Free speech in Putin’s Russia: views from the inside

Five Russian journalists and academics sit down with Free Speech Debate to discuss their experiences.

Changes in Russia’s media landscape during the presidency of Vladimir Putin have been the focus of attention worldwide. Most of the coverage has been critical of increasing free speech restrictions and very often simplified. Free Speech Debate has investigated this issue in the past. This time we decided to speak with representatives of the Russian media directly.

Andrey Zubov is a Russian historian and a political scientist, and a former Professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. On 1 March 2014 Professor Zubov published an article in the business newspaper Vedomosti, in which he sharply criticised the annexation of Crimea by Russia. Shortly afterwards he had to leave his academic position. Free Speech Debate asked Professor Zubov two questions: how was the concept of “free speech” thought of in Russia and what was his view on “no-platforming” in Russian universities.

We asked Dr Elena Nemirovskaya, the founder and the director of the Moscow School of Civic Education, about the path to the state of free speech in Russia in 2016. The school had to terminate its activities in Russia after the legislation “on foreign agents” was passed by the Russian Duma in 2012.

Maxim Trudolyubov is one of the most prominent Russian journalists, editor-at-large of major business newspaper Vedomosti. We asked Maxim to share his opinion about the state of free speech in Russia.

Andrey Kolesnikov is a senior fellow of the Moscow Carnegie Centre and the chief of its programme on Russian internal policy and political institutions. In the past he was a regular contributor to Novaya Gazeta, an independent newspaper famous in the country for its critical and investigative coverage of Russian political and social affairs. Six of its journalists, including Anna Politkovskaya and Anastasia Baburova, have been murdered since 2001 in connection with their investigations. We asked Andrey about the principles that he personally follows as a journalist and political expert working in contemporary Russia.

Mikhail Fishman is currently editor-in-chief of the Moscow Times. In the past he was in charge of the Russian edition of Newsweek. We asked Mikhail about his view on free speech in Russia and the influence of corporate-owned media on freedom of speech.

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    I won’t write about President Putin’s past or any of the usual stuff. There are multitudes’ of far more capable people than I to write wonderful mainstream outstanding comment.

    I thought I would write the date 30/05/21 because things are moving very fast and all may change and change again. Much of the western world and more are very active, ‘name calling’ and plotting against President Putin. I am just one of the “ordinary people” and a self confessed moron. Among less educated people such as myself there is little knowledge of President Putin; albeit many think they know a great deal, but have had a quick glance at the Sun newspaper or suchlike. A sort of metaphorical leisure violence; their comments, like those of an angry junk yard dog. Much of this naively myopic, dismissive attitude reaches up the social ladder, but only a few understand the situation or care.

    I have with a considerable degree of ambivalence maintained a close observation of things for some years. I am of the emphatic opinion that President Putin has, and continues to save the world. Strong leadership from President Putin has gone a considerable way towards keeping the insanity of the US at bay. The United States Government and other actors from : Corporate Business, US Military and powerful Israeli Lobby Groups are destabilizing the United States. It would seem that both in the past and on into the future the US is prepared to fight endless wars of great benefits for the few and terror and torture for the many. Russia, China and Iran should form a military alliance to maintain their safety.

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Free Speech Debate is a research project of the Dahrendorf Programme for the Study of Freedom at St Antony's College in the University of Oxford. www.freespeechdebate.ox.ac.uk

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