On Monday, the Echo of Moscow radio company suggested a question to its listeners: whether Konstantin Ernst was independent in deciding to cancel Sergei Dorenko’s show on Saturday night, or if this was done under pressure from the Kremlin. The majority of listeners – 79% – expressed confidence that Ernst was acting on orders from the Presidential Administration. Still, the rest of them, though few, expressed a conviction that the ORT administration acted of its own free will.
For the press, the answer to this question was obvious. Naturally, assessments of what happened to Dorenko were diverse, but there was little doubt that, as Moskovsky Komsomolets put it in its usual offhand manner: “Putin returned from faraway countries and set to work on those who do not let him live”.
“Kremlin Mops Up ORT” – this is the way the newspaper Segodnya entitled its article devoted to this issue. “On Friday, Vladimir Putin said in an interview with Larry King, a well-known American TV anchorman, that nothing threatens freedom of speech in Russia; and as soon as Saturday Dorenko’s broadcast was cancelled,” the newspaper writes. “That was the Kremlin’s “asymmetrical response” to Berezovsky giving away his shares to be “managed” by journalists.” Dorenko’s being banned from TV was interpreted by the newspaper as another proof of the fact that the Kremlin does not intend to resign itself to attacks by media any longer and intends to establish control over the national television. “And no matter what Berezovsky does with his shares, the state will have the last word… Berezovsky failed in reaching a compromise with the leadership.” The main conclusion made by the newspaper is far from consolatory: the latest events in ORT convincingly prove that there is real danger to the freedom of speech in Russia.
The text of Dorenko’s broadcast cancelled on Monday immediately appeared in the Internet. As Dorenko himself admitted in an interview to Segodnya, there was nothing new in it. Assuming that the cancellation was an “adequate and asymmetrical” response to Berezovsky, it is still hard to find an immediate reason for it in a report about Berezovsky giving his ORT shares to journalists and creative intelligentsia contained in the broadcast. Berezovsky himself has long ago explained to all those interested that he gave his shares to intelligentsia, and not to the Presidential Administration, thus defending ORT from nationalization. Why, then, persecution of Dorenko?
The press offers various explanations. The newspaper Vremya Novostei quotes the opinion of Gleb Pavlovsky, head of the Effective Policy Foundation. Speaking about Putin’s position in regards to shares controlled by Berezovsky, Pavlovsky said that the president intends to “take political money’ from the national TV channel.
In the above-mentioned interview to Segodnya, Dorenko linked the conflict with his refusal to cooperate with Putin. As the anchorman states, a relevant suggestion was made to him on August 29. In another interview – to Gazeta.Ru in the Internet – Dorenko mentioned details of his conversation with the president. When Dorenko told Putin that he cannot comply with the “team discipline”, that he sets high store on “the feeling of soul resonance with the viewers”, Putin “remarked, calmly and cynically: “Sergei Leonidovich, what difference does it make to you where to feel this resonance?” This phrase gravely impressed Dorenko – as he complained to Gazeta.Ru, “a recruiter wounded an artist.” However, in the same interview, Dorenko managed to answer with an equal blow, having remarked in regards to the transfer of ORT shares to the creative elite: “If earlier Putin disemboweled the fat cat Berezovsky, now marauders from the Presidential Administration will set about shareholders from the creative elite which reflects people’s interests, that means, in fact, robbing the state and society…”
Commenting upon this passage, the newspaper Izvestia writes: “all further reasoning about freedom of speech makes no sense any longer, alas.” In the opinion of Izvestia, it is hard to imagine “an average Larry King” who “even working on the private-owned CNN” would afford such serious violation of professional ethics as to publicize the details of conversations with high-ranking officials of the country or a firm if the conversation was not qualified as an interview. “To say nothing of the fact that two saucy expressions – about a recruiter and an artist and about marauders – would have been enough in America to cross him out of the president’s pool once and for all.” It is logical, Izvestia writes, that Putin “did not wish to be in the place of Luzhkov on whose head the “Dorenko meteorite” fell every week during the Duma election campaign.”
The newspaper Vedomosti calls into question Ernst’s statement that the decision to cancel Dorenko’s broadcast was made by him personally after the anchorman refused to “keep from commenting upon the conflict between state and private shareholders of ORT.” As it became obvious from the Internet version of the broadcast, only some time at the end of the program was devoted to a report about the ORT shares. The main emphasis, Vedomosti writes, was laid on the “lamentable results of Putin’s rule over a year” (and also on the assumption that the Kursk sub might have been hit by a Russian missile fired from the Pyotr Veliky vessel.). Besides, the Kremlin might have taken offense at other reports in the broadcast, Vedomosti presumes: for instance, the coverage of the situation concerning compensations for victims of last year’s Moscow bombings and Dagestani peasants whose houses were destroyed during the Chechen invasion last autumn (no compensation has been paid for the moment). To cut it short, those reports where Putin’s broken promises were mentioned.
Vedomosti also reminded the readers that information about the cancellation of Dorenko’s broadcast appeared at the same time with the report that another analytical broadcast made by Vladislav Flyarkovsky was banned on the TV-Center broadcasting schedule. Flyarkovsky’s style, as it is known, is absolutely dissimilar to that of Dorenko – there was nor infernal aggressiveness neither compromising materials in his broadcast. However, he was one of those who accepted Berezovsky’s offer to “manage” ORT shares. The disappearance of Flyarkovsky’s broadcast, as Vitaly Portnikov writes in Vedomosti, testifies to the emergence of a specific atmosphere in the Russian journalism: “the atmosphere of total prohibition, intolerance, disrespect for the opinion of others, subservient fear, humiliating readiness to be of use for the boss…” And journalism, as Portnikov emphasizes, “is not just a mirror of society: what happens to it makes it possible to foresee what will happen to the country tomorrow.”
Argumenti I Fakti holds that recent actions by the authorities which have caused anxiety for freedom of speech were provoked by Berezovsky himself and “the war which he declared to the legally elected leadership.” The transfer of shares to people who depend on him either directly or indirectly means that Berezovsky actually preserves control over ORT. And besides, as the press explained, during the term stipulated by the transfer agreement these shares may be arrested if credit obligations are not fulfilled (recalling the huge debt of ORT makes it clear what a danger Berezovsky avoided by his step). Of course, as the weekly sadly concludes, there is no doubt that there are skilful tacticians and strategists in the Kremlin, “but there is high possibility that freedom of speech and other winnings of democracy may be burnt in the fire of their revenge”.
In a series of articles entitled “Protection from Putin”, Vitaly Tretyakov, editor-in-chief of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, considers the problem of media independence and tries to find an answer to the philosophical question: “Is everything that is good for Putin good for Russia?” Already when preparing Putin for presidency, those who supported him demonstrated that nationwide television channels must be kept under control: “Then freedom of speech in society as a whole is acceptable: in newspapers, magazines, on periphery TV channels.” Earlier, media helped create the virtual Unity party that won the parliamentary election, due to which fact a Kremlin-loyal Duma majority was secured and control over the legislature was established. This is why after March 24, “if there have been an action Putin performed on his own initiative, that was developing this creed.”
Tretyakov is sure that Putin does not set himself the objective to abolish or restrict media freedom: “He only wants to make the most powerful media bring their interests in conformity with the interests of the state. He is not fighting the media, but only the quasi-parties which emerged on their basis.” However, in doing so, the president risks “letting the genie of absolute power out of the bottle and being unable to cope with it.” Apart from this, Treatyakov writes, there is a danger that state power monopoly may destroy the market which will inevitably deprive Russia of the prospects of economic prosperity in the future. Yes, privatization was actual robbery, agrees Tretyakov. Now the country must accept the so-called “zero variant” all deviations from which will mean not restoration of justice, but a new property redistribution. All the more so because in Russia returning property to the state means its return to officials, which would mean a market collapse.
The editor-in-chief of Nezavisimaya Gazeta agrees that it is essential to exterminate oligarchs “as a political class”, but by no means as “subjects of market economy and property owners”. This is why, Tretyakov continues, “Berezovsky is right in his scheming so that his share parcel was not snatched by the state,” for, despite “his irrepressible energy and sensible adventurism”, Berezovsky “expresses hopes and dreams of the entire class of prosperous, well-to-do, and dreaming of becoming well-to-do people of Russia.” And this is why “if there is no Berezovsky, we will have to invent him, to create him with our own hands”. However, this statement does not need any proof. The response to the main question posed in the article is as follows: “Not everything that is good for Putin as president is good for Russia.”
Andrei Nemzer, a political observer of the newspaper Vremya Novostei, also devoted his article to Berezovsky’s latest initiative. He managed to find six reasons for Berezovsky appealing to the creative intelligentsia to join the ORT administration. Reason No. 1: Berezovsky trusts “his” people. He made his proposal to Igor Golembiovsky and Otto Latsis (Novye Izvestia), Sergei Dorenko and Kirill Kleimenov (ORT), Vitaly Treatyakov (Nezavisimaya Gazeta) usually associated with him. Reason No.2: Berezovsky highly rates “independent professionals”: Tretyakov, Natalya Gevorkyan, and Yegor Yakovlev, editor-in-chief o Obshchaya Gazeta who at once stated that at one time he was against giving the ORT company to Berezovsky. Reason No. 3: Berezovsky highly values “television-related” persons: not only “his” people from ORT, but also Flyarkovsky, Vladimir Pozner, and TV critic Anna Kachkayeva. Reason No. 4: “in the face of an imminent disaster, Berezovsky offers friendship to his perennial enemy-friend Vladimir Gusinsky”. Hence the proposal made to Alexei Venediktov (Echo of Moscow), Mikhail Berger (Segodnya), Yevgeny Kisilev (NTV), Sergei Parkhomenko (Itogi). Reason No. 5: Berezovsky highly values “noble persons of the sixties”. This is why the proposal was made to Vasily Aksenov, Phazil Iskander, and Yuri Lyubimov. And, finally, reason No. 6: Berezovsky is ready to support “creative search”. This is why he did not forget about such fashionable persons as film director Ruslan Khamdamov and writer Viktor Pelevin.
What will become of ORT,Vremya Novostei writes, is unclear still. However, it is clear that Berezovsky “is a man who highly rates friendship and professionalism, is oblivious of the past evil, loyal to cultural traditions, and open for innovations. And his being a man of moderate income and a fighter for freedom of speech has always been a well-known fact. An angel, to cut it short.” The article is entitled “Angelizing” a Demon”.
According to the information of the newspaper Kommersant, the Presidential Administration doe snot intend to hamper the implementation of Berezovsky’s idea, although officials are not very pleased with it: “This is madness – setting some journalists above others.” Still, the Kremlin officials are sure that the share parcel owned by the state gives it the opportunity to define the policies of the channel. All the more so because General Director Ernst is regarded by the Kremlin as a “trustworthy person”. As for “ostentatious indifference” with which the Kremlin officials have commented upon Berezovsky’s initiative, this is nothing else but a tactical step. As the newspaper writes, an anonymous high-ranking official stated with a grin: “We will take his shares back all right, don’t worry!”
Mikhail Leontyev, another well-known ORT anchorman and political analyst, as Obshchaya Gazeta writes, “devoted an indignant speech to the media which suck the last drops from the country’s economy giving nothing in exchange and pour mud on the president, he country, and the army making a TV show out of a national tragedy.” In an interview to Komsomolskaya Pravda, Leontyev explained that he had “an inner conflict between human ethics and a political position,” because “my views are closer to the president than to Berezovsky”. Leontyev stated that he fully trusts the president, shares, and supports all principal actions by Putin, “because I can understand them”. He means Chechnya, the administrative reform in all its shapes, “and even media-related policies if we discuss not concrete cases, but general tasks”. Leontyev holds that differences between Berezovsky and the new Kremlin leadership are of “philosophical” nature: “It is simply that, as far as I understand, Berezovsky has no other interests apart from the implementation of his concepts. He is a professional lobbyist.” It is no surprise that, as Dorenko says in the interview to Gazeta.Ru, Putin characterized his relations with Berezovsky with one phrase: “Finita la comedia”. Besides, when the traditionally high rating of the incumbent president became jeopardized, a need in a convincing PR coup arose. And what can be better than a “little victorious war” with Berezovsky? All the more so, as Leontyev remarked, as a rule, “all actions by the president criticized by the democratic opposition help him score more points. This is a fact. Whether it is good or bad is a separate question.” Probably, the attempt to put pressure on Berezovsky and its consequences are one of such actions.
The weekly Vek writes about the “cloud of anxiety” which covered everyone in past weeks who, having got tired of Yeltsin saw Putin as a longed-for alternative: “Confusion instead of tense purposefulness, doubts instead of an onrush – striking changes can be seen everywhere.” Vek poses a question: is this true that the president’s power “faded away during August” or did society cease to endow it with magic omnipotence and omnipresence which it never had and could not have? At the same time,Vek sees Berezovsky’s escapades as a proof of the firmness of the president’s position: “Berezovsky has enough information about the true situation with the state power to consistently adhere to the tactics of a besieged fortress where he feels himself, not accidentally”. Results of opinion polls are witness to it: the August disasters, although having damaged the general trust in the leadership, did not lead to a decline in Putin’s rating. It would be wrong to say, Vek writes, that Putin lately “lost his speed”. Putin did not lose initiative – the point is that “expectations of immediate and “super-active” measures against repetitions of disasters in the future rose sharply… The reason hints: it is impossible to avoid the unforeseen, but the heart whispers: he is the president, why doesn’t he do something?”
In a long analytical article in the magazine Profil, Dmitry Bykov writes that Putin by no means intends to “go with the flow”. “He struggles, and actively, whether consciously or not, to destroy the remnants of the empire. Passive waiting would have led to many more victims.” As Bykov writes, in August, two new questions emerged in Russia instead of the old “Who is to blame?” and “What is to be done?” They are: “When will this end?” and “What will be the next to collapse?” Bykov himself holds that all recent events are just the beginning: “The past fifteen years were a period of semi-disintegration, the Empire was slowly dying, but its legacy was still working. Today the resources have run out.” We are entering the era of technological disasters – transport, industrial accidents, everything is possible. “All that constituted the pride and might of the Empire will disintegrate together with it.” And this is normal, Bykov maintains. “Empires to not reform. They disintegrate.” The years of collapse are the price paid for “attempts to build a new state where the old one has been.” Bykov calls the Kursk disaster “a tragic metaphor of what is happening to the state”: before starting to rise to the surface, Russia must reach the bottom. It is necessary “to survive a long a painful series of cataclysms trying to minimize them and start a new life from scratch.” There is nothing to fear, Bykov holds, but, in his opinion, people are not frightened any longer: “they have learned to joke on this score”. As for Putin’s actions in all directions, Bykov suggests to consider them justified, even if consequences are not always positive.