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FreeMediaOnline.org Logo and Link to Home Page Freedom of the press not stifled in Russia, Gorbachev claims

FreeMediaOnline.org Dublin, CA, August 19, 2006 -- Former Soviet President and author of perestroika Mikhail Gorbachev told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that freedom of the press is not being stifled in Russia under President Putin despite some "worrying tendencies." According to Gorbachev, this viewpoint is shared by most Russians who also disagree with frequent accusations that democracy in Russia is being suppressed.

In an interview with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, Gorbachev commented on the fifteenth anniversary of the August 1991 coup by communist hardliners who wanted to oust him from power and stop his reforms. Gorbachev said that he wanted to reform the Soviet communist party and the Soviet Union rather than to destroy them. He told RFE/RL he agrees with President Putin's statement in which Putin called the collapse of the Soviet Union "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century."

Responding to a question about democracy and freedom of the press in Russia under President Putin, Gorbachev said that Russia finds itself at a difficult historical juncture.

Gorbachev's comments appeared to support President Putin's claim that the development of democracy in Russia must take into account Russian traditions and history. Gorbachev acknowledged that the transition to democracy has not been a smooth one in Russia. But he added that "we must assess our successes and failures not in the context of some ideal, but in the context of our history." "When Putin first came to power, I think his first priority was keeping the country from falling apart, and this required certain measures that wouldn't exactly be referred to as textbook democracy," Gorbachev told RFE/RL. President Putin has been promoting the concept of "sovereign democracy" as a justification for imposing various restrictions on democracy and media freedom.

In the RFE/RL interview, Gorbachev referred to "certain worrying tendencies" affecting democracy and freedom of the press in Russia. He noted that some restrictions being imposed cannot be justified by "real dangers or by the realities of life in Russia." He added, however, that the current threats to democracy and freedom of the press should not be overdramatized. He said that in the past 20 years life in Russia has changed to such an extent that going back to the Soviet times is now impossible.

Gorbachev concluded his interview with RFE/RL by saying that Russia must follow the path of democracy. He also called for greater participation of Russian citizens in the democratic process and for exposing "thieves and corrupt officials." He did not elaborate on the role the media in providing checks on government's powers.

FreeMediaOnline.org, a California-based nonprofit organization supporting free media worldwide, disagrees with Mikhail Gorbachev that freedom of the press in Russia is not being stifled under President Putin. FreeMediaOnline.org president Ted Lipien said that Mr. Gorbachev is entitled to his opinion and is right in noting that there are "worrying tendencies" in President Putin's treatment of the media. FreeMediaOnline.org is concerned, however, that Mr. Gorbachev's minimizing of the threat to independent media in Russia may encourage the Kremlin to impose further restrictions on Russian journalists. According to Ted Lipien, the Russian authorities have focused their attack on free media in Russia on major nationwide television channels, which are now effectively under government control. The Russian government is also putting pressure on radio stations to stop their cooperation with Western media outlets such as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Voice of America.

Link to RFE/RL story...

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