As Muratov accepts the Nobel Prize, the legacy of his Russian predecessors recedes

MOSCOW – Dmitri A. Muratov, the editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, perhaps Russia’s bravest independent newspaper, will become the thir...


MOSCOW – Dmitri A. Muratov, the editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, perhaps Russia’s bravest independent newspaper, will become the third Russian to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on Friday. He accepts this honor because the legacy of his two award-winning predecessors, Andrei D. Sakharov and Mikhail S. Gorbachev, is more threatened than at any time since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The two previous laureates won the prize before the Soviet collapse: M. Sakharov, the dissident physicist whom the committee called “the spokesperson for the conscience of humanity”, received the award in 1975 for his fight for human rights.

Mr. Gorbachev won in 1990, in the last days of the USSR, as final president. The Nobel committee cited the “greater openness he brought to Soviet society”.

In a move that ties their accomplishments over a span of three decades, Mr Gorbachev donated some of his Nobel money to help establish Novaya Gazeta, which Mr Muratov oversaw for more than 25 years and whose work earned him Nobel prize.

But in contemporary Russia, human rights, openness and freedom of expression have deteriorated for years, according to activists and opposition figures. A more intense crackdown began in January, when protests in support of Russia’s most notorious political prisoner, Alexei A. Navalny, were brutally repressed.

“The situation is extremely difficult,” Muratov said Sunday evening in Moscow at a reception hosted by the Norwegian embassy. “It’s toxic.”

Mr Muratov, 60, shares this year’s award with Maria Ressa, a Filipino journalist who founded Rappler, a website known for investigating President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal five-year war on drugs. His work has also exposed the role played by social media giants in the rise of populist leaders like Mr. Duterte and former President Donald J. Trump.

Ms. Ressa was convicted of cyber defamation in 2020, making it difficult for her to leave the country. She told a press conference on Thursday that she needed four courts to approve her travel to attend the ceremony in Oslo.

The Nobel committee cited the “courageous fight of the couple for freedom of expression”. They were the first journalists to win the Nobel Peace Prize since 1935, when it was awarded to Carl von Ossietzky, a German who was then detained in a concentration camp by the Nazis. Ms. Ressa has noted she believes that The focus of the Nobel Committee on journalists this year indicated that, once again, “we are on the verge of the rise of fascism”.

Mr. Muratov lamented Sunday that “the propaganda has convinced the majority of the Russian people that democracy is harmful and that it leads to collapse.”

He accepted the award as some 100,000 Russian troops gathered on the country’s border with Ukraine, raising concerns about a possible invasion. At a press conference Thursday in Oslo, Muratov warned that authoritarianism is inextricably linked with war.

“Disbelief in democracy means that the countries that have abandoned it will have a dictator,” he said. “And where there is a dictatorship, there is a war. If we refuse democracy, we accept war.

It was a message similar to that contained in Mr. Sakharov’s Nobel speech in 1975. It was delivered by his wife, activist Yelena Bonner, as he was prohibited from leaving the Soviet Union to deliver it in person. .

Mr. Sakharov is considered the father of the Soviet hydrogen bomb. Realizing the destructive power of nuclear weapons and Concerned about the ethical implications of his work, he later became an advocate for nuclear disarmament and human rights.

In 1970, after being banned from nuclear research for his calls to de-escalate the arms race with the United States, he co-founded the Human Rights Committee in the Soviet Union. He came under scrutiny by the Soviet intelligence services, the KGB, and sent into internal exile in 1980 after condemning the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

He returned to Moscow after receiving a welcome phone call from Mr. Gorbachev in December 1986. Mr. Gorbachev had entered a period of glasnost, or the opening, and perestroika, a reconstruction of the political and economic system of the Soviet Union.

The reforms gave the Russians their first opportunity in history to have free elections, freedom of expression and independent news media. Mr. Gorbachev has also engaged with the West, signing important arms treaties with Presidents Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush.

At that time, in the heady era of new beginnings and turbulent experiments in democracy, Mr Sakharov became involved with a group of activists who were collecting testimonies about the Stalinist era. system of labor camps known as the Gulag, the brutalities of which had been hidden until the end of the Soviet period.

The group was called Memorial, and at Mr Sakharov’s funeral on December 18, 1989, Mr Gorbachev agreed to allow the organization to register as a legal entity, according to one of his founders, Lev Ponomarev.

Today, Memorial is called a “foreign agent”, a pejorative distinction granted by the Department of Justice. More worrying, he closing faces, accused by prosecutors of “justifying terrorist activities” because of his support for political prisoners.

Legal proceedings against the organization will continue next week.

The Sakharov Center, a non-governmental organization created in 1990 to preserve the dissident’s memory, has been listed as a “foreign agent” since December 2014, making it virtually impossible for it to partner with schools on education programs.

The center celebrated the centenary of Sakharov, born in 1921. Regional museums and libraries have approached the foundation in hopes of organizing exhibitions on Sakharov, said Sergei Lukachevsky, director of the organization.

“When they found out that we were an organization of foreign agents, they withdrew,” he said.

The label of foreign agent “suggests that Sakharov’s ideas are not those of our famous compatriot but those of an” agent “who acted in the interest of foreign states and possibly against the interests of Russia, “said the dissident’s granddaughter, Marina Sakharova-Liberman. a meeting. “This innuendo is absurd.”

Mr Ponomarev said that in many ways the current political climate in Russia is similar to the period in which Mr Sakharov was being persecuted, although in some ways, he said, c was worse; he cited the murder and poisoning of opposition politicians and the targeting of journalists.

Aleksandr Baunov, editor-in-chief of the Carnegie Moscow Center website, said the Kremlin’s crackdown this year shows it is afraid of an individual’s power or freedom of expression, as was the case during the Soviet period.

“There was a huge Soviet Union, it was strong – with weapons and factories,” he said. “And there were dissidents – small, but honest, and with foreign support. And they won. Yes, the state is strong and Memorial is weak. But the Soviet Union also seemed strong, and the scholar Sakharov was weak. And who won in the end? Sakharov.

Novaya Gazeta is one of the few independent media outlets that has yet to be named a ‘foreign agent’, and to date Mr Muratov appears to have found a way to be a vocal critic of the government without pushing the boundaries too far. . Yet nothing is guaranteed in Mr Putin’s Russia. The president said shortly after the announcement of the prize that the Nobel Prize would not be a “shield” protecting Mr Muratov.

A few weeks later, the newspaper, and Mr. Muratov personally, were fined a total of 132,000 rubles ($ 1,800) for failing to mention that two groups they wrote about, affiliated with Mr. Navalny, had been listed as “foreign agents”.

The crackdown, said Ponomarev, who knows the three Russian Peace Prize winners personally, was motivated by the same “repressive inertia” that was present in Soviet times.

“They are accelerating their fall and they cannot stop it,” he said.

Alina Lobzina contributed reporting.

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Newsrust - US Top News: As Muratov accepts the Nobel Prize, the legacy of his Russian predecessors recedes
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