A Funny Thing Before Medvedev's Forum

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I recently got a call from the organizing committee of the Russian Internet Forum, where I had been accredited as the editor of a magazine covering business on the Internet. The caller said, "Don't come to the opening ceremony at 9 a.m. tomorrow. Come at 2 p.m. instead."
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"The Federal Security Service will be screening journalists," the committee member said, "and it would be awkward if you were excluded."
"Dmitry Medvedev must be coming," I said.
"You guessed it," came the reply.

My first reaction to the news was to empathize with the organizers. With more than 2,500 participants, it was natural for the organizers to feel that all hell was breaking loose. But to have had to make dozens of extra calls to forewarn specific journalists about the situation -- to answer our questions and listen to our grievances -- this is what Americans call cruel and unusual punishment.

My second reaction was patriotic in character. God forbid that a refusenik such as Moldovan journalist Natalya Morar would arrive early with an Ekho Moskvy radio correspondent in tow who would broadcast a live report of her attempt to break through the cordon. Or even worse, what if someone like journalist Yelena Tregubova showed up, interpreted the authorities' behavior as political repression, and then sought -- and received -- political asylum in Britain? What a blow that would be to Medvedev's image!

Then I remembered how I first learned that Medvedev would become the next president. A couple of years ago, the Kremlin brought journalists to Moscow from throughout the former Soviet Union to meet President Vladimir Putin's two potential successors: First Deputy Prime Ministers Sergei Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev. A journalist who attended the event told me that the meeting with Ivanov was open to all of the guests, but that security service agents strictly controlled access to Medvedev. "That means everything was already decided," she said. I even recall how I upset her by arguing that, by naming both Ivanov and Medvedev as possible successors, Putin was giving voters the freedom to choose which political course they would like to see continued.

That evening, I visited the Russian Internet Forum's web site and actually did find two separate accreditation lists signed by the event's organizers -- the first beginning at 9 a.m. and the second at 2 p.m. The first and longer list contained the names of journalists primarily from mass media publications who had little interest in the specialized forum. The second, shorter list consisted mostly of representatives of the professional media -- that is, the industry workhorses. These are the journalists who focus on content over hype and who express their own opinions rather than parroting the official line. "This administration is more interested in public relations than the hard work of dealing with the issues," I said to myself.

This same Internet forum provided some depressing news about the incoming administration. Television coverage of the opening ceremonies reported that Medvedev had said he uses the Odnoklassniki.ru social networking web site. The problem is that Odnoklassniki.ru has become a huge bane for employers whose workers cannot tear themselves away, even during working hours. From now on, every employee caught idling away time on the site can point to Medvedev's example and tell his boss, "What have you got against our president?"

So, rather than taking inspiration from the election of a new president, my thoughts are filled with an ominous foreboding.

Alexei Pankin is editor of IFRA-GIPP Magazine for publishing business professionals.