Russian Nobel winner: Peace Prize is for my paper, not me

MOSCOW (AP) – As editor of the Novaya Gazeta, Dmitry Muratov knew full well that his independent Russian newspaper, a persistent critic of the Kremlin, government corruption and human rights abuses in Russia, was considered a leading candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.

But the prestigious award was not on his mind when the announcement came that he had been named a co-winner. At that time on Friday, Muratov was engrossed in a discussion on the phone with a reporter, Elena Milashina.

“At that time, there were several calls from Oslo. But only a reckless person would say to Milashina ‘Wait, I’ll talk to Oslo and then you and I will fight,’ Muratov said on Ekho Moskvy radio.

Finally, the spokeswoman for her newspaper told her that she had won the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, along with journalist Maria Ressa from the Philippines, for her fight for freedom of expression in countries where reporters have faced persistent attacks, harassment and even murders.

Muratov, 59, was equally casual, even sardonic, about the recognition of the award given to him by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. In the radio interview, the presenter asked him for a comment on Peskov’s statement. Muratov said that he had not read it and the host offered to read it.

“Should I get up?” Muratov said, then he heard Peskov say “he’s committed to his ideals, he’s talented, he’s brave.”

“All of the above is certainly true,” replied Muratov.

Other reactions from Kremlin circles were much less generous.

“The Nobel Peace Prize is one of the most controversial nominations of the Nobel Committee. Such decisions devalue the prize itself, it is already difficult to be guided by it, “said Dmitry Kiselev, whose weekly news program on state television is full of praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin and disdain for the opposition.

Considering how critical Novaya Gazeta has been towards Putin and his government, Peskov’s congratulatory words could be seen as a determined check. They are also likely to reflect relief that the Norwegian Nobel Committee did not select another Russian candidate for the Peace Prize: the jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Navalny’s dramatic arrest this year when he returned from Germany after recovering from nerve agent poisoning that he attributes to the Kremlin gave him international prominence. Many of his supporters were disappointed that his courage in taking on the Russian government did not earn him the Nobel.

Lyubov Sobol, one of Navalny’s closest and most visible aides, congratulated Muratov on Twitter, but added that he believes Navalny is “the most important fighter for peace in our country.”

Muratov, although pleased by the recognition, agreed.

“I can tell you directly that if I was on the Nobel committee, I would have voted for him because of his absolutely crazy bravery,” he said.

Novaya Gazeta has been controversial since its founding in 1993 by Muratov and other former colleagues from the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, the former organ of the Communist Youth League. The goal was to create “an honest, independent and rich publication that would influence national politics,” according to his mention for the 2007 International Press Freedom Award.

Although the Nobel has brought him intense international attention, Muratov has struggled to downplay his personal prominence, repeatedly saying that he sees the award as being given to the entire newspaper and as a tribute to his six reporters or collaborators who have been assassinated. .

The most famous victim was Anna Politkovskaya, who reported on the Chechen wars in Russia and was shot dead in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building in 2006. Muratov’s Nobel Prize was announced a day after the 15th anniversary of his murder. Although six people were convicted of their involvement in the shooting, who ordered it has not been identified and the statute of limitations for the case expired on Thursday.

Yuri Shchekochikhin, a reporter investigating corrupt trade deals and the possible role of Russian security services in the 1999 apartment house bombings attributed to Chechen insurgents, died in 2003 of poisoning and the culprits were never found. Anastasia Baburina was shot and killed in 2009 after a press conference with a lawyer representing the family of a Chechen girl raped and killed by a Russian military officer; the lawyer was also killed in the attack.

The newspaper and its journalists have also endured a series of threats, ranging from a severed goat’s head and funeral notices sent to the newspaper, to mysterious powders at a reporter’s home.

Investigations highlighted in the newspaper in recent years include reports of alleged torture and killings of gay men by Chechen officials, the release of body camera images of Russian prison officials torturing an inmate, and the beheading of a detainee in Syria for men believed to be Russian mercenaries working for a contractor closely linked to Putin.

The newspaper’s report on the “blue whale” phenomenon in which young Russians were reportedly tricked online into committing suicide was criticized as possibly exaggerated, but a Russian man later claimed to have organized it and was sentenced to prison.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner raised concerns about whether he could subject Novaya Gazeta to be designated as a “foreign agent” under Russian law, a term that applies to organizations and individuals who receive foreign funding and participate in unspecified political activities. The stipulation is apparently intended to undermine its credibility.

“I hope this Muratov status protects Novaya Gazeta from foreign agent status and becomes a kind of protection for Russian journalists, who are massively advertised as foreign agents,” said Yevgenia Albats, editor of the news magazine Novoye Vremya. . . “I hope this helps Russian journalism survive in these difficult conditions.”

But just hours after the Nobel was announced, the Russian Justice Ministry added nine more journalists and three more organizations to its list of foreign agents.

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