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Grigory Pasko: The Press Fest in Dagomys

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Press festival in Dagomys

Grigory Pasko, journalist

Approximately a thousand journalists from all corners of Russia gathered recently in Dagomys – a little resort town not far from Sochi – in order to take part in the 14th festival «All Russia-2009». This festival is an annual event. And that journalists truly did come from all Russia – of this I became convinced on the very first day: at breakfast the table neighbours spoke a language incomprehensible to me. Turns out, this was colleagues from Buryatia. There were only a few of them, but they were in t-shirts on which was written «Journalists from Buryatia».


On 25 September took place the opening of the festival. Chairman ofthe Union of journalists of Russia Vsevolod Bogdanov, who appeared atthe very beginning, greeted all the participants and passed the word tothe hotel director, a certain Sviridov. Sviridov was brief and tried toignore Bogdanov’s phrase about how it was high time to do an overhaulat the hotel. (The hotel is in actuality – a monument of the Sovietepoch of stagnation: miserably furnished, but very expensive, with abad kitchen, but very expensive buffets).

Then Bogdanov granted the word to the newly-elected mayor of theOlympic – that is how they now call it in mandatory order – Sochi –Anatoly Pakhomov. It would have been better had he not done thiswithout establishment of a time limit. Pakhomov got carried away, likea hungry Ostap Bender. It felt like this was a mixture of all hisspeeches: pre-election, celebratory, on the event of meeting the bossesfrom Moscow and of appearance at the opening of the latest Olympicconstruction. He spoke about how the city of Sochi will be the bestcity in the world (comrade Bender’s New Vasyuki came to mind); that thepress must help the powers; that tomorrow they would take everybody ona trip to show the Olympic facilities…

In the morning I asked the organizers where was the promised trip tothe Olympic facilities? They answered me: those who desired had turnedin passports in advance and the data of these passports had been sentsomeplace to Moscow ( to the FSB?), so that they would give thempermission to visit the facilities, because they – are security sites.Security – means secret. Personally, nobody ever doubted that sooner orlater the Russian Sochian Olympiad will become secret – if chekists arein power, then everything sooner or later becomes secret.
The Olympic facilities we , naturally, did see, but from afar and in the composition of a group of journalists-ecologists.

At the opening of the festival, Vsevolod Bogdanov gave mayor of SochiPakhomov a gift of a bible, having recalled for some reason Putin in sodoing. (For it is written in Holy Scripture: thou shalt not take theLord’s name in vain… And Putin , it seems, for many officials hasbecome something of a Lord: especially this is seen on Russiantelevision. In the days of the work of the festival even despite thefact that president Medvedev was at a summit in Pittsburgh, they wereprobably showing Putin on Russian TV more frequently than Medvedev.

It is noteworthy that at the seminars and roundtables of thefestival they talked least of all about telejournalism. Probably thisis not accidental: how can you talk about something that doesn’t exist?There’s telepropaganda and telezombification, but certainly nottelejournalism.

I spent some time at one of the master-classes. It was beingconducted by Boris Yeltsin’s former press-secretary Pavel Voshchanov.At one time, Pavel Igorevich had worked in «Komsomolskaya pravda», backwhen this newspaper was a newspaper, and not a «yellow sheet». Pavelspoke zestfully, intelligently, interestingly and critically. «Thepress – is the medic of the forest, – said he. – But when there is nomedic, then goodness knows what goes on in the forest. The hare is thechief in the forest…»

Voshchanov spoke out very critically too about the journalisticcommunity: «Come on, we haven’t got any community: the only ones youcan count are yourself and your friends».

In the very first days of the work of the festival were formalizedthe booths of regions, in which were presented samples of printpublications. I read some newspapers. I will not retell the content ofthe publications – they are all alike, like twin brothers. I willmerely give typical headlines as an example: « Soon the new harvest,while the old one is still not sold»; «Sheep-husbandry private viewing»; «On the development of the grain market»; «There will be bread andabundance in families» (I specially read this article, but never didunderstand just why there isn’t bread and abundance TODAY, and will beonly some time later, in the future)…

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Then we went on a drive around the Olympic facilities. Appearing inthe capacity of a guide was the young journalist-ecologist DmitryShevchenko from an ecological organization under the name «Ecologicalwatch for the North Caucasus». Dmitry recounted about violations ofecological legislation during the construction of the facilities forthe future Olympiad in Sochi and showed how they are being built: theroad and railway branch along the channel of the river Mzymta intoKrasnaya Polyana from Adler; the freight terminal of the port; the icepalace in the Imereti lowland; the demonstrational cottage village inthe settlement of Nekrasovka for those who are going to be driven fromtraditional and habitated places ; the city garbage dump in the regionof the river Khirota… Particularly impressing me was the constructionof the road. It is interesting to whom precisely the thought came intothe head to build a road along a river channel? After all, it iscomprehensible even to a non-specialist that the width of the channelis going to be reduced by half – instead of 140 meters will remain 60;that in consequence of this will change not only the actual channel ofthe river, but also the water-temperature balance in the whole area.Construction will require the laying of several tunnels. And this meansthat air masses will be received unchecked from the warm south to thefoothills of the Caucasus – there, where the downhill skiing pistes arebeing build now. This means that the temperature there will risesharply, and the pistes will become snowless. Besides all else, thebridges and roads are going to sharply change the natural landscape ofthe region.

We also spent some time in the region of the Imereti bay -there,where I had met the year before last with local inhabitants protestingagainst their forced eviction. Of course, the result of their strugglewas preordained in advance. The inhabitants are living in their housesfor now and are even struggling with arbitrariness. We called on67-year-old inhabitant Anna Matveyevna. She does not want to leave fromher land from her unprepossessing little house. She has a nicevegetable garden, an orchard. And beyond her garden is already beingbuilt full-force a cottage settlement for those to whom it has beenproposed to get off their lots. We walked over and took a look at thesebeautiful little houses, in which nobody lives for now. (True, thenewspaper «Sochi olympiysky» in the issue for 18-25 September of theyear 2009 had already given notice to readers that inhabitant of theImereti lowland Alexey Kubansky has already become newly moved in toone of the cottages. It turned out that this is a canard: there is nota single inhabitant in a single cottage even mentioned, as the builderstold us: all of the utilities lines have not yet been led up to thehouses. Besides that, they recounted to us that these little houses,even though they are beautiful on the outside, are badly made inside:thin walls, hastily slapped together construction materials… Besidesthat, the future owners are still going to have to pay solid sumsadditionally for these little houses.

Activist of the confrontation of local inhabitants with the powerAlik Le said that they tried to find a common language with the power:it didn’t work out. The power is blind and deaf to the entreaties andclaims of the people. What stuck in my memory was that Le is notagainst the Olympiad itself: he is against the insolence of the power,which does not reckon with the opinions and entreaties of the people.

We also took a look at the biggest garbage dump in Sochi – afacility that’s obviously not Olympic and obviously neglected. The dumpis huge and it just keeps growing. The garbage rots, and thewastewaters from this heap flow towards the river Khirota. The riverfalls into the Black sea in the region of beaches. It looks like themoney for moving or improving the layout of this dump has not yet beenfound in the Olympic budget.

…The festival concluded on the 29th of September. I, in principle,liked it: journalists got a chance to see each other, to exchangeopinions, learn a thing or two from one another, discuss burningquestions… What I didn’t like was that they practically didn’t speak atall about blogs and bloggers, that the ecological journalism sectionwas numerically small… I hope the organizers of future festivals willtake this into account.