Death of a Journalist

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Irina Slavina, 1973–2020 (Educational Vlog via YouTube)

My Impromptus today is the customary mélange, touching on the presidential campaign, economics, Nobel prizes, the Ford Foundation, William F. Buckley Jr., and more. The last of my items concerns ice cream. (Sometimes you save the best for last.)

The first two items concern the Soviet Union and Russia. “Modern Russia is not the Soviet Union, you know!” I hear this from my critics. These tend to be Russlandverstehers — “Russia understanders” — and outright Putin apologists. I tell them, “I know. But does the Kremlin know?” Because today’s Russia often acts like the Soviet Union.

At the outset of my column, I remember Yuri Orlov, the great physicist and dissident, who has just died at 96. I heard him speak once, shortly after he arrived in the United States. (He appeared at Harvard, in the company of Richard Pipes, the great historian of Russia.) I can’t remember whether I shook his hand. I like to think I did, but I can’t be sure, at this remove.

My second item concerns Yuri Dmitriev, an official with Memorial, the democracy-and-human-rights organization in Russia. He digs up Soviet history — literally, in that he is a hunter, and finder, of mass graves. I wrote a piece about him in 2017, here. He has now been sentenced to 13 years.

Here on the Corner, I’d just like to mention Irina Slavina. She was an independent journalist in Russia, a very hard and dangerous thing to be. She was harassed and threatened for years. She was charged with publishing “fake news” and all the rest. On October 2, she killed herself.

I will quote from a news story:

Slavina had written on social media on Thursday that police and federal guards burst into her flat in an early morning raid.

She said they were searching for evidence of links to Open Russia, an opposition movement funded by Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky that has been ruled undesirable by the authorities, amid allegations that it funded protests in the city.

“I don’t have anything,” said the journalist, adding that police confiscated her notebooks and computer as well as laptops and phones belonging to her and her husband and daughter.

“I have no means of production,” she said.

She set herself on fire in front of police headquarters.

It’s easy to judge such a person, negatively, but most of us have no idea what it’s like to be in her shoes. You may remember what Mohamed Bouazizi said, before setting himself on fire. (He was the fruit vendor in Tunisia, whose death in 2011 set off the Arab Spring.) “How do you expect me to make a living?”

When I hear about people such as Irina Slavina, I also think, “What do we journalists risk here in the Free World? Mean tweets? Nasty ‘comments’? Maybe we don’t get that cable ‘hit’ at 3:11 in the afternoon?” We are so very lucky.

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