Russians Live and Speak Freely! (In Latvia)

Back in Russia, one can no longer speak his mind as freely as was the case several years ago. Government policies are shutting down freer avenues of expression. If one is not willing to follow the Kremlin talking points, one must either shut up or move out.

The team of Russian journalists at Meduza, a newly created Internet news portal, no longer live in fear of the authorities shutting down their project… In order “to feel free and independent,” the Meduza team members tell The Daily Beast, they left their home country and chose a European city, the Latvian capital of Riga, to be their new base of operations.

… Before leaving for Riga in late October, [Ivan] Kolpakov watched state television in his hometown of Perm along with his parents, who, like millions of Russians, were regular state television viewers. “Propaganda actually works, I realized that in a few days of watching television. My own views began to slide,” Kolpakov admitted. “But closing down independent media is a dead end strategy—the Kremlin wants to close five media outlets? They should be prepared that 10 more will open inside and outside of Russia.”

… On a recent late evening, the Meduza team brainstormed coverage of Russia’s tanking ruble, Putin’s visit with G-20 leaders, the case of the house arrest of the Russian oligarch Vladimir Yevtushenkov, and how economic woes have caused Russia’s authorities to become more repressive. The buzz of phone calls and Skype conversations with sources back in Russia and Ukraine seemed to be warming up Meduza’s spacious and modern newsroom, which is located in a red-brick building in downtown Riga. The media team worked in two shifts, aggregating news from Russia and the world and publishing features by three special correspondents who sent files from the field. The first news came out on Meduza’s website by the time Moscow woke up, at 8 a.m. _Freer in Latvia

But will the Kremlin’s censors block the free new Meduza website? The above article claims that the Russian people would not stand for the type of tightly restricted internet that the Chinese are forced to suffer. But is that true?

Online, Putin is pursuing a policy of what he calls internet sovereignty – essentially an arrangement in which the Russian government controls Russia’s internal cyberspace. A report released in November 2014 by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society found that, “over the past two years, systematic Internet regulation has increased more in Russia than anywhere else in the world.”

In March 2014, the Kremlin blocked four popular opposition websites: Ezhednevny Zhurnal, Grani, Kasparov.ru, and Alexey Navalny’s blog. Similarly, it replaced the independent-minded leadership of Lenta.ru, another prominent independent news source. A law that came into effect in July 2014 requires bloggers with more than 3,000 daily visitors to register with Russia’s media regulator, Roskomnadzor, and conform to the regulations that govern the country’s larger media outlets.

Pavel Durov, the owner of Russia’s Facebook equivalent, VKontakte, refused in April 2014 to turn over information from the social network to the authorities. He was forced to resign and fled the country, following which a wealthy, Kremlin-friendly businessman took over the company. VKontakte previously hosted wide-ranging discussions and gave activists a platform to communicate and organize.

Other restrictive Kremlin measures now require Internet service providers to hold the personal information of Russian citizens on servers in Russia. Providers of wifi in public places must register users. For good measure, in November the authorities announced the development of a Russian alternative to Wikipedia.

… Satellite and cable channels will suffer when measures banning advertising take hold on Jan. 1, 2015. Scores of independent pay-TV channels will be adversely affected.

The second piece of the Kremlin’s gambit for achieving media autarky is bringing independent foreign media outlets to heel.

In October 2014, Putin signed a law that requires Russian media outlets to reduce any non-Russian ownership to 20 percent by the beginning of 2017. The impact will be extensive. CNN has broadcast from Russia for 21 years but will cease operations at the end of 2014, citing among other factors the onerous character of the impending law. Many prominent independent publications that have been crucial fixtures in Russia’s media landscape also are in peril, including the Russian edition of Forbes magazine, owned by Axel Springer, and Vedomosti, a collaborative effort of the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, and the Finnish Sanoma Independent Media. _Kremlin Killing Free Media

It is difficult to feel anything but pity for westerners who continue to defend Putin’s new cold-war policies. Tsar Vlad is shutting down opportunity and freedom at home, while sabre-rattling and threatening nuclear war abroad.

Even in the face of a severe economic downturn, the Kremlin is boosting budgets for nuclear and conventional weapons, for propaganda bureaus and media outlets, and for spy agencies — including cyber-war, international hacking, industrial and military espionage, and wet-team operations against dissidents.

Meanwhile, in Moscow Russians march in the streets against health care cuts. Marchers are careful not to give their real names to AP reporters.

In the midst of epidemics of HIV, TB, suicide, homicide, alcoholism, tobacco abuse, and utter despair, Russia’s cuts in health care and public health expenditures may seem counter-productive to anyone working outside the Kremlin. But such dissident thought can be easily purged by a nice stay in a Russian government asylum.

In other news, US-based aircraft manufacturer Mooney has plans to build a new diesel-powered single engine craft for the Chinese general aviation market. Mooney Aviation is now owned by a Chinese company, but its headquarters and main operations remain in Texas.

It might be mentioned that “the Chinese general aviation market” is virtually non-existent, since virtually all Chinese airspace is closed to non-military and non-government use. As in Russia and North Korea, the Chinese government does not wish its citizens to have more freedom of movement than is good for them.

But the manufacture of a diesel-powered small aircraft is a hopeful sign for general aviation everywhere. The more affordable and available the fuel, the better for those who like to fly off the beaten path.

The freedom to move about one’s own country freely is one of the distinctions between totalitarian countries and nations with less restrictive (or less powerful) governments. Future breakthroughs that allow freer human movement will make it more difficult for governments to abuse their people for a prolonged period of time.

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4 Responses to Russians Live and Speak Freely! (In Latvia)

  1. Jerry says:

    The freedom to move about freely is one of the distinctions between totalitarian countries and nations with less restrictive (or less powerful) governments. Future breakthroughs that allow freer human movement will make it more difficult for governments to abuse their people for a prolonged period of time.

    What about the right of people to prevent others from moving about or migrating freely into their societies?

    • alfin2101 says:

      “Words are slippery and thought is viscous.” That is never more true than when speaking about “rights.”

      Who enforces each right? When is a right an individual right, and when is it a group right?

      Under “the divine right of kings,” a powerful and effective king was both an individual and a “group,” and could thus enforce both group and individual rights — via his army and bureaucracies.

      But in democracies and constitutional republics, individuals can find it difficult to enforce “group rights,” outside the limits of “his own property.” In the coming anarchical idiocracy, we will have to make up the rules as we go along.

      If you as an individual can prevent outsiders from migrating into your society, you are very powerful. Otherwise, it requires group action under some form of “social contract.” In an anarchical idiocracy, social contracts are oxymorons, for the most part.

      Hence the concept of networked R&D communities with voluntary membership.

      • Jerry says:

        Governments enforce rights. Democracies and constitutional republics can provide individual rights for individuals to form groups and associations.

        You seem to be suggesting that people have a right to free movement. I don’t see why that’s the case. It seems that people have just as much right to prevent the free movement of other people into and about their territories.

        • alfin2101 says:

          People should have a right to free movement inside their own country, as long as they do not violate the property rights of others.

          Such rights are determined and enforced by the governments under which they live. Different governments have different means to determine policy, depending upon their constitutions and systems of governments, elections, and bureaucratic procedures.

          Of course, for Dangerous Children, there is a lot of room for bending the rules. 😉

          If I were truly suggesting — as you seem to suggest — that people have a right to “free movement” without restriction, then I suppose that would give them the right to travel between the galaxies and parallel universes. But I am not sure who could enforce such rights.

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