Natalia Arno
Natalia Arno
President of Free Russia Foundation
FREEDOM OF SPEECH VS. PROPAGANDA

Freedom of Speech is undoubtedly a universal value. There is the First Amendment in the U.S. Bill of Rights adopted back in 1789. In Russia, Article 29 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation guarantees this freedom, though this and many other rights are not respected in today’s Russian reality.

People all over the world, who are committed to democracy and freedom, consider this right to allowing citizens to express and be exposed to a wide range of opinions and views as one of the most important freedoms. There are many pro-democracy activists throughout the world fighting for this freedom. Many of them have been imprisoned for their struggle for freedom of speech; forced to leave their homelands or even murdered in the countries with undemocratic regimes.

Unfortunately, Russia is such a country. The regime there is autocratic and authoritarian. We are all still shocked by a cold assassination near the Kremlin of Boris Nemtsov, a Russian opposition leader who was one of the most outspoken critics of Putin’s corrupt and dictatorial regime. We still remember other political murders in Russia: Anna Politkovskaya, Natalia Estimirova, Alexander Litvinenko are among them. Many of us know about the cases of arrests of opposition activists for their tweets, speeches at protest rallies or blog posts.

It is promising that many Russians don’t support the Kremlin’s aggressive policy, protest invasion to Ukraine and political oppression in Russia. It is outrageous the Kremlin’s repressive machine persecutes such people. We consider Putin’s government responsible for the war against its own people, for the war against a neighbor country and for the global information warfare – a total propaganda inside Russia and belligerent promotion of its agenda all over the world.

The Kremlin created the atmosphere of hatred, bigotry, intolerance and violence. Many people argued such an atmosphere killed Boris Nemtsov. We despise and condemn this atmosphere and we pledge to fight against it. However, we believe there are specific people who actively participate in the creation of such an atmosphere. There are specific people who labeled those who oppose the current regime as “national traitors” and “fifth column.” There are specific people who were harassing slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov and, through their words, encouraging his murder.

We welcome the initiative of RPR-Parnas and Open Russia for creating the Nemtsov list of Russian TV propagandists who unleashed a media vilification campaign against him. This week, Vladimir Kara-Murza and Mihkail Kasyanov met with senior U.S. lawmakers in Washington, DC and submitted the Nemtsov list to them. They requested that eight television individuals be blacklisted under the Magnitsky Act, which punishes those responsible for human rights violations.

The list includes Dmitry Kiselyov, state media channel boss and news anchor who promised to turn the U.S. into a “radioactive ash” and who degraded gays on Russian national TV saying “their hearts, in case of the automobile accident, should be buried in the ground or burned as unsuitable for the continuation of life”; Aleksei Pushkov, Chair of the International Relations Committee of the Russian Parliament and host of an analytical TV show (already sanctioned by Washington for Russia’s invasion to Ukraine) accused the U.S. of an “ideological racism” toward Russia, offered NATO to self-dismiss and falsely attributed a quote to Madeleine Albright that Siberia should belong to the U.S; Arkady Mamontov, a TV host of a program on a major Russian TV network Rossiya, infamous for his documentaries against the opposition and who labeled the U.S. “a true evil empire;” Vladimir Solovyov, a Russian TV and radio journalist who stated that power in Ukraine was seized by fascists and neo-Nazis and that the U.S. biggest dream is the collapse of Russia; Andrei Karaulov, a journalist and TV anchor, author of propaganda documentaries that distorted the facts of the war in Ukraine and justified Kremlin’s policies. Other individuals on the list include Konstantin Syomin, another author of propaganda documentaries, Vladimir Kulistikov, the head of NTV Broadcasting Company and Oleg Dobrodeev, the head of VGTRK (All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company).

So, we are pleased to see such Goebbels-type propagandists on the Nemtsov list, which definitely could be expanded. For example, the so-called spin-doctors like Sergei Markov, Sergei Kurginyan and Andronik Migranyan should be on such a list – all those ideologists who justify the Kremlin’s repressive regime and propagate its agenda for the domestic and external audiences. Those “experts” tirelessly participate on all official channels’ broadcastings and are responsible for zombifying the Russian population. Another good candidate to the Nemtsov list is Margarita Simonyan, the editor-of-chief of RT (former Russia Today), English-language television news network, which is a huge global propaganda machine of the Kremlin’s interests. Free Russia Foundation supports exiled State Duma deputy Ilya Ponomarev’s campaign to make RT required to become registered in the U.S. under FARA as a lobbyist group.

And, of course, Alexander Dugin is among one of the most notorious Kremlin’s apologists. Our Free Russia Foundation launched a campaign to cancel his event at Texas A&M University on April 29: http://www.4freerussia.org/call-to-ban-dugins-presentation-at-taxes-am-univesity/. In this regard, there was a discussion in social media. While many people in the U.S. agreed that such people like Dugin shouldn’t be provided a platform for spreading their fascist ideas, there were others who believed it would be considered censorship and quoted the First Amendment. We are against censorship, but the lecture by a genocide supporter is another story, in our opinion. Freedom is not only a right; it’s also a responsibility. It can’t be a “freedom” or a “human right” if it puts people in danger. When speech is dangerous or incites hatred or harm to people, as happened against Boris Nemtsov, it no longer is acceptable speech. As the respected U.S. Supreme Court judge Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in his famous opinion on speech, speech is not protected if it’s “dangerous and false.” Words of expression that include fascist or racist ideas, hate speech, slander and libel can’t be acceptable in any democratic society. It’s not censorship; it’s a common sense and a moral regulation.

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