Journalism in our country remains one of the most dangerous of professions. In Russia, more than 200 journalists have been killed during the last 15 years. Everyone, regardless of their ideological leaning, was shaken by the recent murder of Anna Politkovskaya. The practice of contract killings to silence objectionable voices has made more and more members of the media fear to write the truth.
At Moscow's Novopushinsky Square, from 2-3 pm on December 17th, 2006, there will be a memorial rally in honor of these journalists. The organizers are a group of reporters from several different publications, and they emphasize that their protest is not political, but civil. They summon journalists to Novopushinsky independent of their political leanings, because, as they put it, "...today they are killing reporters in Russia because someone objects to what they report. Tomorrow they will be killed simply for belonging to the profession."
It is worth noting that the rally was originally thought up as a march along the avenue from the House of Journalists to Pushinskaya Square, and to end with a minute of silence at Novopushinsky. The Moscow city government, however, refused to grant permission for the march, referring the organizers to page 3, article 17, of the Constitution that "the pursuit of human rights and freedoms shall not disrupt the rights and freedoms of other citizens". This strange justification was sent to the rally organizers by the directorate of security for the Moscow city government, and signed by its chief, N.V. Kulikov.
This situation, as well as many others, was described to our online reporter Vera Vasileva by members of the rally's organizing committee - Novaya Gazeta journalist Viktoriya Ivleva, and by Yelena Grishina, director of the Center for Public Information community organization.
Vera Vasileva: Tell me, please, where did the idea for this rally come from?.
Viktoriya Ivleva: It came to us spontaneously, during a conversation.
It happened after we published an issue of Community Gazette dedicated to Anna Stepanovna Politkovskaya. The idea for a march came from my children, who were terribly frightened after Anna Stepanovna was murdered. They were so frightened that they were physically shaking. They began hugging me and saying: "It's good that you don't write about Chechnya, it means that maybe they won't kill you." My children's fear touched me deeply.
That same day I was talking about this with Nadezhda Azhgihina (secretary of the Russian Journalists Union, and co-organizer of the rally) - V. V.), and we decided that it would be worthwhile honoring the memory of those who died because the word was their only weapon.
Killing for a word is an ancient Russian tradition. On the one hand, it speaks volumes about the power of the word, while on the other hand, everyone know that it shouldn't be like this.
Vera Vasileva: And this peaceful rally was forbidden by the Moscow authorities? Why?
Yelena Grishina: As you know, at first we'd planned a protest march. We wanted to walk silently with pictures of murdered journalists from Nikitsky Boulevard along Tverskoy to Pushkinskaya, and once there light candles and hold a moment of silence while remembering our fallen colleagues. We wanted to walk with non-political banners, because our rally was thought up to be non-political, and even though we were inviting representatives from various political organization to march alongside the reporters, none of them were to carry political signs and such.
We chose Sunday, December 17th, because on the 15th the House of Journalists was holding a memorial for journalists who perished on the job. On that day relatives, friends, and acquaintances of the dead journalists were gathering.
But the Moscow government would not allow us to hold a march. Unfortunately, they decided that we would bother Muscovites on their day off, who wished to stroll along the boulevards on Sunday. Even though our rally was to be at 1 pm, i.e.: lunchtime, when people generally aren't out and about.
Vera Vasileva: And how would you characterize such an answer from the city authorities?
Yelena Grishina: Moscow's refusal is kind of humorous, like a story out of the old Soviet parody journal "Krokodil", from their "You Can't Make This Up" section. City hall asserts that we will disrupt the rights of the citizenry, but we also have a constitutional right to free assembly, procession, and meeting. Aren't these disrupted by such a refusal?
They forced us to settle for holding a meeting, but at the rally, which they have allowed, you won't be able to listen to any speeches, we haven't planned any. We don't even have any sound equipment right now, we haven't rented a sound truck or anything. Firstly, it's because we don't have the money, and secondly, there just won't be a need for speeches, in our view. But for now we'll think about it. Perhaps we'll find some kind of a amplifier.
Viktoriya Ivleva: It turns out that the Constitution is a remarkable thing; it can be used however one wishes, because one can always find someone who will be bothered by something, and, accordingly, you can forbid anything, or, conversely, you can permit it. You can permit a hooligan to behave like a hooligan, but what if he interferes with the actions of people who try to stop him? This can go on to absurdity.
I'd like to believe that City Hall's refusal is because all the police will be busy with the "holiday" that the "Nashi" party is planning. I asked the officials why the "Nashi" party is allowed to have a march, but the journalists are not, They replied that "Nashi" isn't having a march, but a holiday procession. Perhaps all the police will be busy at this "holiday", which, of course, will certainly not bother anyone. But it's a bit hard to believe any of this, because, putting it mildly, it looks ugly.
Vera Vasileva: Do the organizers of your march plan to appeal City Hall's decision in court, or hold a march in spite of the prohibition?
Viktoriya Ivleva: No, we won't appeal the decision, and we won't try to argue with them. We'll circulate the information as much as we can in the media. I think that after reading about Moscow's decision, any sober-minded person can figure it all out. And to spend time running around the courts, I think, is useless. Because, judging from everything, the authorities will do whatever they like regardless, and the courts won't do anything except waste time, even if we do win.
But laughing at all this stupidity, well, they haven't forbidden that yet. Maybe they'll see that quoting the Constitution in this letter doesn't make them look very good. And they won't do it again.
Vera Vasileva: Do I understand correctly, that journalists who represent various media outlets will participate in the rally? Not just democratic and liberal outlets, but all who share your grief and wish to honor the memory of your murdered colleagues?
Yelena Grishina: Yes. On our website we've put up a memorial to all the journalists who died on the job. None of us care what faction in the parliament one or another journalist belonged to, or what their political ambitions were. These journalists died for their work, for wishing to objectively report information, or simply to report information.
These days it frequently turns out that they kill a journalist for what they wanted to say. Why did they kill Anna Politkovskaya? Because she spoke, and could involve a mass of people. Practically all the journalists who have been killed died because they worked as journalists. You can count on your fingers those cases when these people died in car crashes or other accidents.
For example, Galina Kovalskaya, she died in a fire, but she also carried out her professional, journalistic duties. She went there to report on a fire and her helicopter caught fire and crashed. Galina wasn't there on a lark, however, she was there in order to observe and write about it, to objectively tell us, the listeners, readers, and viewers, all that went on there.
Vera Vasileva: What do you think, is it possible to change the situation? Journalists, and other citizens, can we prevent these murders, these deaths, which lately, unfortunately, have become so frequent?
Yelena Grishina: We can't prevent murders and deaths; we haven't the power. In my view, our coming together, our understanding of each other, or mutual aid, these can, at least, show the power, which is doing the killing, we can show it that we are also strong.
Vera Vasileva: And in spite all of these tragic events, you don't intend to keep silent, you aren't going to hide?
Viktoriya Ivleva: Why hide? I'd like to tell my dead colleagues: "Forgive us, we remember you". But should I hide in order to remember them, those who died, by the way, for our country? From whom and why should I hide? Am I really doing something illegal, in remembering people who were shot in Chechnya, or remembering a woman who was murdered in an elevator?
Vera Vasileva: Yes, life these days has become abnormal, and quite the paradox...
Viktoriya Ivleva: I think that the largest paradox is included in City Hall's answer. Certainly, we're all used to bureaucratic pseudo-answers, and frequently it happens that they mix apples and oranges, but to misuse a fundamental constitutional right so sarcastically, the law that is the life of the nation, now it turns out that the protest marches of extremists bother no one, and are allowed by the Constitution, since they are permitted, and vehicles with sirens also bother no one, but on the contrary, they help... Perhaps the Constitution has some kind of a selective character? It applies to some people a certain way, but differently to others... We know what's a law, and what's a shaft, but since the Constitution is the fundamental law, doesn't this mean that it's the main shaft, the axle on which the whole nation rides? How has it come to this?
In short, this question is absolutely rhetorical; it hangs in the air, because those who should answer it, don't. To all the rest of us, though, it's all very clear.