Interview with editor of new Latvia-based Novaya Gazeta Europe

Take note – story published 1 year ago

 One of the last independent publishers which suspended its activities in Russia was the influential newspaper Novaya Gazeta. The paper has found a new outlet, a new homepage, based partially in Latvia. The chief editor, Kirill Martynov, told Latvian radio about the new plans and vision.

Martynov said: "Our new medium is called "Novaya Gazeta Europe". Our publication Novaya Gazeta is known to many in Latvia, Europe, and the world, and, of course, Russia. It is a newspaper whose chief editor received the Nobel Peace Prize last year. We are known for our reports and research. A ban on the professional activity of journalists has been introduced in Russia. Therefore, although we in Russia have not closed but suspended our work, we thought it would be helpful to set up a parallel platform in which we could now talk freely about important and worrying topics. First of all, of course, about the war and its consequences without fear of Russian censorship. This media should be a voice for those Russian people, those Russian-speaking and those Russians who support Ukraine and Europe in this war, and whose peace and ability to live with their neighbors is a fundamental thing. And all this despite what Russian propaganda says."

Latvian Radio: On what platforms will this new medium be found? Is it an internet site, a YouTube channel, a Facebook page? What exactly?

Martynov: We have now launched a number of social networks. For the Russian audience, first of all, it's “Telegram” that still isn't subject to censorship. There is the YouTube channel and Twitter, which we see as the first multilingual channel. There we will talk to our readers, not only in Russian, but also in English, German and very hopefully, in Latvian. We also launch our home page this week. Since we are a newspaper, we would also like to issue something in a printed format. Maybe not as a newspaper that comes out one or more days a week, but as a compilation of our best works. In Riga, we want to create two newspapers, both Latvian and Russian, to pay respect to both audiences.

Tell us about your team. Who will work on this new media?

It's a very new team, and it must be said that they do not lose much if we temporarily break our ties with Russia and Moscow for the sake of journalism. Unfortunately, we are forced to keep most of these people secret, because the Russian authorities can impose sanctions on them for the integrity of their work.

Does that mean that a large part of this team is still in Russia?

I don't usually comment on this, but in parallel to this, many also have families and a desire to return to Russia.

Are you planning to write about events here in Latvia?

Of course. When we open our editorial here, we also think about how to report local events and problems. It is important to us, and we also understand that, at the moment, after the beginning of the war and the press, there is an informative vacuum in Russian. Within our capacity, we will try to fill this vacuum. It must be understood that we do not yet have the knowledge of local events, the division of political forces, or social issues. We'll study it all. And here I will remind you that we also have a project that was focused on the Baltic States, “NG Baltija”, from the beginning. This project is not closed and we will work with it and will help establish a link with the local community.

Will the content of your website be paid or free?

When we published in Russia, we were categorically against paid content because if you write about torture in Russian prisons or report in war, it would be strange to ask people to ask to pay for it. It can be understood that, due to sanctions, the Russian people will simply not be able to pay this fee content because the banking system is paralyzed and foreign payments are not possible. I think that, in the foreseeable future, all our content will be free of charge, but we will try to create a crowd-financing model that will allow at least some of our costs to be covered.

Will the money of the Nobel Peace Prize be used, as Dmitry Muratov once said that he would leave some of the money to his journalists?

The Nobel Prize money is not so much because the winners were two and the sum was shared in half. It was about $600 thousand, most of which was spent by Muratov for charity. The second part was reserved for the Politkovskaya Prize, which was scheduled to be awarded in Moscow in the autumn, but it seems unlikely now. Some part of that money was really devoted to the whole collective, and not just to journalists. For example, I received some €250 from this Nobel Prize. But it was really such a symbolic gesture that we shared this award. Dmitry Muratov now also sells his Nobel medal at auction, and any funds he acquired will be directed to Ukraine's charity fund.

Quality journalism is expensive, but you are also planning to issue a printed paper. Why do you need a printed edition?

You know, I just want that in Latvia or in all other European countries with which we will cooperate, coming to the end of the war, when Russian propaganda marks May 9, “Novaya Gazeta” would be on the newsstands as a symbol of the fact that they failed to close us down. Some part of this typography, I think, will also be illegally distributed in Russia.

You have chosen Latvia as your location. Why?

We have a very good relationship with the local authorities, they are interested in our work, and we have already had a number of consultations. Latvia is geographically close and a very well-known country for many Russian journalists. I am not sure that we will remain here all the time, because we are looking at other options, but I am sure that we will always remember all the things that Latvia does for us. We will therefore try to work together and fulfil our professional duty towards Latvia.

In Latvia, many, including politicians, believe there is no strong civil society in Russia. Do you agree with that?

Yes, it's a post-imperial national trauma. After 1991, it was seen that those who wanted to be involved in some kind of public projects or in politics were lazy, or fraudsters who wanted to draw people into their dirty business. So the Russian people preferred to be interested in other things. First of all, for their own wellbeing or repair quality in the apartment, secondly, on matters such as foreign policy: what is happening in the US, how the crisis is taking place in the European Union and what is happening in Ukraine. Everything in between was dead. I can say from my experience that eight years ago civil society was strong enough, but it was destroyed on the eve of the war. Looking back, it can be said that also the poisoning of Alexei Navalny is part of a larger plan to get rid of the alleged anti-war leader.

You hope that some of the copies of Novaya Gazeta will also be smuggled to Russia. What publications could trigger the thinking of Russian society so that this civil position appears in [..] the majority of society?

I'd emphasize three things. First of all, honest and well-written reports about the war. With clear facts and simply presented. I would also focus on a pragmatic claim that war is certainly not beneficial to anyone. No one really wanted this war, except Vladimir Putin and his closest associates.

It must be shown that such a war actually takes away the future from our children and makes us all miserable and poorer.

Not only do people die – if you sit there and do nothing, you are also worse off. And finally, thirdly, such a conversation as we have now is useful for some part of society to understand how this mechanism has been built, what made such a war possible. It has to be explained why Russia or what will remain of it after this war must stop being an empire. It is necessary to stop ordering your neighbors around, to stop thinking about greatness and finally to think about why the Russian people themselves do not live so well [..]. 

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