Editorial Dilemmas at an Independent Magazine in Moscow

Gessen, Masha
June 2005
Nieman Reports;Summer2005, Vol. 59 Issue 2, p116
This article presents a narrative of how the author and the Russian periodical, Bolshoy Gorod, faced their dilemma in publishing editorials on verdicts against dissidents in Russia. When it came time for us to decide how to report on the two verdicts against dissidents, there were two complicating factors: The National Bolsheviks is an organization with a checkered past and an odious name; in addition, this would be our first redesigned issue--meaning that our decision to cover them would be a noticeable statement. And it was a statement that seemed important: The verdicts were a major milestone and, in positioning our publication, it was important for us to show our readers that we had noticed. The option the editor and I initially favored was asking the leader of the National Bolshevik Party (NBP) to write the opening column for this issue. There were two arguments in favor of assigning this column. First, the leader of the NBP is Eduard Limonov, who was the author of many bestsellers long before he began his political career. Second, because of Limonov's fame as a writer and his increasing notoriety as a politician, the column would attract a lot of readers. For this issue, I ended up writing a piece on the NBP and how it fit into the ever-changing environment of Russian opposition politics. The story ended up exploring what is so wrong with Russia today that allows the National Bolsheviks to embody the role of the government's strongest opposition. In reaction to the piece, people talked about it, and a lot of them clearly felt uncomfortable with it. There was no indication the article irked anyone close to the Kremlin, yet I felt we had done a very good piece of journalism. But the most significant lesson so far has been that in today's Russia, most of us can get away with just about as much as we dare to get away with. The trick is not to rush to censor oneself.


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