It’s incredibly dangerous to be a journalist in Russia – hundreds of reporters have been killed in just the last 15 years. Oleg Kashin knows that all too well, he’s a special correspondent for the Russian newspaper Kommersant and in 2010 he was viciously beaten into a coma by attackers outside his home. Kashin explains to Brooke the price of journalism in Russia and why he continues to pay it.
BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media. I’m Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I’m Brooke Gladstone. Speaking of political ads that venture beyond the pale, here’s one backing Vladimir Putin that was airing in the run-up to Russia’s presidential race last week. A woman is sitting in a doctor’s chair speaking to – well, maybe it’s her gynecologist – about how she’s a little bit afraid of her first time. I’ll voice this over her:
[CLIP/W ENGLISH VOICEOVER]:
WOMAN: No Doctor, I’m very scared.
DOCTOR: I understand completely. Everyone is afraid the first time.
WOMAN: No, I’m afraid, although my choice is one of love.
DOCTOR: Then you don’t need to be afraid, because trust is love. So you can trust your choice.
And then the camera closes in, and a picture of Putin on Time Magazine, and later she’s seen happily walking to the polls.
[MUSIC SWELLING/UP AND UNDER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: There have been a few such like ads depicting Putin as a paragon of manly strength and a master deflowerer, I guess. Anyway, as expected, Putin won and won, in fact, despite numerous reports of vote counting irregularities. Oleg Kashin is a long-time reporter and correspondent for Kommersant, a Russian newspaper. Oleg, welcome to the show.
OLEG KASHIN: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So one reason why I ran that ad is because it struck me as both hilarious and obvious, and also perhaps a little outdated. Are people still regarding Putin as this paragon of manly virtue? I mean, he has been wearing his shirt a lot more lately.
OLEG KASHIN: I am sure that all these ads are addressed to only one man, to Vladimir Putin.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So these ads are really for Putin himself. [LAUGHS]
OLEG KASHIN: For Putin himself, really, to tell him that a lot of people love him, girls love him, because it’s important for him to think that “I am young, I’m strong, I am a man.”
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay. We know that the journalism that matters is on television, and that is pretty much controlled by the Russian government. There have been some organizations that have been allowed to criticize, but they don’t have enormous audiences. And there is also a shocking number of attacks against journalists.
OLEG KASHIN: Like me.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Like you, which is exactly why we have you here today, and it’s –
OLEG KASHIN: Mm-hmm.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: - it’s such an honor to meet you. Usually it’s investigative journalists who are grievously injured or murdered. You weren’t an investigative journalist. Can you describe what kind of journalism you do?
OLEG KASHIN: Some kind of journalism of opinion and literature. Russian word is ocherk. I don’t know in English, maybe feature.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: A feature writer.
OLEG KASHIN: Yeah, feature journalism.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And you wrote in The New York Times that you never claimed to be a paragon of human rights, like Anna Politkovskaya, or an investigative reporter like Paul Klebnikov, both dead, both killed.
OLEG KASHIN: Well, they were both killed, yeah.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Which is why the attack on you was so – bizarre.
OLEG KASHIN: Because I didn’t tell secrets of authority, but I named the things their own names, you know?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You called a spade, a spade.
OLEG KASHIN: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And that was all it took.
OLEG KASHIN: Yes. I think I was attacked because during Putin’s ten years free speech in Russia decreased. Ten years ago it was normal to crit – for critic –
BROOKE GLADSTONE: To criticize Putin and –
OLEG KASHIN: Yes, to criticize Putin and his – his team. But now, it’s impossible; it’s prohibited.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What happened to you in November of 2010?
OLEG KASHIN: On the night of November 2010 I came home and near the wall of my house I was met by two people armed by iron stick and they made about 50 beats – beats for me, and –
BROOKE GLADSTONE: They struck you 50 times.
OLEG KASHIN: Fifty – 50 times, and after, three months I spent in hospitals, three months. I am sure that pro-Kremlin organization was organizers of this crime. I think it was the hooligans supplied by Nashi.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Nashi means “ours.”
OLEG KASHIN: Mm-hmm. [AFFIRMATIVE]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It is basically a kind of activist youth group that was organized under Putin to counter pro-democracy forces that were growing in the streets.
OLEG KASHIN: I wrote about such situation before, during the 2005, when football hooligans, friends of Spartak Moscow, was arranged by Nashir to beat activists of left organization.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Nashir hires these football hooligans, these fans of the Russian team Spartak as mercenaries to – to be –
OLEG KASHIN: Yeah, yeah – yes, yes, yes. My last article about this relation between Nashir and the hooligans was six months before attack.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Did they say anything when they were beating you there?
OLEG KASHIN: No, no. They keep silence. But if was broken my jaws, my finger and my leg – I think the message was don’t write, don’t tell and don’t – walk.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do you think things have improved since your attack in 2010?
OLEG KASHIN: After my attack, I think it was the first time when journalists became unified, because in Russia there is no real journalist tribunal, for example, and other organizations. But using social networks a lot of journalists became – unity front.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The journalists were somewhat scattered and they became a unified front after your attack.
OLEG KASHIN: After.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And yet you wrote, shortly after your attack –
OLEG KASHIN: Mm-hmm –
BROOKE GLADSTONE: -that nevertheless the Russian people themselves don’t seem to care very much.
OLEG KASHIN: Because now the level of violence in Russia is so high, not depends of journalists or non-journalists.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You mean there’s so much random killing going on that –
OLEG KASHIN: Random –
BROOKE GLADSTONE: -the fact that journalists are among the targets hardly matters.
OLEG KASHIN: Yeah, in fact.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So what are the rules of the game now for journalists?
OLEG KASHIN: The first rule of this game is don’t criticize, don’t investigate and keep silence, keep silence, keep silence. I don’t want to keep silence, but I know the only way to be in safety, to keep silence, silence, silence. But – I’m not agree with this.
During the Putin’s ten years a lot of oppositional leaders were removed from public space, and now one of the most popular of slogans of Putin, “If not Putin, but nobody.” And me and some of my colleagues from television, from the magazines, for example, we were organizers of riots in Moscow.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You were among the organizers of the demonstrations –
OLEG KASHIN: In Bolotnaya and Sakharova Prospects. I was a member of organizing committee of these two demonstrations.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You’re becoming a politician.
OLEG KASHIN: I don’t want to become politician –
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But an activist.
OLEG KASHIN: Not activist – I’d like to be a journalist. But if it’s impossible, I can maybe became a writer.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What is a journalist?
OLEG KASHIN: Journalist is a person who tells truth.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So if you become a writer, will you still tell the truth?
OLEG KASHIN: No, it will be fiction. Now it’s so interesting because a lot of journalists became some kind of writers, poets. It’s more easy to make a poem, not newspaper investigation.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Back in the seventies there was the tradition of art in which the message was myez deliniya [?] in between the lines.
OLEG KASHIN: Yes, yes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do you think you’re returning to that?
OLEG KASHIN: Yes, maybe – but I don’t want to write between lines. I’d like to write lines [LAUGHS] and, and do it in Russia and not – not in emigration.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do you see the potential for change?
OLEG KASHIN: Yes, yes, because we saw a lot of people during the demonstration in Moscow who want to change and who can make change. I’m sure that Putin, he will leave Kremlin in one year, two years, not six year. I’m sure.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How can you be sure?
OLEG KASHIN: Uh, intuition.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Oleg, thank you very much.
OLEG KASHIN: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Oleg Kashin is a special correspondent for the Moscow newspaper Kommersant.
[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
He’s in the U.S. for a few weeks on a fellowship with the Paul Klebnikov Fund, which was founded in tribute to Forbes Russia journalist Paul Krebniknov who was assassinated in Moscow in 2004.