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Grigory Pasko: Journalists in Samara

Travel Notes: Journalists in Samara By Grigory Pasko, journalist There’s a magazine in Samara Oblast called «Soyuz». The editor-in-chief of this magazine is Alexander Komrakov. Before I left for Samara to cover the EU-Russia summit for this blog, I made arrangements to meet with Alexander and interview him while there. After five minutes of conversation, I realized that Alexander was no ordinary journalist, but an editor-in-chief, and not just plain Alexander [as a colleague might call another colleague—Trans.], but Alexander Vasilievich [a respectful form of address, suggesting social distance—Trans.] Alexander Vasilievich explained to me why he publishes an “apolitical” magazine and does not share the views, for example, of the participants and organizers of the march of those who disagree. But the editor-in-chief did add that the methods used by those who fight with those who disagree don’t make any sense to him, either. As I got to know the journalist better, it became clear that he is, in fact, actually quite political after all. The publication’s heroes include former KGB employees, businessmen loyal to today’s authorities, regional leaders of the «United Russia» party… One of Komrakov’s lead articles says it all – “We want to be liked”. In it, he writes, in part: “There is nothing bad in the fact that each of us wants to look better than we really are… We evaluate people by the extent to which they correspond to their declared promises.”

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Photo of Alexander Komrakov by Grigory Pasko

On the outside, the magazine «Soyuz» looks quite good indeed. But I’m prepared to argue with some of its internal content. For example, in one of the articles, the author writes about the “deplorable state of the roads in Samara”. A good topic, very newsworthy. “The problem will not suffer delay”, exclaims the author. But he doesn’t write a single word about how it is the local authorities who are to blame for this “deplorable state”. Instead of criticism, he offers the hope that employees of the GIBDD [State Road Traffic Safety Inspectorate] ought to “clean house more vigorously”. Such is the lamentation on the strong arm of the GIBDD. In a word, the promises of the magazine did not correspond to my expectations as a reader. Although the editor’s position on non-interference in the political life of Samara is completely understandable. All the more so in a period when the publisher could shut the magazine down at any moment, and the editor would have to go looking for work for himself and two dozen of his employees. And now, another kind of journalist. Young, intellectually curious, knows exactly where his sympathies lie (or so it seemed to me), including his political sympathies. Pavel Sedakov works in the Samara office of the newspaper «Kommersant». That was he and his colleagues from REN-TV whom I mentioned in an article a few days ago, who were detained on the eve of the Samara EU-Russia summit and on the eve of the conducting of the march of those who disagree in Samara by employees of the regional UBOP [Administration for Fighting Organized Crime] just because they were trying to interview an organizer of the march, the National Bolshevik Mikhail Gangan. Pavel told me how the detaining took place, and expressed the opinion that the power is afraid of those who disagree, and that is why it deals so ruthlessly with them and with everyone who sympathizes with them or supports them.

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Photo of Pavel Sedakov by Grigory Pasko

There is in Samara yet another office of yet another well-known Russian newspaper – «Novaya gazeta» [one of the last remaining free journalistic voices in the country; the murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya worked there—Ed.]. It goes without saying this office was paid a visit by people in uniform and in civilian attire. In the office of «Novaya gazeta» and the information agency «Volga-inform», employees of the Oblast GUVD [Main Administration of Internal Affairs] confiscated the system blocks of computers and financial documentation for three years. The editor of the Samaran «Novaya», Sergey Kurt-Adzhiyev, was detained subsequent to his daughter Anastasia – one of the organizers of the march of those who disagree in Samara. It is noteworthy that all of this occurred AFTER the local power had given official permission for the march to take place. Anastasia herself told the following: “They detained us and Yuri Chervinchuk (an activist of the Samaran “Limonovites”—author’s note) [National Bolsheviks—Trans.] when we were simply walking down the street. Two beefy goons said that we have grenades in our bags and that they need to establish our identities. My dad, who drove up to rescue us, was also detained. We sat three hours at the ROVD [District Branch of Internal Affairs (the local police station)—Trans.]. They confiscated all our leaflets, although after submission of an application on the conducting of an action, according to the law «On rallies, demonstrations and processions» we have the right to conduct agitation. After five hours passed, they let us go.”

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Photo of Anastasia Kyrt-Adzhiyeva courtesy of the «Yezhednevny zhurnal» website

What do all the marches of those who disagree that have already taken place in Russia have in common, besides repressions in relation to their organizers? Repressions in relation to journalists attempting to cover the event – that is, to do their job in accordance with the law. At times the journalists got treated even more harshly than the participants – it is enough to recall how a Japanese journalist got his skull fractured and German journalists were severely beaten in St. Petersburg. So we end up with the following picture: if a journalist is doing his job honestly, then he may be arrested like Sedakov and the Kurt-Adzhiyevs, beaten like Boris Reitschuster – a journalist from the German magazine Focus – and many others have been on numerous occasions, or simply not allowed to get to the place where the event is occurring… But if he writes articles about how he wants everybody to like him, then perhaps they won’t even notice him.