Sun, May 25, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Editor sacked for failing to guess the state's will

THE GUARDIAN , MOSCOW

In a crackdown reminiscent of the Soviet-era, the editor of a newspaper in an obscure Russian town has been fired because of an article leveling blame for many of Russia's social ills at the feet of the Communists and Stalin.

The article, written by reporter Mikhail Rogalov, appeared three weeks ago in the opinion pages of Nasha Zhizn (Our Life), the only newspaper in the tiny northwestern town of Pyestov, with a circulation of 4,500.

The "Second Advent of Josif," as the article was headed, was a bitter condemnation of Stalin's Russia, and a warning against any repetition.

"Stalin by banditry, was building a bandit state ... Stalin, by cannibalism, was achieving his aims ... The `Socialist State' built by Stalin looked a lot like a feudal state," the article said. "I hate Stalin for millions of innocents arrested and killed."

The article added that the Communists were still seeking power. "Haven't they drunk enough of our blood?"

Rogalov said: "On May 15, I returned to work and suddenly discovered my editor [Alexander Vinogradov] had been sacked without explanation. I was shocked."

Like many regional officials, the Pyestov government still exercises Soviet-era control over local journalists, bidding them express the local administration's opinions.

"There were attempts by the local administration to censor us from the beginning. They wanted to read the articles before they were published, and wanted us to guess their will. I only tried to defend our right to express our opinion," Vinogradov said.

"This is a government-owned paper, and such papers usually represent the views of their owners. If they don't, then the government has many ways of exercising pressure," said Veronica Dmitriyeva, Russian director of the Media Development Loan Fund, a US foundation.

The Kremlin portrays itself as an advocate of free press, despite an increasing culture of self-censorship among the media. The deputy minister for press has written to the deputy prosecutor for the northwest region of Russia and the local governor expressing his disapproval of the sacking. Vinogradov's paper customarily voiced support for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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