An ironic death in Russia

From La Jornada (of Mexico) via Aporrea, an item both ironic and sobering about what has become of Russian glasnost:

Journalists, politicians and many ordinary readers of Izvestia, the daily newspaper which marked a crucial period in Russian history, attended a funeral on Tuesday for Igor Golembiovsky at Royekurovskoye cemetery.

Golembiovsky, a symbol of freedom of expression along with Yegor Yakovlev, of the weekly paper Moskovskiye Novosti, and Vitali Korotich, of the weekly Ogoniok–reached fame in the years prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, and in the 1990s.

Golembiovsky, who died a few days after his 74th birthday, was buried in the same cemetery as Anna Politkovskaya, who was assassinated three years ago by a gunman.

But Golembiovsky, one of the architects of glasnost in the days of Mikhail Gorbachev, did not die of an assassin’s bullets; his brilliant journalistic career at an end, sick and marginalized, as a victim of the market economy, the same he had always promoted as a viable alternative to socialism.

In the early 1980s, in the days of Yuri Andropov, Golembiovsky, considered a “problematic” journalist, was sent to Mexico as a correspondent for Izvestia. He lived his first exile there until, at the end of Konstantin Chernenko’s reign, with Gorbachev in power, he was able to return to Moscow as bureau chief of that newspaper.

Even during his days as sub-director, in 1990, the new Communist party hierarchs, and above all the most conservative ideological wing, considered Golembiovsky “too liberal” and sent him to Spain. A few months later, he quit as correspondent and asked to return to Moscow to become a columnist for the paper.

On August 23, 1991, two days after the failed coup against Gorbachev, Golembiovsky became editor-in-chief of Izvestia, elected to the post by the same journalists and newspaper workers who, in an assembly, proclaimed themselves independent of the Supreme Soviet, which until then had financed them.

With the help of Boris Yeltsin, whose government he did not hesitate to criticize when in his opinion there were reasons, Golembiovsky led Izvestia to its golden age, with a daily press run of 11 million copies. Unlike some editors, who enriched themselves by appropriating the infrastructure inherited from the Soviet era, Golembiovsky wanted the paper to finance itself as a limited corporation, dividing earnings between journalists and workers, as well as attracting important capitalist partners who, gradually, took control of the enterprise.

In 1997 the powerful lost patience with the criticisms. Golembiovsky, true to his journalistic convictions, considered it worth reproducing an article from the French periodical, Le Monde, which attributed to the then prime minister of Russia, Viktor Chernomyrdin, an estimated personal fortune of some $5 billion US.

The permier flew into a rage and demanded that the corporations Lukoil and the Oneximbank, majority shareholders in Izvestia, fire Golembiovsky. Along with him, a number of journalists left, and a short time later, they founded Noviye Izvestia, a new paper financed by magnate Boris Berezovsky, formerly a member of Yeltsin’s inner circle.

But Berezovsky came to grief in a personal confrontation with Vladimir Putin. Golembiovsky had to leave Noviye Izvestia in 2003, after the Kremlin launched a palace coup in its editorial department and several members of the old team abandoned him to his fate.

Still, Golembiovsky found the strength to start a new paper, the Russky Kurier, which soon had to close because it could not withstand the pressures of the authorities, judicial charges on all manner of pretexts, and the growing advertiser boycott launched against it.

All these battles took their toll on his health and, in 2005, after suffering an embolism, Golembiovsky became bedridden, but still remained lucid and interested in the political situation in Russia, without ever losing his irrepressible sense of irony.

As luck would have it, the funeral of Golembiovsky, always in solidarity with critical voices, would coincide with the date on which a lower-court judge in Moscow exonerated the president of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, of all responsibility for the murder of Natalia Estemirova, a human-rights activist from the Memorial organization, kidnapped and executed in the Chechen capital city of Grozny last July 15. The director of Memorial, Oleg Orlov, accused Kadyrov of ordering Estemirova’s death, and, in the face of the obvious impossibility of presenting conclusive proof, the judge ordered the organization to publish a retraction on its web page and pay Kadyrov the ruble equivalent of $2.3 million US in damages. Memorial plans to appeal the sentence.

Translation mine.

Aporrea headlined this piece as “Russian journalist, architect of glasnost, dies a victim of the market economy.” I’d say that sounds about right.

RIP Igor Golembiovsky, ironic victim of the very policies he had every reason, at the time anyway, to believe would be successful. If only he had known…

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2 Responses to An ironic death in Russia

  1. Manaat says:

    Telesur is carrying live the Goriletti reunion with OEA.

  2. I’m surprised he let them in the country. The last time any of them tried to meet with him, they wouldn’t let them past the airport gates. They would, however, let his daughter in–no problema!

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