DEPENDING ON THE CZAR, DEPENDING ON THE PEOPLE

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DEPENDING ON THE CZAR, DEPENDING ON THE PEOPLE

Delovaya Khronika, December 10, 2002, p. 4

A bill on establishing public television and radio has been submitted to the Duma. Germany and Denmark, for example, have two public channels each; and in Denmark they even compete, and taxpayers’ money is divided between them each year based on their ratings.

It is easy to understand why the public television bill has been submitted by journalists: no one denies that there is state pressure on the media, and journalists see public television as a way of achieving some degree of professional independence, among other things.

The proposed subscription rates are virtually symbolic: 3% of the minimum monthly wage per family per month (the minimum monthly wage, as used to calculate fees and fines, is currently 100 rubles). This would raise $40 million a month, nationwide. That would be enough for one channel; but not enough to provide national coverage, or regional and municipal public broadcasting companies, which would not be prohibited under this law (as long as subscription fees are not raised). Thus, it would seem that the bill also proposes to retain current budget spending on television and radio: 0.5% of total budget spending. In the budget for 2002, where total spending is equivalent to $45 billion, this amounts to $225 million. So with this balance of spending – $40 million versus $225 million – asking whose voice would carry more weight is a rhetorical question. It would seem that the authors of the bill – all figures from the perestroika era – have attempted to re-create a glasnost situation: the state’s will would be diluted in the combined management formation, while journalists would be able to do their jobs in peace. The only problem is that we have a different kind of state these days.

REFUGEES ARE AFRAID OF CHECHNYA

Argumenty i Fakty, December 11, 2002, p. 5

The situation around the Chechen refugees in Ingushetia has been exacerbated. Svetlana Ganushkina, head of the Civic Cooperation refugee aid society, says: “According to the latest reports, around 150,000 Chechens are living there at present. They are afraid to return to their ruined homeland. The authorities have offered the refugees a choice: moving into apartments built for them in Ingushetia, or returning to Chechnya, where they will receive 20 rubles a day (14 rubles for accommodation, six rubles for food). However, it turns out that no apartments have actually been built for them in Ingushetia. I recently witnessed the demolition of the Akiyurt refugee camp – where refugees were being forced into vehicles and taken away. The Alina camp, with 3,750 residents, is due to be shut down by December 20. The refugees are being permitted to take their tattered tents with them – they will have no other housing in Chechnya.”

The authorities do not confirm this information. Last week, the president of Ingushetia promised that “Chechen refugees will not be forced out of Ingushetia”.

TRUE FAITH

Profil, December 9, 2002, p. 4

The ROMIR agency has done a poll on attitudes to religion, asking people about their beliefs. The majority of respondents, 60%, said they believe in God; one-fifth of respondents believe in some form of “higher power”; 16.5% of respondents said they do not believe in God or any other supernatural power.

When asked which religion they practise, 69.3% of respondents said they are Orthodox; 22.3% of respondents said they are atheists.

NEW LAWS ON THE MEDIA

Inostranets, December 10, 2002, p. 5

A new bill on the media has been submitted to the Duma. The new bill seems to be more conservative than the present media law. In particular, the position of editor-in-chief will essentially be eliminated, while founders of a television channel will be accountable for the content of television programs and will determine editorial policy.

Besides, the presidential administration worked out amendments to the law “On Guarantees of Electoral Rights for Citizens”, according to which during election campaigns the courts will have the power to suspend media licenses if requested to do so by territorial election commissions or candidates.

Aleksey Samokhvalov, an advisor to the Council of Europe and director of the National Television Studies Center, and Vladimir Baturov, chief editor of the Telemir news agency and former director of the “Vesti” program, said at a news conference that the new bill on the media and the document prepared by the presidential administration are “methods of infringing on freedom of the press”, which would only increase the already extensive influence of the state on the media.

STOP THE BICKERING IN THE PRESIDENTIAL TEAM!

Versia, December 11, 2002, p. 5

Rumor has it that Vladimir Putin, tiring of the squabbles within his own team, has asked head of the presidential administration Alexander Voloshin to “close the topic”. It is said that Voloshin and his deputy held a series of confidential chats with members of the “Yeltsin’s Family” and “St. Petersburg” cliques, calling on them to stop the fighting and move on to civilized forms of interaction. Both factions apparently agreed that all state property distributed in the Yeltsin era, as well as large corporations formed during that period, will not be redistributed; while the monopolies still in the state’s control – the Transport Ministry, Russian Joint Energy Systems, Gazprom, and other federal or regional companies – may be the targets of “free competition” between the two factions.

FORWARD TO SOVIET TIMES!

Inostranets, December 10, 2002, p. 7

According to a poll done by the National Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) on November 22-25, with 1,600 respondents, 48% of respondents support the idea of extending Vladimir Putin’s term in office to seven years after the 2004 presidential election; 41% of respondents oppose this; and 11% are uncertain. At the same time, 46% of respondents agree that the president should have the right to run for three or four terms in office; 43% are opposed, and 11% are uncertain.

Hence, around half of respondents do not object to the idea that Putin’s term could be extended to give him a total of eleven years in office.

The results of this poll highlight the striking changes in public attitudes since the late 1980s and early 1990s. Back then, most Soviet citizens were weary of old men remaining in the Kremlin indefinitely, and supported regular changes of government, restricting presidents to two terms.

Now, apparently, the longing for “stability” – not without help from above – is reviving in its old Soviet form, and starting to edge out the awareness that democratic standards for restrictions on the authorities are essential.

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