Мы привыкли считать себя скорее Европой, чем Азией, по крайней мере, в терминах культуры. Но по своему политическому устройству Россия значительно ближе к Азии и Африке, шире - к недоразвитым странам: авторитаризм вместо демократии, самообслуживание власти вместо саморегуляции общества, контроль и подавление вместо демократических свобод. Как и в других репрессивных обществах интернет и блогосфера у нас - субститут публичной сферы, где возможно свободное высказывание и обсуждение проблем, табуированных в подконтрольных власти СМИ. Еще одно сходство - гипертрофия интереса к политике, что само по себе довольно патологично. Есть масса вещей гораздо более интересных, чем политика: любовь, искусство, познание, творчество... Когда люди начинают массово обсуждать политические темы, это отчетливый симптом того, что в стране что-то сильно не в порядке. Отличие России от, скажем, Египта, Саудовской Аравии, Кубы и Китая в том, что свободы у нас все-таки как бы больше и в тюрьму за слова сажают покамест меньше.
Ниже - тезисы моего доклада. Еще показывал картинки с комментариями: коллективное совокупление группы "Война" как пародия на президентские выборы с песней про ментов-ублюдков в зале суда, марши согласных-несогласных-молчащих, ботанье власти по фене, Путин с Кабаевой, Новгородское дело, протест травы и деревьев против ареста Лоскутова, "Долой ментовский беспредел" на питерской крыше, тюремные блоги.
Reporting, discussion and collective action
Global Media Forum
Bonn, 5 June, 2009
Political situation in Russia
- Andrei Illarionov recently defined the current political regime in Russia as hard (fully elaborated) authoritarianism shading toward becoming a “soft” (somewhat inchoate) dictatorship.
- It means that ordinary people enjoy some tangible level of personal freedoms, but political rights are virtually absent, civil liberties severely restricted and there are significant limits to one’s personal security.
- It also means that organized, legal political opposition (the first sign of democracy) is impossible and that there is no chance for opposition politicians to come to power in a peaceful way.
- The real power in Russia belongs to a state corporation consisting of secret-police operatives (“Siloviki Incorporated” as Illarionov calls them).
- The regime is afraid of any political activity of the citizens and routinely uses brute force and violence to suppress any hint of opposition or dissent.
Freedom of speech in Russia: Historical oscillations
- Information policy of the Soviet regime was based on tight control over information. Propaganda and indoctrination went hand in hand with secrecy, censorship and repression of the “alien-minded”.
- The liberalization of information during perestroika (late 1980s) let to emergence of independent media, a “fourth estate” (in Russian, chetvertaya vlast’, i.e. “fourth power”), which was in some respects more powerful than political power.
- Glasnost’ (freedom of information) led to the formation of public opinion which, in turn, resulted in a social explosion and, ultimately, it the crash of the entire system.
- The fundamental contradiction between the Soviet system based on the control of information and the processes of innovation and diffusion of information technology was one of the major factors contributing to the collapse of the Soviet Union (Castells and Kiselyova, 1995; Shane, 1995).
- In the 1990s, the privatization of the media, its commercialization and concentration in the hands of “oligarchs” led to the formation in 1997-1998 of oligarchic media empires, meaning that powerful financial groups obtained control over key national media.
- The oligarchs’ control over the media was functionally different from that of the Communist Party in the Soviet period. There was not a unified course and a single ideology; the interests of particular groups diverged resulting in a pluralism of outlooks. Moreover, they tended to control only information concerning their specific business and political interests, providing freedom to journalists in other areas. The professional level of journalism was high, the diversity of information was tremendous and the pluralism of opinions flourished.
- When KGB officer Putin came to power in 1999, a return to state regulation of the media began. It was evidenced by the “war against the oligarchs”, as well as by the steady movement towards centralization of the media-political system.
- The époque of oligarch television had ended. Media magnates Gusinsky and Berezovsky were deprived of their media empires and were forced into exile. Khodorkovsky, who attempted to support the opposition, was prosecuted and put into prison.
- The “dictatorship of the law” and the “vertical of power” imposed by Putin who was called a “German man in Kremlin” were accompanied by tightening control over information.
- However, the restoration of control to the same degree that it used to be in the Soviet times has become impossible, as the number of communication channels has increased dramatically. And, apart from traditional media, a new medium has emerged and developed in Russia, with its unlimited channels beyond government control, which provided a space for free speech and apparently unrestrained creativity – the Internet.
The Russian blogosphere: fact and figures
- Blogs are probably the most democratic and popular form of sharing information and opinions.
- First Russian blogs emerged in 2001 and were used mostly for self-expression and play by the members of “Internet elite”.
- In a few years, writing blogs has became a mass mania. According to 2009 Yandex report, there are 7,4 million blogs in the Russian language, from which about 890 thousands are active.
- Each day the bloggers create about one million posts in Russian language (300 thousands posts and 700 thousands commentaries).
- Many blogs have more that 1000 friends; some blogs have more than 30,000 friends.
- LiveJournal.com, the most popular blogging service, has 8.7 million month audience.
The blogosphere and politics
- The blogosphere has become an alternative to the state controlled media and a substitute of the public sphere — much the same as literature in 19th century and the independent media in the 1990s.
- Discussion of political topics are very common. Even those who are normally not interested in politics are forced to react to the outrageous events in the country.
- Who writes: not only journalist (although there are many of them) or opposition politicians (they are also present) — anyone who has a story or opinion to share. The blogosphere is decentralized.
- Who reads: not only “friends”. — Not-friends, not-users (general public), RSS feeds, RSS aggregators (blogs.yandex.ru, etc.).
- Popularity: any post that is interesting and important for many can appear in Yandex Top if it has many links to it. “Let’s put this post into Yandex Top!” — a commonly used strategy.
- direct reporting (from the hot spots, accident sites, crime scene, actions of protest, event venues, etc.)
- commentary on current events (the source can be any – blogs, Internet generally, media, TV, rumours, etc.)
- quotes from and links to others’ posts (it may take the form of online flash mobs when hundreds or thousands people reproduce the same information)
- commenting other posts (may include thousand of comments)
- Illegitimate, corrupted, aggressive, unjust regime (state as a corporation which serves its own private interests rather than interests of the people)
- Constant seeking of enemies, cultivation of hostility and hate towards “others” (external enemies - USA, Ukraine, Georgia, etc.; internal enemies: “extremists”, opposition, dissenters, guest workers, etc. Support of nationalists and trials of anti-fascists)
- Human rights violation in Russia, Chechnya, Ingushetia, etc.
- Police mayhem, extreme violence, outrageous breach of all limits, total lawlessness (“Ментовский беспредел”)
- Unjust justice (court as an obedient executor of the state’s will, an instrument of political repression rather than law; violent )
- Political assassination of human rights activist and journalists.
- Censorship, lack of freedom of speech
- Ineffective and humiliating bureaucratic system
- Union of the state and the Russian Orthodox Church; propagation of religious education at schools
- Criminalization of contemporary art (destruction of art exhibitions, trials of curators and artists)
Strategies of resistance
- Verbal actions (manifestos, articles, discussions, letters to the president)
- Direct political action (demonstration, march, strike)
- Symbolic actions (arson, seizure of official institutions, hunger strike)
- Radical art actions (exhibitions, performances, street actions)
Because direct protest actions are routinely suppressed by force, the mock and absurd actions became popular (concordant march, political flash bob, monstration). However, these are often suppressed too.
"Anyone and everyone can blog" - can that qualify as serious reporting?
– The blogosphere is a self-regulating system. The seriousness of a report is defined by users who either find it useful and worth of sharing, passing on and commenting or ignore it as empty talk, junk, or fake. Outer authority dos not matter much in the blogosphere. It is users, both individually and as a community, that matters.
Do blogs in Russia pose an adequate opportunity to bypass censorship?
– Definitely yes. Other opportunities (independent press, radio or TV channels) are few and often have lesser reach. Blogs as an uncensored mediaspace have often provided material for other media and they become model for some media projects.
What impact do they have on potential political upheaval and crises?
– First of all, the blogosphere influences the formation of public opinion. Meaningful action without an idea is impossible – and the blogosphere does provide ideas, emotions, examples for imitation and a sense of belonging to a same minded group. However, an idea alone is not enough for action and it needs other factors to become a real power.
How far is their reach?
– Significant and growing. One may expect that if the political situation becomes worse, the role of blogs will increase.