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‘I want journalists to die old’

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The second of two speeches by journalists awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2021. This address was given at the awards ceremony in Oslo last month by Dmitry Muratov, editor of the independent Russian newspaper Noyava Gazeta. (See Also: Maria Ressa’s speech – What are YOU willing to sacrifice for the truth?)

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Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Honourable Members of the Nobel Committee, Honourable Guests.

On the morning of October 8, I received a phone call from my mother. She wondered if anything new had happened.

-Yes, Mom, I say, we got the Nobel Prize…

-That’s nice. Anything else new?

… Now I’ll tell you everything, Mom.

“I am convinced that freedom of conscience, together with the other civic rights, provides the basis of progress. I defend the thesis of the decisive significance of civic and political rights in moulding the destiny of mankind.

“I am convinced that international confidence, disarmament and international security are inconceivable without an open society with freedom of information, freedom of conscience, glasnost.

“Peace, progress, human rights – these three goals are insolubly linked to one another.”

These words are a quote from the Nobel lecture by Academy member Andrei Sakharov, a citizen of the world, a great thinker.

His wife Elena Bonner read it out here, in this city, on Thursday, December 11, 1975.

I thought it was necessary for Sakharov’s words to be repeated here, in this world-famous hall.

Why is it important today for us, for me?

The world is not fond of democracy anymore.

The world is disappointed with the power elite.

The world has begun to turn in the direction of dictatorship.

The illusion is created that progress can be achieved through technology and violence, not through human rights and freedoms.

This is progress without freedom.

Like getting milk without having a cow.

The dictatorships have made it easier to use violence.

In our country (and not just there) it is common to think that politicians who avoid bloodshed are weak.

On the other hand, it is the duty of true patriots to threaten the world with war. The power elite actively promotes the idea of war.

People affected by the aggressive marketing of war become accustomed to thinking that war is something acceptable.

Governments and their propaganda supporters bear full responsibility for the militaristic rhetoric on state television channels.

But I’ve also seen other people in front of other TV screens. With honest and gruesome pictures.

During the Chechen war, five white refrigerator cars were placed on the railway track at a train station. They were guarded 24 hours a day. They were mortuaries on wheels that belonged to the Ministry of Defense’s 124th laboratory.

In the refrigerator cars there were unidentified bodies of soldiers and officers.

Many of the bodies did not have faces as a result of direct hits or torture. The head of the laboratory, captain First rank Shcherbakov, did everything in his power to ensure that there were no nameless soldiers left. In a small house next to the train tracks there was a TV. Mothers and fathers of missing soldiers sat there, as if it were a waiting room. A cameraman sent pictures of the bodies to the screen. One at a time, 458 times. So many soldiers were lying in the berths of these carriages at -15 degrees on their last train journey along the War-Death route with final destination here. Mothers who had been looking for their boys in the mountains and gorges of Chechnya shouted when they saw their son’s face on the screen: “It’s not him! It’s not him, no!”

But it was him.

Today’s ideologues promote the idea of death for the fatherland, not life for the fatherland. Let’s not allow their TV screens to fool us again.

Hybrid warfare and the tragic, ugly and criminal history of the Boeing MH17 have ruined relations between Russia and Ukraine, and I do not know if the next generations will be able to rebuild it … Moreover, the war between Russia and Ukraine no longer seems impossible in the sick minds of geopoliticians.

But I know that wars end with the identification of soldiers and the exchange of prisoners. During the Chechen war, Novaya Gazeta and our observer, Major Izmajlov, managed to free 174 people from captivity. If I, in light of my new status, can do something to bring home prisoners who are still alive, please say so. I’m ready.

I would like to mention another person who received the Nobel Peace Prize here in 1990.

Moscow. Kremlin, April 18, 1988. It is a meeting of the Politburo. One of the Soviet ministers demands that the forces in Afghanistan remain there. Mikhail Gorbachev interrupts him abruptly: “You must stop screaming like a hawk!”

“Stop screaming like a hawk!”

Isn’t it a relevant goal for politics and journalism – to create a world where one avoids receiving death messages from the front?

But the game of the President of Belarus Lukashenko, which is now taking place in Central Europe, has come in addition to the events in Ukraine, and that game is on the verge of bloodshed. His soldiers chase refugees from the Middle East against rows of guards with machine guns protecting the borders of the European Union. Both sides accuse each other, and the despairing people have literally ended up under double fire.

Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo on December 12. Photo: Getty Images

We are journalists, and our mission is clear – to distinguish between facts and untruths. The new generation of professional journalists knows how to work with big data and information databases. By using these, we have found out whose planes are bringing refugees to the conflict area. Just the facts. The number of Belarusian flights from the Middle East to Minsk has more than quadrupled this autumn. There were six flights in the period August-November 2020 and 27 in the same period this year. The Belarusian company took 4,500 people to possible cross the border this year, and only 600 last year. [Six thousand] refugees came with an airline from Iraq.

This is how armed provocations and conflicts arise. We journalists have finished the assignment when we have investigated the conditions. Then the politicians must step in.

Are the people there for the state, or is the state there for the people? That is the main conflict today. Stalin resolved the conflict through repression of the masses.

The practice of torture in prisons and during investigation is also alive and well in modern Russia. Abuse, rape, terrible living conditions, bans on visits, bans on calling a mother on her birthday, endless extensions of custody. Seriously ill people are locked up and beaten before the trial starts, sick children are held hostage, and they are pressured to plead guilty without any evidence being presented.

Criminal cases based on false accusations are often political cases in our country. Opposition politician Alexei Navalny is being held in jail based on a false accusation from the CEO of the Russian branch of a big French cosmetics company. The director is the accuser, but was not summoned to court and does not appear as offended in the case…But Navalny is in prison. The cosmetics company chose not to get too involved in the hope that the smell from this case will not be detrimental to the scent of the company’s products.

We hear more and more often about torture of prisoners and detainees. People are being tortured to be broken down, to make the punishment beside the sentence even more brutal. This is barbarism.

I will initiate the setting up of an international tribunal against torture, which will have the task of gathering information on the use of torture in different parts of the world and different countries, identifying the executioners and the authorities involved in such crimes. Of course, I shall rely first and foremost on investigative journalists around the world.

Torture must be declared the most serious crime against a person.

By the way, Novaya Gazeta is still published on paper. So that people in prison can also read it – they don’t have Internet access there.

Two tendencies are in conflict with each other in Russia today.

On the one hand, Russia’s president supports the creation of the monument to Sakharov’s 100th anniversary.

On the other hand, the Office of the Attorney General in the same country demands that the organisation Memorial be wound up. Memorial works to provide redress for the victims of the Stalin repressions. And then Memorial is accused by the Attorney General’s Office of “violation of human rights”!

I recall that it was Sakharov who established Memorial. Memorial is not an “enemy of the people.”

Memorial is a friend of the people.

Of course, we understand that the award today goes to the entire profession of investigative journalists.

My colleagues have exposed money-laundering technologies and ensured that billions of stolen rubles have been repaid to the Treasury, they have revealed offshore accounts and stopped logging in the forests of Siberia. Finally, the state supported the efforts of Novaya Gazeta, Ekho Moskvy, Dozhd and other colleagues to provide treatment for children with rare diseases, who need the most expensive medicines in the world.

By the way, I hope that representatives of the pharmaceutical industry, on which children and young adults with orphan diseases depend (including those with spinal muscle atrophy or SMA, are willing to talk to us. Maybe they will spend on available medicines and early diagnostics-screening?

Maybe the rich world will find a few tens of thousand for boys and girls still alive? We pass on this award to help people who are ill, and to support independent journalism.

But journalism in Russia is in a dark time now. Over a hundred journalists, media, human rights defenders and NGOs have in recent months been given the status of “foreign agents”. In Russia, this is the same as “enemies of the people.” Many of our colleagues have become unemployed. Some have to move out of the country.

One is deprived of the opportunity to live a normal life indefinitely. Maybe forever…It has happened earlier in our history.

On September 29 next year, it will be 100 years since the “philosophy steamship” set sail from St Petersburg to Stettin in Germany, one of many in a row, when the Bolsheviks expelled almost 300 prominent intellectuals from Russia. The future inventor of the helicopter Sikorsky, the television inventor Zvorykin, the philosophers Frank, Ilyin and Pitirim Sorokin were sent into exile aboard the steamship “Oberbürgermeister Haken”. The great thinker Nikolai Berdyaev was also present. Like everyone else, he was allowed to bring pyjamas, two shirts, two pairs of socks and a winter coat. This is how the fatherland said goodbye to its great citizens: Leave your things behind, but you can take your brain with you.

The same thing is happening with journalists and human rights defenders today.

The “philosophy steamship” has been replaced by the “journalist plane”. This is of course a metaphor, but dozens of representatives of the profession are leaving Russia.

But some have been deprived of this opportunity as well.

Orkhan Dzhemal, Kirill Radchenko, Alexander Rastorguyev, Russian journalists, were mercilessly shot in the Central African Republic where they were investigating what a private Russian military company was doing. Ira Gordienko, Orkhan’s widow, works for Novaya Gazeta. Since the murder date on June 30, 2018, she has revealed lies in the official investigation. Here is one of the details: Invaluable material evidence – the victims’ clothing – was burned by the police in the Central African Republic. The Russian investigation has not yielded any results. Not an international investigation either. UN Secretary-General António Guterres has promised to assist in the investigation. He may have forgotten. So here comes a reminder.

… I will probably – as always – get questions like: What were your colleagues doing there? Yes, to witness. To prove. To see it with your own eyes. Because as the great war photographer Robert Capa said: “If your picture isn’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.” “Are not you afraid?” is the most common question my colleagues get.

But this is their mission. As governments continually make the past better, journalists try to make the future better.

So this award is for all true journalism. This award is to my colleagues from Novaya Gazeta, who have lost their lives – Igor Domnikov, Yuri Shchekotschikhin, Anna Politkovskaya, Anastasija Baburova, Stas Markelov and Natasha Estemirova. This award is also to the colleagues who are alive, the professional community who do their professional duty.

… The day before the announcement of the award, we marked the 15th anniversary of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya. The killers were convicted, but the person who ordered the crime has not yet been found, and now the statute of limitations has expired. I hereby declare officially: the editors of Novaya Gazeta do not recognise this limitation period.

There is a saying in Russian and English: “The dog barks, but the caravan moves on.” This is explained by the fact that nothing interferes with the progress of a caravan. The government sometimes condescendingly says the same thing about journalists. They bark, but it does not affect anything.

But I was recently told that the saying goes the other way around. The caravan drives forward because the dogs bark.

They growl and throw themselves at the predators in the mountains and the desert. Forward operation is possible only when they come with the caravan.

Yes, we growl and bite. We have sharp teeth and are strong in the grip. But we are the prerequisite for progress.

We are the antidote to tyranny.

PS: I wanted to save a minute of time.

Let us stand up and honour my and Maria Resa’s reporter colleagues, who have given their lives for this profession, with a minute of silence, and let us give our support to those who have been persecuted.

I want journalists to die old



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