The Violence it takes to Silence

K. Anthony Appiah of Princeton University and PEN American has an op/ed on the Politkovskaya anniversary published in the Washington Post today:

Russia no longer needs gulags to silence the opposition. The punishment for drawing attention to the sins of the mighty used to be a show trial and exile, possibly to a labor camp. Now journalists receive an anonymous but credible threat of violence to themselves or their families, a beating on their doorstep or, in some cases, execution in broad daylight.

Journalists are not the only victims of this policy of terror.Russia claims to be a member of the global community of democraticnations. But democracy is not functioning when citizens are deniedbasic information with which to judge the actions of their leaders. Weare often told, for example, that the Russian government’s policies inChechnya are “popular” at home. But can we hold Russian citizensresponsible for what their country does if they do not know what it isreally doing? Democratic choices made in ignorance are not free butfixed. The freedom of journalists to report about life in theirsocieties is critical, because without it, citizens lose their freedom,too.

Americans were right to hope that the end of the Soviet system wouldbring rewards for us as well as for the people of Russia. But democracyonly starts at the ballot box. Independent speech is crucial. We mustdo all we can to support journalists in this important work, includingpressuring the Russian government to protect reporters and theirfreedom to speak. The murder of journalists affects more than justjournalists; and the undermining of Russian democracy is a problem formore than just Russia.