It is easy, when first hand experience is limited, to make a one or two sentence judgment, either pro or con. I worked around the Yeltsin folks, did the same with Putin's and have enjoyed and will miss the Medvedev years. If I can keep my flap shut at the appropriate times I'll do the cycle again. I plan on taking part in the 75th anniversary Victory Day celebration in Moscow (9 years) and hope that becomes remains a reality.
The only times when I either felt danger or when danger was implied, was in an administration not associated with either Yeltsin or Medvedev. However in full disclosure, apparently I was either very brave or naive during the Yeltsin years because when looking at the numbers I should have been shaking in my boots.
With journalists dying like flies during the years of Leonid Kuchma (and his PM the current Prez) in Ukraine, one becomes appreciative of the fact that you won't be struck with the same unexpected and sudden nudge that sends associates tumbling in front of a fast moving train. Those same fears, whether or not justified, accompanied many journalists the first Putin period starting in his 2nd year of office.
Most of my numbers come from a combination of personally collected obits and from the Centre for the Protection of Journalists. During the Yeltsin years of 1991 to 1999, the number of journalists (both local and Western) murdered was 67. The number killed in mysterious but undetermined circumstances was far greater, 93. In fairness, some of those were killed by crossfire while covering news during the violent post Soviet times and in Chechnya.
In the Putin years there was a spike at first before leveling off. The number of journalists murdered under Putin was 87 and the number of undetermined but mysterious deaths of journalists stood at 96 at the end of 2007. An additional 25 simply "went missing" during the Putin years.
In the Medvedev years those numbers dropped sharply, averaging just 6 per year murdered according to CPJ estimates. Medvedev was also the first leader to actively press for full investigation and prosecution of those killings. In prior administrations the killing of journalists was almost like some sort of sport.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) estimates that over 300 journalists have died of unnatural causes in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union, and most of those prior to 2008 (pre-Medvedev years). 246 came before the death of Anna Politkovskaya; she was number 247 in 2006. Her trial didn't even begin until late 2009, almost 2 years after Putin had left office and only because of intense international pressure.
The highest single year rate of journalist murders under Yeltsin was in 1995 with 38 killed and 0 trials.
The highest single rate under Putin was 2002 with 43 killed and 3 trials.
Some of the numbers are incomplete but under Medvedev almost half of journalist murders have gone to trial the same year (or within a 12 month period).
In fairness, Reporters Without Borders (based in Paris) report about 1/2 that many deaths in a 10 year period but they lack statistics on Russian journalists and often report only on foreign press murders. Even so, either 300+ or 150+ are big numbers for a modern and civilized country. In-country organizations go with the higher numbers and some keep rosters to verify their findings.
Interesting reading: http://www.ifex.org/russia/2009/06/23/ifj_partial_justice_report.pdf
I feel okay writing about this in September 2011. My attitude may be adjusted as we draw closer to 7 May 2012.
In the past few years I've longed to write and broadcast more on the culture and people of Russia and less of politics. Reality however has somehow intruded and politics seems to take centre stage as that is what news outlets demand.
I began work this year on a book about the towers along the Kremlin wall. There are 20 of them; 18 have names and 2 are called the "first unnamed tower" and the "second unnamed tower." The Kremlin towers are old and beautiful! The youngest two are the Tsarskaya Tower (built in 1680) and the Petrovskaya Tower (built in 1612). Most of the others were built in the 1400s. The most recognizable tower is the Spasskaya (Saviour Tower), named for an icon inside the tower and the Spasskaya is the tower you see in photos and on TV on New Year's Eve with the famous clocks. It is close to Saint Basil's Cathedral (which isn't the correct name of the Cathedral, btw).
This summer I began a new series of photographs and was dismayed to see the decay and falling brick. I plan to take a second/winter set of photographs this January of each tower. This August I was accompanied by a young lady from the Kremlin Regiment (palace guards) while taking photos and she was amazed at not only what I could explain to her about each tower, but like myself was dismayed to see the decay.
5 towers have those famous red stars. Those weren't there until after the Communist revolution and were erected to replace the two-sided eagle emblems representing the Tsars. A portion of the project will be to document that part of the story as well.
The original Kremlin wall was white stone and part of it is still there--the red brick wall was built on top of the original foundation. Glorious! In case you didn't know, "Red Square" is dark grey and has never been red. The words for "red" and "beautiful" come from the same root so Red Square is Красная площадь
, and historically understood as "Beautiful Plaza." A native Muscovite would quickly point that out if you didn't already know. In prior generations Red Square wasn't an open area; it was dirt and filled with beautiful old churches that the Soviets destroyed to make room for military parades on what is now Red Square. Which isn't really "square" either but that doesn't matter to Russians as they call it a "plaza."
Hopefully in 18 to 24 months you can obtain the book!
We should always remember fallen heros, including those journalists who have paid a price for speaking the truth. I plan to dedicate this book to the memories of these fallen heros and list their names on the inside covers much like the names of the fallen war heros from 1812 are memorialized on the walls of Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.
They represent that white stone foundation on which the future bricks of Russian democracy will be laid.
They are truly the "21st" tower.