One of the problems that journalists -- both foreign and Russian -- have while working in Moscow is one of perception. Namely, journalists believe that they are working in an environment in which they can report the news fairly and impartially without being penalized for their work. Sadly, that has not been the case in recent years, and two new incidents underscore that reality.
Journalist Alexander Podrabinek, who writes for Radio France International and for Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, recently published an article about a Moscow kebab restaurant and explained that it had been forced to change its name from “Anti-Soviet” – a joke, of course, in the post-Soviet Russia -- to “Soviet” because of pressure from a local government official who felt like the name of the restaurant was an insult to Russian history. Podrabinek disagreed with the decision to change the name of the restaurant, and members of a right-wing, nationalistic group known as Nashi found fault with his article, according to The Moscow Times. Nashi members have been gathering daily in front of his apartment to threaten and harass him, forcing him into hiding. Podrabinek wrote on his blog that has received “information from credible sources that a decision has been made at quite a high level to dispose of me in any possible way.”
Meanwhile, several foreign journalists have been told by their landlords -- in this case, the Foreign Ministry’s property department -- that their rents will be hiked by as much as 100 percent. This is not the first time that their rents have gone up: “A German correspondent said he was gently asked to write more favorably about Russia during rent negotiations in 2006 and 2007,” according to today’s Moscow Times. “After this, his rent was effectively increased by 100 percent over the course of more than 12 months, the correspondent said Monday.”
Writing freely about events in Russia, whether they concern human rights or the satirical names of restaurants, is not an easy business in this country, and oftentimes penalties are imposed on those who attempt this kind of work. The impressive thing is that journalists such as Podrabinek continue to write and report in an honest manner, at least until they are driven away, or killed.