced”.

  5. In a revelation revealed in the Madrid train bombing trial it was revealed that an Al Jazeeera journalist who reported on Chechen terrorist camps in Afghanistan (although they neglect to mention the Chechen part) while travelling to conduct interviews was himself transferring funds to terrorist there presumably on behalf of the dictator in Qatar.