Translation: Ksenia Larina – Radio Liberty, The Liberty of Mendacity

One of my readers, Fedia Kriukov, kindly pointed me to a LiveJournal blog post by Ksenia Larina from August 13th, 2009. She’s been working with the liberal “Echo of Moscow” radio station since 1991 and her husband, Rinat Valiulin, had accepted a position with Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty in February 2009. In uncompromising language, she reveals her husband’s unpleasant experiences with RFERL in Радио Свобода – свобода подлости (Radio Liberty – The Freedom of Mendacity). Her impression is that a once-respectable institution has degenerated into a nest of self-serving nepotism, neo-Soviet bureaucracy and US managerial fecklessness. Coming hard on the heels of Mario Corti’s revelations about its plummeting popularity, corruption and retreat from journalistic independence, RFERL will have an increasingly difficult time justifying the tens of millions of dollars of American taxpayer money going into supporting it.

TRANSLATION: Ksenia Larina on “Radio Liberty – The Liberty of Mendacity” (LJ post)

(; accessed August 15, 2009)

My husband Rinat Valiulin, who was invited to the position of Director of the Russian service this February, abandoned the “hospitable” walls of this human rights-defending radio station Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty on August 10th. His contract had been terminated. The presenter began the traditional midday briefing of the Moscow and Prague editorial offices with congratulations: “Colleagues! Congratulations! We did it!” What did they do? They arranged a civil execution for my husband. A ritual killing. They destroyed him.

In the last half-year, I learned many interesting things about the customs and life philosophy of the world’s freest radio station. Behind the humanistic facade of this pantheon of freedom, democracy and defense of human rights, just like the painted fireplace in Papa Carlo’s home, there lies hidden a wondrous country. In this country, around the clock these partisans for liberty write denunciations against each other of the meanest substance, go through personal affairs in general meetings, indefatigably cook up intrigues and plots against each other, try their absolute best to make a good impression on the observers, whom the American administration sprinkled everywhere, like red flags. The person who denounces his neighbor first, is the one who has it made. Making conversation in the editorial offices about work is impossible with them – they put a finger to the lips, roll their eyes in horror, and say in an icy whisper – “I’ll tell you everything later”.

They think of themselves not only as pillars, but as the authentic gurus of Russian journalism, openly and passionately detest “Echo of Moscow” and consider anyone entering their “unique journalistic collective” as the lowest form of carrion, which they make well known to them without refraining from the most indecent methods – from open rudeness to inexcusable slander. The innocent, respectfully politically-correct post of Olga Galitskaya ( unleashed a storm of furious indignation, as these offended pillars from Prague demanded the immediate convocation of a general meeting on the theme of “shameless violation of corporate ethics”.

My husband’s faultless biography gave them quite a bother – you can’t find any kompromat on him: he just isn’t, didn’t do it, didn’t participate, etc. Every time he came to Prague, he was given a pile of denunciations from Moscow, each funnier than the last. It came to such a state, that the suggestion to create a position of “producer” (an editor with respect to guests) was interpreted as an attempt to introduce censorship. A Portuguese journalist, who had worked with Radio Liberty for many years, was denounced to the very President of the radio station, just because his request to travel to Grozny was approved by the new Director. In clumsy American language the former star of the Odessa gutter press squealed: “What, you mean to say, a former member of the Portuguese Communist Party can represent the interests of our liberal human rights-defending radio?”.

Any undertaking of the new Director was met not with just hostility, but outright sabotage. Hard on the heels of any suggestion he voiced, a flurry of hysterical denunciations made their way to Prague. And as for the people in Prague – they are lovely, intelligent folks who live in full contentment, arrange jobs with the radio station for their relatives and lovers, live in paid-for accomodation, and once a week scrape together something about human rights on air. Permanent contracts for these great journalists are their pass into the eternal, happy life. They don’t need to prove their professional qualities on air – in fact, no-one even hears them.

I say this without any irony – the fact of the matter is, not one of the American managers of Radio Liberty is interested in it, EVER listens to it, or even knows any Russian. The supervisor of the Russian service doesn’t know Russian. Neither does the chief editor of RFERL. They prefer to listen to music on the radio and to get their news from the Internet. When we spoke to an American manager over a friendly supper about the essence of radio, he replied to this simple thought of mine, what the most important things for radio are: he intoned, appeared to think deeply, and uttered: “Yes, you’re right. Intonation. Igor Pomerantsev has a wonderful intonation!”. “You heard him on air?”, I asked, excited. “No, whatever for?” he exclaimed in surprise.

The presenters, it seems, have already long held their managers for idiots, for they never tire of burying them in letters – odes to their own honorable selves, to convince them of their own greatness. You call a name. “O!” exclaims the poor American, “That’s an outstanding presenter! He’s listened to in the Kremlin!”. “How do you know?” – “He told me so himself”.

Another surname. “O! – she’s an outstanding presenter! Everyone comes to talk with her!” – “Everyone!, how come?” – “She told me so herself”.

At this point I should note that conversations with guests on air are exceptional in the servility of the presenters. In reply to the straightforward question – “Why, dear, do you not ask the guests hard questions?”, these pillars ingenuously answer – “But otherwise they wouldn’t come to us!”

But the most disgusting thing – it’s the atmosphere of total, all-embracing lies and denunciations, built into a cult. They lie to each other, lie on each other, they communicate amongst themselves exclusively by writing – so that every word is recorded, for otherwise they can easily absolve themselves of anything they say without witnesses or microphones. On screwing outsiders, they try their utmost to put on a pained face, as one of the supervisors in the Moscow bureau said – “We don’t need any conflictual situations”. This is exactly why they deal with the inconvenient folks silently, in a Soviet way, KGB-style: decisions on dismissal are taken during the holidays. On your return from vacation, they greet you with a happy smile, throw you a big thumbs up – “Hello? How were your holidays?”, and then they quietly take you to the staff department. Hiding their eyes and clutching a manual containing prepared answers to every possible question, in arms trembling from their own baseness, they suggest you clear off. You refuse to sign – they begin a sophisticated blackmail. With a lovely smile. Don’t worry, we’ll find a way to get rid of you. And don’t think you’ll ever get an answer to the question – why? “It is not our policy to explain the decisions of the management”.

Radio Liberty had the chance to become a bright, clever, modern and dynamic radio station. To expand their circle of guests and experts, to reduce the quantity of repeats, to rework their broadcasting format, to construct an original broadcasting program for the weekend, to open up new places of discussion, to increase the numbers of listeners, to attract a young, active audience, to become a full player on the information space, instead of recycling news stories from the headlines of the information agencies…

Actually, this is the very reason a new Director was invited, one who did not intend to interfere with editorial policies, but one who wanted to just do RADIO. Few could have expected such an awful experience with absolutely reasonless hatred, rudeness, hysterical sabotage, on the part of these envious, self-worshiping gentlemen, who call themselves journalists. And from the other side, from the American management – total control over and blockage of any and all decisions. Without a written agreement with the supervisor of the Russian service in Prague, you couldn’t move a chair in the Moscow office. Judging by everything that happened, Radio Liberty faces no danger of change any time soon, and the American leadership’s search for an “effective manager” is in vain. Free radio for free peoples, turned out to be as much a myth as the “heroic” careers of its employees. The sole freedom which they’ve realized to its full potential, is the freedom of mendacity.

PS. Mario Corti, former Director of the Russian service of Radio Liberty, fired in 2005:

I would like to tell you, for the first time, what really happened at RFERL. Furthermore, I take full responsibility for everything I say. I can document it all. I did not leave the radio station – first I was removed from the post of Director of the Russian service, then I was fired. After my demotion I could have gone with a bang, slamming the door behind me, especially because at my dismissal I refused the compensation which was offered to me upon my agreement to certain conditions that were improper and demeaning both to me, and to the radio station itself. But I always, and still do, greatly respect this venerable institution. It’s far higher and worthier than some of the folks who, unfortunately, sometimes end up there. And I also dreamed there would be changes for the better. It was all in vain. Eventually, they managed to dismiss me under the pretext of the “restructuring” of the Russian service.”

Everything in full here:
Version for foreigners:

Usually shortened to “Radio Liberty” or RFERL.

This is a reference to the Russian fairy-tale Buratino.

“Кто первый встал – того и тапки” – Russian slang meaning that it’s best to be first, otherwise you lose out.

“столпы” – pillars, i.e. pillars / hotshots of journalism on Russia; reused several times.

“УЖК” – уникальный журналисткий колектив, “unique journalistic collective”.

Propaganda stories inserted into mass media outlets for money in order to smear another person’s reputation.

“атмосфера тотального всепроникающего вранья и стукачества, возведенного в культ”.

“Поедая чужаков, они изо всех сил стараются соблюсти перекошенное лицо”.


  1. Thanks AK.

    FYI, among the more seasoned of Russia watchers especially, there’s the view that during the Cold War, RFE/RL wasn’t as objective as the VOA.

    As I’ve noted before, the VOA is directly under the US government unlike RFE/RL.

  2. Giuseppe Flavio says:

    Two thoughts crossed my mind after reading this post.
    1) If you go with the wolfs, you’ll be bitten.
    2) The man that pays the band decides the music to play.
    Journalists are “free” to write accordingly to the media owner wishes, just like at the start of the previous century those buying a Ford model T were “free” to choose the colour of their car, as long as it was black.
    I don’t think it was just german labor code and unions that made RFE/RL so wonderful during the cold war, I’ve seen dissenting journalists losing their position in Italy and we too have a strict labor code and unions. The fear that the soviet propaganda could have exploited any internal strife in RFE/RL may have played a role. But today, Russian media doesn’t seem willing to respond in kind.
    Speaking of which, the deaths of Gudava, Riffel-Gordin and Batchan, could be good starting points for a Russian version of the “Committee to Protect Journalists” in case someone has some time to waste.

  3. Concerning former Communist bloc issues, like there aren’t instances of journalists in English language mass media who either self censor or have their originally submitted work censored with politics in mind.

    Speaking out about this matter risks getting knocked out of that scenario altogether. Hence, this point isn’t talked about because it jeopardizes those who want to exist in such a situation.

    On the other hand, Pavel Felgenhauer’s open complaint of Lyn Berry didn’t prevent him from getting picked up at other fairly prominent English language venues. This particular matter relates to a situation involving The Moscow Times. In any event, Felgenhauer’s Moscow Times replacement (Alexander Golts) has pretty much the same slant as Felgenhauer.

  4. Another moral failure of a yet another ‘universalist’ project, much like the themed revolutions. Their goals are not justice and liberty but Western (particularly American) hegemony. These aims are given precedence over the proclaimed objectives, this is the result.

  5. I agree with Mr. Tomicek. Sadly,too many in Congress and the Executive branch would rather spend borrowed money on this type of failing propaganda than balance our budget or reallocate resources to say health care or internal transportation,etc. where it is desperately needed.I live in a bankrupt crumbling country more concerned about “image” than reality.As our military power openly fails in Iraq and Afghanistan,we seem desperate to create and project a fantasy about our power and virtue.The election of Obama was part of that national fantasy and the fantasy is now rapidly going bad.

  6. I’m very glad that Anatoly has translated this.

    It is unfortunate that Ms. Larina’s missive has been originally written in Russian. In Russian, it has no value. The overwhelming reaction of Russians upon reading this has been “so what exactly are you surprised about here?” There was really nothing new for them.

    The real audience should’ve been Americans, who need to understand that the propaganda funded by their tax dollars is not only ineffective, but it’s in fact anti-American. The face that the US presents to Russia is not Obama, and it’s not even Hillary Clinton. It’s these incompetent and morally dubious clowns America hires to do its propaganda. After all that, why would anyone whine that Obama didn’t get a warm reception in Moscow, like a bunch of American newspapers did not long ago? You paid for your image, didn’t you? No point in complaining.

  7. Another issue pertains to the slant at RFE/RL.

    This piece deals with the issue of a basic lack of professionalism. The matter of political biases isn’t as discussed a topic.

    As noted in the piece, it’s referring to a part of RFE/RL (its Russian service) and not other parts like its English language web site.

  8. Very quick point, using friend’s computer, but the entire dissident thing pretty much collapsed with Gorbachev. It was largely composed of people whose only common purpose was a dislike of the USSR. I think Solzhenitsyn was an interesting thinker and writer, though he was never a Slavonic utilitarian Ghandi, but like Dostoyevsky a disillusioned Westerner who developed a utopian Slavophile outlook. Post 1991, he seemed to be regarded with embarrassment by the West for liking Putin more than Yeltsin.

    And he was probably the one who adapted best to post-Soviet times. Just look at Yelena Bonner writing hysterical articles with such controversial and original views as ‘terrorism is bad’. Her quarrels with the Soviet Regime were her only real achievements.

    Here in Britain the definition of ‘dissident’ is so wide it even includes Berezovsky… it is a strange farce. I read once that, before she was murdered, Anna Politkovskaya thought that the Kremlin was backing the ‘liberal’ movement in Russia: presumably to present an unlikable, dishonest, anti-patriotic, sycophantic and greedy face of opposition. If so, the Kremlin succeeded admirably.

  9. Who cares?

  10. I for one.


    You touch on some of the views of post-Yeltsin Russia living in a 1970s time warp.

    The USSR like post-Soviet Russia and anything else should receive and be open to constructive criticism.

    As someone rased on an anti-Soviet/pro-Russian bent, I nevertheless ewas also brought up on the idea of being as fair as possible when dishing out criticism.

    Some of the criticism of the USSR was off from reality. Likewise, the same holds true in relation to contemporary Russia.

    If something is really so bad and if one is truly earnest, there’s no need to distort things.

  11. The hysteric article above showes the same intellectual and moral level of described and the author.In this circumctanses one sould evaluate RF/RL by its broudcasting


    Translated by Sergei of the Untimely Thoughts Russia discussion group.

    Prague, 2 October: Caucasus Times has learnt from competent sources that the well-known US Radio Liberty funded by the US Department of State will start broadcasting for [Georgia’s breakaway regions of] Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

    The source of Caucasus Times said that the new service is being
    created within the framework of the Georgian service of the radio
    station. The new service will go on the air under the name of Liberty Time or Free Times. Residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia will be able to listen to Radio Liberty on short waves for about an hour every day. Journalist Andrey Babitskiy, who is well-known for his critical materials on Chechnya, is the head of the service.

    For the time being, the leadership of Radio Liberty is looking for journalists from Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Georgia. One of the radio station’s personnel said that the time on the air will be divided into Georgian, Ossetian, and Abkhaz segments. In this manner, Liberty will try to unite parties to the conflict on the air.

    The aims of the new service are as follows:

    * To decrease anti-Georgian sentiments in South Ossetia and Abkhazia;
    * To monitor events linked to the Georgian-Ossetian and Georgian-Abkhaz
    * To create an information space capable of diminishing the influence of Russian propaganda in the conflict zones.

    The objective of the project is to submit objective and weighed
    information on events and processes linked to the Georgian-Ossetian and Georgian-Abkhaz conflicts to residents of Georgia’s separatist republics (South Ossetia and Abkhazia); to objectively inform the Ossetians and Abkhaz on the Georgian side’s peace initiatives; and to democratize Ossetian and Abkhaz societies by way of advocating democratic values.

    The project has received support for 12 months. If successfully
    implemented, it will be prolonged for one more year.

    (Source: Caucasus Times website, Prague, in Russian 02 Oct 09 via BBC Monitoring)

    Another commentator at UT:

    Excellent! A wise choice! I await the broadcast that explains that to resent a dump of BM-21s on your heads at midnight is actually “anti-Georgian sentiments”