The last time a journalist won a Nobel Prize was in 1935. The journalist who won it, Carl von Ossietzky, revealed how Hitler was secretly rearming Germany. “And he could not receive it because he was languishing in a Nazi concentration camp,” says Maria Ressa through a video call from Manila.
Almost a century later, Ressa is one of the two journalists who will take the Nobel podium in Oslo next Friday. He currently faces jail time for “cybercrime” in the Philippines, while the other laureate, Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, guards one of the last independent newspapers in an increasingly dictatorial Russia.
For Ressa, who had her news site’s license suspended, Rappler, and that she was not sure she would be able to go to collect the award until Friday, when the government granted her permission, the parallels between the present situation and the 1930s are terrifyingly obvious altogether.
“It’s a great sign that we are in the same kind of situation. We are on the brink of fascism. This time it is different because technology allows it, but it is also happening faster. This insidious manipulation is happening on a large scale and humanity is mentalizing about it. “
It is, she says, “a moment that could change everything.”
Also, for Muratov, who spoke in an unusual interview via Zoom during a quick visit to New York last month., there is no doubt that the award is a symbol not only of an existential threat to press freedom, but of a world on the edge of the abyss. “I believe that our world has stopped loving democracy and has begun to seek dictatorships. Journalists are independent media outlets. They are the line of defense between the dictatorship and the war ”.
The question is whether the world will realize what Christophe Deloire, president of Reporters Sans Frontières, calls “a moment of truth.” He considers that the award of the Nobel to Muratov and Ressa is a clear danger signal for the world. “The systems that were established for democracy and human rights are clearly in jeopardy. Everyone can see it. We can feel this sense of emergency. And this moment represents a materialization of multiple different crises ”.
If this is “a moment that could change everything,” for Muratov and his colleagues in Russia, there seems to be no question about where we are headed. During your address at Novaya Gazeta, six journalists were killedincluding Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot in the elevator of her apartment building in 2006. But the current situation is chilling in a new and different way.
And there are other parallels between 1935 and the present. Von Ossietzky won the award for a series of revelations about how Germany was deliberately breaking the Treaty of Versailles and rearming in secret. He tried to warn the world about the dangers of a newly militarized Germany and did not live to see the consequences of his information being confirmed. He died in 1938.
When I ask Muratov whether in Western Europe we should fear Russia and its intentions, he does not hesitate: “Yes, of course. There is nothing to hide about it. Any dictatorship has very easy access to violence. Our country, my country, to my dismay, supports the dictator [bielorruso] Lukashenko, who is essentially trying to start a war in the very center of Europe. “
Muratov has been a less public figure than Ressa. He has been running Novaya Gazeta for decades and found a way to keep working even when other independent Russian media outlets fell. For this reason, he is also a more controversial figure. In Russia, the news of his Nobel received a mixed reaction. Russia’s most prominent journalist, Alexei Navalny, who is also a leader of the opposition, is currently in a Russian jail.
It was long rumored that he was a candidate for the prize, but that the Norwegian Nobel committee lost its nerve and gave in to pressure from the Kremlin. And in Russia, Navalny’s supporters in particular were outraged and annoyed, even though the same Navalny sent his congratulations from prison, noting “what a high price those who refuse to serve the authorities have to pay“.
Muratov is not bothered by the question. “Most of those people have actually changed their minds,” he says. “And I am very grateful to Alexei Navalny for his congratulations.” When asked a day before the award was announced who he thought should receive it, Muratov replied that Alexei Navalny.
In Russia there are more and more signs of darkness: that Russia is passing, as one headline of The Economist last week, “from autocracy to dictatorship.”
“The situation, unfortunately, is very dark. Currently Stalinization is occurring in the country. Once again, the secret services and the secret police are playing a great role. The secret services always make the decision but never take responsibility for the consequences of that decision. “
And Muratov is frank about the challenges, and adjustments, he has had to make to keep working. “I try to dialogue with everyone except cannibals,” he says from a cafe in New York on his first trip outside of Russia since the award was announced. She traveled to attend a screening of a documentary, “Fuck This Job,” by another Russian journalist and filmmaker, Vera Krichevskaya, about Russia’s last independent television station, Dozhd (Rain), and its war-wounded owner, Natalya. Sindeyeva. (The documentary will be broadcast on the BBC in January).
If Novaya Gazeta managed to negotiate a line between keeping its information independent and not being crushed by the Kremlin, Dozhd fell on the other side of that line. Both Dozhd and Sindeyeva were labeled as “foreign agents” by the government, as was Russia’s oldest human rights organization, Memorial.
It is the situation of Memorial, and therefore that of the most fundamental human rights in Russia, that is currently terrifying them. The organization is currently fighting for its survival in court after being accused of “justifying extremism”. For Muratov, Sindeyeva and Krichevskaya, meeting in New York, it is another sick irony: The organization was founded by a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Andrei Sakharov, and created as a deliberate effort to prevent the country from falling back into the world. totalitarianism.
Sindeyeva calls it “a catastrophe. We believe that it is the symbol of the abyss, when you cannot go down any more ”. In Russia, he says, Stalin is being rehabilitated and Memorial was created to remember “the victims of Stalinist repressions.”
For Deloire, the recognition of Ressa, Muratov and the importance of journalism brings a ray of hope. It is a profound situation, he says, because “it materializes the problems, but it also materializes the need to focus on solutions.”. He mentions President Biden of the United States’ Democracy Summit, also held this week, as another glimmer of hope.
But it is a precarious situation.
Observers comment that the threat against Ressa is a sign of something worse to happen in the Philippines, where the former dictator’s son, Ferdinand Marcos, allied himself with the daughter of the current authoritarian president, Rodrigo Duterte.
Ressa has spent much of the last four years trying to emphasize that none of this is happening in isolation and that the “attack on the truth” is causing the same in western democracies as in your country.
Muratov is even more somber. “It is terrifying that countries that have lived in democracy for so many years are moving towards dictatorship. It’s just a terrifying thought. “
In the meantime, he says he will do what newspaper publishers do: edit his newspaper while he can. Or, as long as Vladimir Putin lets him do it.
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Nobel Prize: ‘We journalists are the line of defense between dictatorship and war’