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Blogosphere as Refuge for Debate in Russia

The International Herald Tribune is running an excellent article by Evgeny Morosov about the Kremlin encroachment on freedom of expression in the blogosphere. Some choice excerpts:

Plenty of speculation about the Kremlin’s vicious plan to control and censor the blogosphere flooded the Internet. In a country that still mourns over the recent murder of Anna Politkovskaya, one of its most critical voices, many think that a crackdown on bloggers is long overdue. What’s so pernicious about the deal is that it replicates the very Kremlin model that poisoned the rest of the Russian media. All ingredients are in order. The oligarch (Aleksandr Mamut, one of the few oligarchs who made a smooth transition between the regimes, owns Sup); the upcoming 2007 and 2008 elections; the independent media asset with tremendous popularity; and the controversial figure in charge (Sup’s chief blogging officer is Anton Nossik, the father of the Russian Internet and, among other things, a former associate of Gleb Pavlovsky, the Kremlin’s spindoctor). Sup already announced the creation of an “abuse team.” Typically, abuse teams monitor, warn and suspend blogs that post inappropriate content; prior to the deal, this function was performed by LiveJournal’s American abuse team. Given Sup’s roots and potential ideology, one can hardly expect that the scope of discussions allowed on the Russian Internet will increase. … But thousands of more mainstream bloggers, who have filled in the void left by the disappearance of independent media, will become divided, some of them falling for the Sup offer, some of them migrating to other services, and some of them stopping to blog altogether (a trend that has started after Sup’s announcement). Thus, with the direct or indirect assistance from Sup, the Kremlin will manage to burden and, perhaps, even reverse the process that has made opinion-sharing in Russia so easy.