Jens Reich: Press freedom is a promise not kept by the former Soviet states

Freedom of thought and its expression in public is not guaranteed to every citizen of this post-1990 Europe. Some have even paid with their lives for exercising these rights. As I was writing these lines, I had photos on my desk as reminders. There was a photo of Anna Politkovskaya, of this brave woman brutally murdered two years ago, who could not be intimidated or deterred in her journalist's work even by detainment, torture, mock execution, or by the death threats that were in the end carried out.

There were other photos, one showing Stanislav Markelov, another one Anastasia Baburova, who were both killed just when I began to write this speech.

The Anastasia photo shows a charming young woman in a bright sun dress: her last summer in her home town of Sevastopol in Ukraine. The earnest, intelligent face of Stanislav was taken in front of a Russian architectural museum in deep-Siberian Baikal.

Both are the same age as my children and, looking at them, I have the instant feeling that one could have at once a very interesting talk with these thoughtful young people.

Obviously, fighting for freedom of their profession had made them fearless, and it is shame for their country that such brave and honest people are not safe and that they had to sacrifice their lives for such an end. It is tantalising to ask yourself what we can do to help such brave people.

Their working conditions are so different from those before the fall of communism. Theirs is no longer a closed country. The citizens can travel abroad. They seem not to be short of equipment, as we were of typewriters and copying machines in our time.

What can we do to help? I would like to see journalists and intellectuals everywhere exert pressure on diplomats and politicians to ensure that they are reminded about the broken promise to allow freedom of the media. Even if they hear such complaints with a poker face, and repeat the excuse that it is not their responsibility, it will be hard for them to listen to this sermon repeated time after time.

Jens Reich, co-founder of the New Forum civil rights movement in the former East Germany, was addressing the Royal Institute of International Affairs on Tuesday

Comments