Press release, Kirkenes, Murmansk, Luleå, Oulu, September 29th 2015
On Monday 28th of September, Thomas Nilsen was fired from his position as chief editor of the online news site BarentsObserver by the owners of the Norwegian Barents Secretariat, the three Northern Norwegian county administrations.
STATEMENT FROM BARENTS PRESS INTERNATIONAL, CONCERNING THE RESTRICTION OF BARENTSOBSERVERS' EDITORIAL FREEDOM
Fighting pseudo-extremism in Karelia is easier than fighting economic devastation
The website Politika Karelii has posted an article about the appalling conditions in which people live in Karelia’s northern villages. For example, the village of Lendery with a population of 1,848 is separated from the outer world by the absence of motorways; this makes the place impossible to reach in slushy weather.
With no stable telephone communications (local residents use the services of Finnish cell phone operators) and no continuous power supply, some important social facilities have been shut down, and the local hospital is on the verge of closure, too. After the recent shutdown of the sole industrial facility, Lendery logging enterprise, it seems life may soon grind to a halt.
Village head Sergey Kozlov, after repeated pleas for help to republican authorities, was advised to appeal to Karelia’s Journalists’ Union for assistance in organising a news conference. (By the way, it took him a whole day to get from Lendery to Petrozavodsk.) Naturally, the journalists responded by publishing a series of stories about the catastrophic living conditions in the far-off village. Specifically, Politika Karelii featured an article entitled “Humans Can’t Live That Way! But They Do…”, whose author summed up S.Kozlov’s sketches from local life, mentioning, among other things, the fact that telephone and road communications with Finland are more stable in Lendery than with other villages and townships on Russian soil (as stressed by Kozlov). The story concluded with a bitterly ironical conjecture that one way to draw authorities’ attention might be to discuss the option of having this godforsaken territory adjoined to neighbouring Finland, if Russia so stubbornly neglects it. Desperate villagers are planning to hold a general meeting to figure out how to survive, the article said.
The publication did catch the eye of those at the helm – not executive authorities but law enforcement and controlling bodies. You would be mistaken to suppose they were alarmed by the distressed position of Lendery residents. Instead, they saw the last passage as calling to separate the village of Lendery from Russia, and an investigation was instantly ordered. The village head was questioned as to whether he had said anything about separation plans during the news conference, and the story’s author was asked to reproduce S. Kozlov’s statement word for word. The law enforcers did not seem to be concerned at all about the appalling violations of villagers’ constitutional rights: prosecutors said they had not received any complaints from Lendery residents. The police, for its part, scanned the text of the publication for whether or not it gives reason to apply the provisions of the law against extremism, and carried out a check-up the results of which are so far unknown. Indeed, it’s easier to fight pseudo-extremism than take steps to raise people’s living standards in real terms.
Glasnost Defense Foundation staff correspondent