Wall Street Journal on the Exile

No more complaining about silence in the Western press, right? From the Wall Street Journal:

Raucous Russian Paper Closes Amid Kremlin Scrutiny Expat’s Exile Falls As Investors Retreat; Ribald Pranksters By ALAN CULLISON June 18, 2008; Page A10 MOSCOW — An English-language newspaper in Moscow famed for lampooning Russian and Western officialdom has shut down after it fell under the scrutiny of the government for its The Exile spoofed the election of Russia’s handpicked president by reporting results in advance. Dmitry Medvedev won 70% of the March 2 vote. The demise of Moscow’s Exile newspaper is the latest sign of the homogenization of the press within Russia, where an official crackdown on dissent has led to the self-censorship of many publications.

The Exile’s editor, California native Mark Ames, said investors withdrew support earlier this month after officials from Russia’s media regulator visited the paper’s office and took away copies of recent issues to analyze whether the paper was violating Russia’s media laws.Though Russia’s federal agency for media and communications has made no official move against the Exile, Mr. Ames said investors feared greater risks ahead for the paper, which had been unprofitable in recent years.”If this had happened 10 years ago, people would not have been afraid to fight it,” said Mr. Ames, who founded the paper in 1997. “Now there’s a fear that all the power is in the hands of a few scary people who might do something very bad to you.”Evgeny Strelnik, an official at the media regulator that investigated the paper, said it was a “routine check.””There were a few violations, and we’ve issued a warning,” he said. He stressed that the government hadn’t shut the paper down, something that would have required a court case.With a circulation of less than 20,000 copies, the free biweekly never posed a serious threat to the Kremlin. For years, the newspaper’s office was located above a Moscow strip club and the paper was staffed by a handful of poorly paid part-time writers.It made a name for itself by celebrating the tumult and chaos of Moscow in an era of post-Soviet penury. Its readers were mainly Western businessmen looking for advice on where to find entertainment. The paper’s club reviews advised which bars were frequented by violent thugs and which were popular with adventurous Russian women.But the paper also sparked lively political debate among Russia experts in the West. An early contributor was Eduard Limonov, a radical counter-culture writer whose banned National Bolshevik Party has coalesced into a small but determined Kremlin opponent. His screeds — complete with spelling and grammatical errors — appeared twice a month.The Exile assailed Western academics and journalists, whom it accused in the 1990s of understating the misery caused by the free-market reforms of President Boris Yeltsin. The paper’s ribald and sometimes vicious pranks earned it enemies. Mr. Ames and another editor threw a pie made with horse semen into the face of one foreign correspondent for writing what they called a too-rosy account of Russia’s transition to capitalism. The paper’s articles were soon excluded from a popular Internet-based reading list used by foreign journalists.Michael McFaul, professor of political science and director of the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford University, and a frequent target of attacks from the Exile, said he was “sorry to see the paper go” though he didn’t always agree with its politics. The Exile frequently assailed Mr. McFaul for his 1970s-style haircut.Mr. Ames said the paper had run into difficulty publishing some articles lately because Russia has broadened the definition of extremist literature, making it a crime to insult a public official. Earlier this year, the paper tried to publish photos of a protest in which Moscow university students had sex in a public museum near an exhibit of a stuffed bear. The publishing house, however, refused. The protest was directed at Russia’s new president, Dmitry Medvedev, whose last name in Russian means “bear,” and was supposed to mock his rhetoric about reversing Russia’s population decline.Mr. Ames said the paper had also failed to get beyond a fringe cult status among the Russian reading public, despite a Russian-language version on the Internet.Kostantin Bukaryov, one of the founding investors of the Exile, said that profit had gradually declined since the late 1990s, largely because the foreign business community had shrunken in importance. “Before, a lot of the club owners in Russia were foreigners, as well as a large number of the patrons,” Mr. Bukaryov said. “Now it’s mostly Russians.” The paper’s financial problems saw Mr. Ames begin working in his spare time for Russian television, and a series of his travel programs appeared on the Kremlin’s English-language propaganda channel, Russia Today.Alexei Simonov, head of the Glasnost Defense Fund, a nonprofit think tank that monitors press freedom in Russia, said the government’s checkup on the Exile probably didn’t spell serious problems for the paper. But he noted that newspaper owners in Russia have lately shied away from even minor confrontation with the government. Earlier this year, a Moscow tabloid closed down after then-President Vladimir Putin denied a report in it that said he would soon divorce his wife and marry an Olympic gymnast, Alina Kabayeva.The owner of the newspaper, called Moskovskiy Korrespondent, denied the government pressured him into closing the paper, saying that he had decided to cut his investment because of “differences with the editorial staff over its concept.”