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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Not Quite the End of History

Everything was in a muddle in the Oblonsky's house." With these words Leo Tolstoy began his novel "Anna Karenina." And everything was in a muddle in my head last week in Brugge, Belgium, where the annual World Association of Newspapers, or WAN, congress was under way, along with the World Editors' Forum. The two forums brought together 900 leading publishers and editors from several dozen countries.

The traditional Press Freedom Round Table was devoted this year to the former Soviet Union and in significant measure to Russia. "The CIS press is walking a tightrope over a minefield during an electrical storm," concluded one Western speaker.

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The Russian contingent was one of the largest, though participation in the congress doesn't come cheap. Moscow publishers were joined in Brugge by their provincial colleagues. The Russians were rather less concerned about threats to their professional freedom than the rest of the world community. They dutifully attended discussions of global trends in publishing and the latest management techniques.

"We're already getting used to treating Russian publishers as part of the mainstream in the business," one of the congress organizers told me.

And the post-Soviet wonders in Brugge didn't stop there.

"I invested $20,000 last year in continuing education for my employees, even though this cut into my profits," said the owner of a publishing house in Belarus. "Big-time Western companies will begin breaking into our media market in the next 10 years. The time to start getting ready to compete with those companies is now."

WAN is concerned about threats to the freedom of the press in many countries, not just the Commonwealth of Independent States. The association's outgoing president, Canadian Roger Parkinson, made special mention of the threat to the free flow of information that has arisen in the United States after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

At a meeting with congress participants, a member of the European Parliament was heard to say: "We forbid the production and distribution of hazardous goods. Is there not such a thing as hazardous information?" I'd like to think that the WAN leadership will agree with this official and that it will censor his speech in the congress proceedings. And I very much hope that our Russian "champions of freedom," such as Press Minister Mikhail Lesin and presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky, don't catch wind of this mood in the European Parliament.

I was particularly struck by an exchange between publishers and European political leaders. "Has anyone calculated the media industry's loss of income as a result of restrictions on tobacco-related advertising?" one publisher asked. "We will certainly determine that income loss," a Eurocrat replied. "We will also calculate governments' tobacco-related health-care costs, and we'll see who comes out ahead." I wish that I could distribute the text of that conversation to our media lobby, which is convinced that what is good for the media business is good for Russia.

In his address to the congress, Francis Fukuyama, author of "The End of History and the Last Man," assured the participants that the end of history continues to hold sway, Sept. 11 notwithstanding. But it seems to me that things are only getting started.

Alexei Pankin is the editor of Sreda, a magazine for media professionals (www.internews.ru/sreda)