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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

It's Official: 'Democracy' Is Canceled

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There was a radio show called "Democracy, Freedom, Human Rights." When it was first broadcast nine years ago on state-owned Radio Russia, its name mirrored the slogans and desires of the new country struggling to be born out of the collapsed Soviet state.

But good things donТt last forever. This September, "Democracy, Freedom, Human Rights" was canceled. Why? "The policy of Radio Russia has changed," said Alexei Abakumov, the stationТs newly appointed director. And that is the honest truth.

The show was hosted by human rights activist Tatyana Kasatkina and sponsored by the human rights organization Memorial. It was never a beloved child of the state network, featuring harsh criticism of the war in Chechnya and generally advocating the concepts in its title.

There can be no doubt that President Boris YeltsinТs lieutenants were tempted to get rid of it more than once. But they never did. But the time has come.

Click here to read our special report on human rights.The last straw came with a program that was devoted to violations of the basic rights of refugees in Chechnya and Ingushetia. "The program is crap," indelicately stated the immediate supervisor of the show (and another newcomer to Radio Russia) Alexander Zelenkov.

To be fair, he had no choice but to be so blunt. After all, the show could not be accused of participating in any of the oligarchsТ information war: Its sponsorship was obvious. Radio Russia couldnТt even claim lack of funding as a reason for killing the show, since it didnТt cost the station a kopek.

As a result, station managers lacked any means for controlling it, and that is precisely Ч in addition to the content Ч why the show was intolerable. Control, after all Ч in various guises like "building a strong state," "creating vertical power" or "bringing order to society" Ч is the official slogan of the day.

This was demonstrated to me again the other day during a conversation with the governmentТs information boss, Alexei Volin. I wanted to attend a briefing by Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, so I called Volin. Explaining why my attendance would be impossible, Volin resorted to a lovely technocratic expression: "It is not technological."

"What do you mean?" I asked, having a hard time getting at the essence of his vocabulary. "I have my pool," he said, referring to the regular pool of journalists who cover the government, "and they will write whatever [information] I pour out to them." I was stunned: In 24 years of journalism I never heard a government official Ч either Soviet or Russian Ч speak so cynically and openly about the corrupt nature of his relations with reporters.

I wanted to hear more. "Surely you cannot control everything. After all, what about the foreign press?" But he had a straightforward answer for that one, too: "I donТt have any problem placing articles in the Western press either."

I was speechless and could only mumble: "You should be careful about admitting that over an open phone." Maybe I should have thanked him for tacitly admitting that I was beyond his control and he couldnТt "pour" information into me.

As I hung up I was left wondering. Why was British Prime Minister Tony Blair so silent about human rights during his recent visit, and did he cancel a scheduled interview with nonstate Ekho Moskvy because guys like Volin got their way? Or was he just too busy drinking beer with President Vladimir Putin?

Yevgenia Albats is an independent journalist based in Moscow.