A young journalist named Oleg Kashin was savagely beaten outside his apartment building in the center of Moscow last Friday night. Two men followed him into his courtyard, one in front of him (with flowers), another behind, then knocked him to the ground and beat his legs, hands, and head with a metal rod of some sort. They broke his upper and lower jaw, his legs, his skull, and several fingers. On Sunday Russia’s main internet gossip and news website posted surveillance camera video of the beating. It’s here.
Kashin is a highly prolific journalist for the daily newspaper Kommersant, as well as a constant web presence (one of the theories put forth so far about what happened points to the governor of Pskov, with whom Kashin had an argument in the comments section of a blog). But before all this Kashin was one of the founders of a magazine called Russkaya Zhizn’ (Russian Life). I wrote about the magazine here; I did not like it. It was the product of the prolonged reaction among the Russian elite to the perceived lawlessness, immorality, and cosmopolitanism of the 1990s. The magazine’s enemies were the Yeltsinites and what remained of them in the late Putin regime (what the Western press calls the “liberal opposition”; Russian Life would refer to them as the dem-shizoidy, the “democrats-schizophrenics”). Russia’s political spectrum does not map neatly onto our own but in tone and spirit the magazine had a lot of the Weekly Standard to it; they felt about the 1990s liberals the way 1990s American kids felt about the Baby Boomers–that they were out-of-touch narcissists who had destroyed Russia. Kashin was the magazine’s most talented reporter, wry and witty, and occasionally poisonous when he was making fun of the liberal opposition. The day I visited Russian Life in 2007, just a few weeks after its first issue, its 27-year-old editor, Dmitry Olshansky, had just been called into the Kremlin for a “talk.” He was excited about it and assured me that the Kremlin meant no harm. During our interview, Kashin burst into the room, having clearly sped to the office wanting to talk about what had happened at the Kremlin. They were both extraordinarily young.
And then everything changed. The magazine folded in November of last year, and Kashin went to work at Kommersant. I missed the moment when Kashin turned his wit from the pathetic opposition and onto the people in charge–the ones who ran over pedestrians in their fancy cars; the ones who received money from the Kremlin to stage rallies in support of its policies; the ones who want to build a highway to Petersburg through the forest north of Moscow–but he had. I don’t think he’d experienced some kind of ideological conversion–he simply saw where the story was. A number of Russian journalists have been trying to explain in recent days the difference between Oleg Kashin and someone like Anna Politkovskaya, who was most likely murdered for her reporting on Chechnya. Unlike Politkovskaya, Kashin was not a crusader or a dissident. He was a regular guy who kept his eyes open and refused to lie about what he saw.
In the words of our friends at the socialist movement Vpered [trans. Cory Merrill]:
Kashin is not one of us [i.e., a socialist]. But it would be wrong to deny that the overwhelming majority of his articles and public statements were openly oppositional, not only to the Putinist political machine in general but also to the activity of specific, named officials. All the people he has in one way or another offended in his publications–be it the Kremlin’s so-called “youth movements,” wild with impunity and cynicism, or the mandarins out in the provinces, overstepping every conceivable boundary of corruption–have demonstrated that they are prepared to destroy anyone who has brought them so much as a few moments of unpleasantness. The long list of journalists and activists who’ve been beaten or killed over the last few years is terrible and irrefutable evidence of this.
At this point it’s difficult to say which of the theories about who ordered the attack are most probable, but it is possible to say the following with certainty: the aggressive rhetoric and repeated public threats issuing from practically every representative of power Kashin offended in his articles automatically turns them into suspects.
We will not go into pointless and overwrought discussions about the lack of respect for freedom of the press or the weakness of civil society in Russia. Today, when every one of us is a political activist, journalist, or simply a person who’s decided to struggle for his rights in his home or work place, when every one of us feels the same imminent threat from the powers that be, we must remember: our only weapon is solidarity and determination.