Andrei Novikov: On Self Censorship

terentievEditor’s note: Recently the Syktyvkar city court in northern Russia found local resident Savva Terentiev guilty of inflaming social discord with his comment and sentenced him to one year of deprivation of liberty, suspended. We will remind our readers that in February of this year, Terentiev, a user of the internet-resource LiveJournal (which in Russia is usually known as «Zhivoy zhurnal» or simply called by its Russian initials ЖЖ) left a rather aggressive comment about the work of the police on the page of local journalist Boris Suranov. When someone in the police force came across the comment, they decided that this statement was deeply offensive, and opened up a criminal case against the blogger.. Terentiev claims he did not leave this comment just out of the blue. “On 14 February employees of division «K» of the MVD [Ministry of Internal Affairs, of which the police are a part—Trans.] of the republic rolled up to the editorial office of the Inta newspaper «Iskra» and seized hard disks with supposedly counterfeit software. Boris Suranov’s blog included a link to this article,” he said. “I left a comment on this account.”

The procuracy cracked down hard, and considered that the blogger should not get off with just a fine or correctional work, since the “the given crime belongs to offenses of an extremist directionality, because the object of the criminal encroachments became persons implementing a law-enforcement function.”It ought to be noted that Savva Terentiev is the first Russian to ever be convicted for expressing his thoughts on a blog – a precedent which has many worried about online press freedom.Today we offer to the attention of our readers an article by another Russian journalist – Andrei Novikov, who became well known internationally for his involuntary psychiatric detention in response to his government critical articles. You can read Novikov’s past contribution here. From the Censorship of the Internet to the Censorship of Life ItselfAndrei Novikov, political essayistLet us ask ourselves, what is the Internet? This is the medialization of Everything.Literally «internet» signifies «all-connection». The internet – this is a transparent world, where everything is accessible, all resources, books, pictures, thoughts in the head. The internet – this is a synonym for an open society, a «transparent world».Any content put on the internet (be it a work of journalism, a literary novel, a poem, a theatrical presentation, an artistic canvas, a voluminous image) is transformed from a merely individual phenomenon into a medialized one. It becomes everybody’s item.Correspondingly, we are subjected to intensified police attention.Let us say nobody is implementing yet a meticulous theatrical, pictorial censorship, a censorship of novels, a censorship of poesy, a censorship of thick literary journals. Censorship concerns only journalism or the self-willed manifestation of citizens (for example, reports on blogs in the internet, such as Savva Terentiev). But nobody is carrying out institutional theatrical, pictorial, literary censorship. Such censorships do not yet exist as such. Instead of them there functions self-censorship. But self-censorship has as its «shortcoming» the fact that those conducting it may expand the bounds of what is permitted. An editor may decide to publish something he hadn’t published before. A director may release a show that earlier he had been afraid to release. The extent of variability is determined both by the political climate and personal preferences, but they can arbitrarily expand.Self-censorship assumes a «manageable intelligentsia», but the intelligentsia aren’t manageable.Thaws begin when the intelligentsia expand the bounds of the permissible on their own initiative. They print something that earlier had been prohibited. They put on a play that earlier hadn’t “passed”.From my point of view, what has arisen now is not so much an institutional censorship (there are no censorship committees as such in Russia) as an INQUISITION.They don’t prohibit an article or a publication – they simply commit punitive retaliatory actions in relation to the author. Let’s make sure we’ve got our definitions straight here. Censorship – this is prohibiting something before it comes out. Inquisition – this is annihilating the author after his creation comes out. They find him and they break all his bones. But the creation itself continues to exist.I, after my creation came out, saw under myself the plank floor of an investigative isolator. Then they redirected me into the judicial-psychiatric torture chambers together with maniacs. But my creation remained.An inquisition does not set itself as a task to struggle with creations – it sets itself as a task to struggle WITH THE AUTHORS. Using the humdrum methods of physical punishment.For the publication of an article an author discovers… under himself the floor of an investigative isolator( in essence- the floor of the Bastille).The Roman Catholic Church had its Index of Prohibited Books. But there was no institution of preventive censorship. Books were later included in the Index of Prohibited Books and the author they later would find and annihilate.Proactive censorship – is the invention of the New Time and state ministries of print.We do not right now have proactive censorship. Proactive self-censorship – does exist, but it is determined by the FEAR of the editor of the fact that retaliatory actions will follow. The degree of neurosis and intimidation. But the editor himself is given the prerogative to decide what is can be done and what can’t. I am convinced: many editors have become neurasthenics on this basis. In essence, what we are dealing with here is law-enforcement terrorism deployed by the procuracy against the press. Every editor, before publishing something, agonizingly experiences the consequences of what will happen. And this neurosis – is worse than any censorship.…Now project this situation on the entire body of journalists, and you will achieve effective control over journalists.A unique feature of this «psychiatric censorship» – lies in the fact that it does not even require the initiating of criminal cases. So-called hospitalization – this is the operative arrest of someone who thinks differently. The degree of danger the doctor establishes by guess. The possibility of arbitrariness – is absolute. Just as arbitrarily is established the medical condition. Any ideas, any articles, any publication of anything whatsoever – all is declared to be «delirious raving». A most effective form of control, not applied for now broadly!From here, it’s just a small step – place all journalists on psychiatric monitoring. And the problem will be solved…Nothing individual remains in our time. Everything is turning into social property to the extent that we live in a media world. Any individual artefact immediately acquires a universal significance.The permissibility of non-censorship of literary journals, exhibitions, performances earlier derived from the idea that they could bear a narrow-corporative character. After all, nobody would think of censoring a personal picture collection or a personal library! Small journals also were not subjected to censorship. But even large literary journals, exhibitions, theatrical presentations were not subjected to censorship, inasmuch as they bore a corporative character Like, they’re not the press. They’re – art. But how do they differ structurally from the press? When you come right down to it – no way at all. An article in a journal differs little from an article in a newspaper. But even in a novel you can lay out politically «harmful» ideas. And in a play there can be «calls to extremist activity», and expressed publicly, no less. From a stage. Theatrical art – this is a collective pamphlet. If you’re going to have censorship, then you’ve got to have it everywhere.For now, plays, literary publications, artistic exhibitions have remained outside of censorship (or, more precisely – outside of the kind of judicial persecutions to which the press and especially internet sites have been subjected).But what’s interesting is that thanks to the internet, the censorship of plays, exhibitions, anthologies of poems, thick literary journals, can be carried out. The fact is that many publications or performances end up having internet versions. Recordings of performances are put into a virtual space. Literary journals set up their own internet sites. And any anthology of poems, having seen the light of day, thanks to the internet culture also can be (often without the knowledge of the author) put on the internet. Authors’ rights do not extend to the possibility of reproducing the authors’ unique creations. Everything that is released into the world publicly, can be reproduced. In the simplest way – being put on the internet. It ought to be admitted that the internet culture is becoming total. Everything is internet.But being put on the internet a canvas, a theatrical production, a literary work, are turned now into an informational phenomenon, equal to the press. Correspondingly, they become a zone of political control.To distinguish them from the press now is very hard. An article in a journal and an article in a newspaper – this is one and the same thing. Especially when they’re given in an internet version. A novel – is also a text, and can become an object of police control. And an anthology of poems can become an object of police or even psychiatric attention. I’m not even talking about internet versions of plays: there can be simply calls there. Public calls, pulled out, naturally, from the artistic context. They could easily become an object of juridical defamation on the part of the procuracy. After all, internet sites, newspapers are becoming an object of defamation. Why not plays, then? Or literary works?Either we censor everything, or we’re not censoring anything.I will give another interesting example. Print out what’s on the air on «Echo Moskvy» with the help of COMINT ( that’s a special-services term [short for communications intercept or communications intelligence—Trans.], signifying nevertheless a very innocent endeavour, the transcribing of sound information into printed form) and you will find plenty of seditiousness, which you would never have dared print in a newspaper.But hold on a moment! On «Echo Moskvy» this information reaches an audience of millions!Where’s the difference?Here’s a fundamental question: can the radio station «Echo Moskvy» become a zone of informational political control like an ordinary newspaper, an ordinary internet site, an ordinary pamphlet?I answer: yes, it can.Because in essence, there’s no difference whatsoever between them.I propose a simple way to avoid trouble: don’t censor anything. Or, censor everything. Open criminal cases with respect to everything.Its Highness the internet has put all informational artefacts in one basket.All the eggs are right there, banging against each other – in this basket.The internet – it’s a great invention? It’s created freedom of thought for everybody?But it has also made everything a zone of political control!Here in Russia, they make a concentration camp out of everything.