Under Extreme Conditions – Russian Journalism

by Yuri Zarakhovich

“First, the golden heads left, then, the golden hands. Now, we have only gold teeth left.”

I first heard this sad quote in Tajikistan in 1993, as the Tajik civil war pushed many a golden head out the country. One of those golden heads was my good friend Oleg Panfilov, a prominent oriental scholar, journalist, writer and human rights activist.

Tajikistan lost a great deal, when people like Oleg left. Since then Oleg has worked in Sweden, Iran, and in Russia. In Russia, he launched a
NGO of which he has the right to be particularly proud: the Center for
Journalism Under Extreme Conditions (CJUEC).

Not only does this body protect journalists it often helps them escape the
tight clutches of Russian “justice.” The Center also has created and maintains a comprehensive system of legal education and support for Russian journalists.

Over the last decade I have witnessed the unique role Oleg’s organization has played. Recently I’ve learned that Oleg Panfilov, Secretary of the Union of Russian Journalists, has moved to Georgia.

Why? Let me put it in Oleg’s own words: “In Russia, people can no longer speak up their minds; the media serve to disseminate lies and falsehoods, while the situation with freedom of speech is particularly hard.”

“Georgia is a much freer country than Russia and there are good
prospects for the development of journalism and society in the country. In Russia, such prospects are becoming fewer and fewer. I’m quite disappointed about my chances of working in Russia.

While Oleg and I are friends, but we don’t always see eye-to-eye. One thing we agree to disagree on is President Mikeil Saakashvili. Oleg endorses him, I see him as another version of Putin—two of a kind, really.

But we both agree that Georgia is a much freer country than Russia under
Putin.We both agree that Russia’s prospects under the incumbent regime are
disappointing. In fact, they are rapidly approaching zero.

So, now it’s Russia that is losing golden heads, including Oleg’s.Woe to a
country that keeps only proverbial gold teeth. Honor to a country that welcomes them. What lies in store for Russia, once the brain drain depletes the country?